Halo Wars 2 is the kind of game that stands out on consoles: rather than handing players a weapon and thrusting them headfirst into combat, it takes a step back and observes the action from afar. That’s unusual in and of itself. Real-time strategies like this (including Command and Conquer or Age of Empires) are a rarity anywhere other than the PC. Equally, its focus on the nitty-gritty of battlefield tactics is a departure for Halo. Microsoft’s biggest exclusive usually focuses on one man’s struggle, but this concerns itself with an army.
That approach brings to mind the nightmare it’d be to fight aliens in ‘real life’. As obvious as it sounds, anything from another world is going to be wildly unfamiliar: their culture, armaments, vehicles and tactics would feel unrecognisable in the most terrifying way. Consequently, neither side would know what they’re up against or how to respond. You can’t prepare for the unknown, so the result would probably be a blood-bath. While it had its share of flaws, Tom Cruise’s War of the Worlds handled this well.
We often assume that extra-terrestrials will conform to our rules. Halo’s Covenant still use guns and tanks, for instance. Yet to do so is naïve. Even if they were humanoid as some experts suggest – thanks to a scientific theory called ‘convergent evolution’, wherein life develops similar traits because it’s just sensible – we’d still be out of our depth. There’s little to no common-ground if your enemy comes from another planet, especially when their cultural touchstones are entirely removed from our own. Who’s to say they’d even use ballistics or the equivalent of jet fighters? We might find our ability to respond rendered moot.
That sense of skating on thin ice is where Halo shines. It’s why Halo: Reach in particular was so effective: taking place early in the story and a short time after humanity makes first contact, the Covenant are a total enigma. We can’t even understand them at this point, never mind beat them. As a result, the heroes face a losing battle right from the start.
Halo 3: ODST had a similar vibe with its ground-level grunts muddling on as best they can against superior forces. The brilliant live-action trailer (which singlehandedly convinced me to buy the game, no less) showcases just what an uphill fight it’d be.
From a commander’s standpoint – as with Halo Wars 2 – this is a horrific situation to find yourself in. What do you do against an enemy who can’t be predicted? It’s a case of forgetting everything you know and working on instinct. That’s far from ideal when lives, not to mention your way of life itself, hang in the balance.
Because of this, I really wouldn’t envy those in charge during the Halo Wars spin-off. If the key to war is understanding your enemy, good luck to them with a foe who is literally from another damn world. We’d be stuffed.
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