To be utterly, completely and painfully honest, we were a bit worried about Halo Wars. In fact, we were worried from the moment we heard about it, and it's been just about the biggest unknown quantity of the last 12 months.
Taking Microsoft's flagship first person shooter series and using it as a launching point for a real-time strategy (RTS) game seems like a baffling decision - sort of like taking a Die Hard film and turning it into a cerebral thriller, with John McClane barking orders down the phone at his subordinates. Still, it could have been a romantic comedy, right?
It turns out though that we were worrying about the wrong thing. It's not the fact that it's a strategy game that we should be worried about, it's whether or not it's a good strategy game.
Fortunately, Halo Wars is a very good strategy game. Most importantly, it's not just a standard Command and Conquer clone with a Halo skin lobbed unceremoniously on top - there's a unique storyline to tie the entire thing together, the character of the series permeates the experience beautifully and it's designed to be perfectly suited to an Xbox 360.
Halo Wars' story takes place two decades before the events of the first Halo game, fleshing out details of the earlier clashes with the Covenant. Best of all, that story is told through a series of cutscenes that are nothing short of phenomenal.
Epic battles, enormous spaceships and giant planets are beautifully realised in an incredible series of CGI clips, which give Hollywood a decent run for its money in both scale and quality of direction.
A NEW STRATEGY
It's worth taking a moment to explain exactly how the core mechanic of a mission in Halo Wars works. You play as the commander, looking down on an army of recognisable Halo units. Depending on the mission, you may have the option to construct one or several bases, which allow you to bulk up your army with new and more powerful units.
Your objectives will differ from mission to mission - sometimes you'll have to destroy an enemy base, other times you'll have to protect fleeing transports - but the priority is to tactically secure positions and ensure you've got enough firepower to throw at the enemy.
Unlike many strategy games, the base construction is made reasonably straightforward, so you don't spend a great deal of time fiddling with inanimate objects when you should be mashing Elites.
For a start, you don't have to worry about where to place your installation - there are set places on each map where a base can be constructed. Once placed, bases are made up of slots to place buildings, and can be upgraded to Fortress level to create extra slots, but there are only six different types of building, making it easy to balance the base's output to your needs.
Tactically, it does make sense to spend a few minutes at the start of a battle getting your base running smoothly - once you get a decent stream of resources and some units guarding it, you'll only need to pop back to pick up fresh reinforcements.
WORK AS A UNIT
This leaves you with plenty of time to manage huge assaults against enemy positions. From the first moment you send a Warthog barrelling over a jump and sliding around a corner, to the final battles against Scarab tanks, everything feels brilliantly reminiscent of Bungie's original games.
You'll be cheering and bouncing in your chair the first time a bunch of Spartans arrive by Pelican dropship and start giving the enemy laser beam haircuts. There are few grumbles to be had with the way units handle - in general they're responsive, and work well with the straightforward selection and movement controls, but we did notice a couple of moments of pathfinding confusion when negotiating uneven ground. Otherwise, though, controlling your army is utterly untuitive.