Halo: Spartan Assault

Halo: Spartan Assault Hands-On Preview – Surface Warfare

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What is Halo: Spartan Assault? Good question; and as good a place to start as any. The short answer is, it's a twin-stick shooter for Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 and Microsoft's Surface tablet. The longer and perhaps more insightful answer is, it's a twin-stick shooter set in the Halo universe with a pretty smart control system, a selection of missions to play through and Halo 4 content like XP and emblems to unlock.

Why does Halo: Spartan Assault even exist is an equally valid question, and one that Executive Producer Dan Ayoub is quick to answer. “To untether Halo players from their TV set,” Ayoub explains. “To take your Halo experience with you.”

These seem like simple enough reasons, although you'd be forgiven for thinking a twin-stick shooter might not work all that well on a touchscreen device like a Windows Phone or Surface. “We wanted to build the right game for the platform,” says Ayoub. “[Halo: Spartan Assault] is built for simplicity, so controls were important. And it looks and sounds amazing.”

Going hands-on with Halo: Spartan Assault on Surface, we find the game to be intuitive and smooth, with a bit of soft-lock applied to the aiming mechanics to make drawing a bead on Covenant enemies less of a struggle than it might otherwise be. The touchscreen thumb sticks are surprisingly responsive too, and should your thumbs slide up the screen, they'll adapt and seamlessly move with you.

We get the chance to sample two of the 25 missions the final game will be packing, the first of which tasks us with protecting a battalion of UNSC Wolverines from a Covenant assault. The premise for Spartan Assault's missions is not unlike Halo 4's War Games multiplayer setup, in as much as you're a Spartan trainee experiencing a simulation aboard the UNSC Infinity.

Set between the events of Halo 3 and 4, you'll play through some of the Spartan's most famous missions as part of the Spartan Ops Program, charting the rise of Commander Sarah Palmer, one of the Spartan-IV Program's first recruits. As such, you'll fight through some of Palmer's finest moments, interspersed with neat cinematics that stitch the entire game together.

Having tried and failed to complete the first mission we're presented with, Ayoub fires up a second demo mission for us to try out, this time piloting a Scorpion tank across the battlefield in order to destroy three pesky fuel rod cannons. It takes time to get to grips with controlling the vehicle, but after a few attempts, we're tearing through the Convenant's forces with aplomb, bombarding Wraiths and Ghosts with carefully aimed cannon fire.

The top-down perspective ensures that you have a good overall view of what's going on around you at all times, and the touch controls are also neatly and logically laid out for left or right-handed players. It's a little fiddly at first and getting the overall layout of the buttons on the screen will require a few failed attempts at first, but 343 Industries and collaborative dev Vanguard Games deserve credit for making Halo: Spartan Assault simple and straightforward to pick up and play.

Once we've laid waste to the legions of Covenant in the Scorpion, we decide to take a Ghost for a spin, and like the rest of Spartan Assault's weapons and vehicles, it looks, sounds and handles exactly as you'd expect, albeit from a top-down viewpoint. Evidently, a lot of thought and consideration has gone into ensuring that this looks and feels like a Halo game.

Based on what we've seen and played of Halo: Spartan Assault thus far, 343 and Vanguard have crafted an intuitive experience tailored for Windows 8 and WP8, and if you decide to play it on a Windows 8 PC, you can use mouse and keys or an Xbox 360 gamepad.

At only two hours or so in length, Halo: Spartan Assault might seem like a somewhat slender game, but there's the promise of replay value thanks to leaderboards, weekly challenges, mission specific tasks, medals, Waypoint connectivity and of course, achievements.

Each mission is designed to be played in short bursts on the go making Spartan Assault well-suited to mobile platforms, and if the twin-stick shooter mechanics prove to be your thing, no doubt you'll be digging it out for train journeys and what not.

Promising to be a meaningful part of the overall Halo story, while being a different Halo experience in its own right, Halo: Spartan Assault ought to provide a neat sideline for fans, with all of the polish and high production values you'd expect from the franchise. That the touch controls work and work well is what makes Spartan Assault an enticing prospect and yet another potentially worthy addition to the Halo stable.

Halo: Spartan Assault will be coming to Windows 8, Surfaces and WP8 in July for $6.99.


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Game Info


US July 18, 2013

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