Looking for some high-octane “Halo” action to hold you over until the series next console release? First the good news: 343 Studios and Vanguard studios have got you covered with “Halo: Spartan Assault,” the first mobile “Halo” title. The story takes place sometime between “Halo 3″ and “Halo 4,” making the game part of the official canon of the series. Next, the bad news: priced at $6.99, “Spartan Assault” is currently exclusive to Windows Phone and Windows 8.
And now the ugly news: in addition to being Windows Phone-exclusive, for a limited-time the game will only be available on Verizon Windows Phones, namely the Nokia Lumia 928, Lumia 822, HTC Windows Phone 8X and the Samsung ATIV Odyssey. We had a chance to play Spartan Assault on a Nokia Lumia 928 and were pleased with the authenticity of the game but wish it provided a more console-like experience.
Instead of offering a first-person view, 343 and Vanguard have opted for a top-down shooter. The hope is that the game will be challenging enough for die-hard “Halo” fans, but accessible enough for newbies to jump into the action. Players will step into the shoes of either Commander Sarah Palmer or Spartan Davis as they delve into the beginning of the Spartan Ops missions. The game promises to delve into the back story between the war between humans and the fanatical Covenant.
Spartan Asssault definitely feels like a true “Halo” title. The usual enemy types are there including Covenant Grunts and Elites. The world is bright and colorful, besotted with vibrant purples and magentas. Explosions are large and offer plenty of thick black smoke and red and yellow fireballs.
As with most mobile games, players will be using a series of touch controls. Played in landscape mode, gamers will be using the bottom corners of the display to navigate the terrain. The left side of the display functions as the D-pad while the right side controls your weapons. Keep in mind, however, that if you’re playing on a tablet or a Windows PC, the game will use a traditional mouse and keyboard setup if the peripherals are available.
The game also features a robust heads-up display (HUD) that shows a panel for primary and secondary weapons and another for grenades. A quick tap of either panel switches to the second choice. There’s also an Interact button along the center bottom of the display that comes in handy for picking up new gear littered along the landscape, hopping in a vehicle or jumping on a turret and clearing out a Covenant stronghold.
We found the left-side controls were quick and responsive. However using the right side of the display to aim and shoot was not as accurate as we would have liked. There were times that we found ourselves shooting to the left or right of hostiles directly in front of us. And throwing grenades took some getting used to. Although the double tap motion is simple enough, we found ourselves wasting precious grenades as we tried to find the proper range to hit our target. Switching out weapons was nice and seamless as was manning a turret or vehicle.
Weapons, Shields and Boosts
Fans of the series will feel at home with the available weapons such as the UNSC-issue Assault Rifle and Magnum as well as the Covenant Plasma Rifles. Before the start of every mission, we had the option to customize our weapons loadout as well as our gameplay parameters.
For example, instead of the standard primary assault rifle, we could upgrade to a sniper rifle, Spartan Laser or Rocker Launcher. The same could be done with our secondary weapon, armor ability (Sprint, AutoSentry, Overshield and Seeker Drone) and a Booster (Shield, Damage or Score). Keep in mind, however, that the best gear is never free. “Spartan Assault” has adopted a few freemium tactics, forcing players to grind for XP points for upgrades.
Gamers can enable two of six (Famine, Pacifist, Hollow, Black Eye, Thunderstorm and Blind) Skulls on their mission to earn extra XP. Skulls act as a sort of self-inflicted handicap. For example, when the Famine Skull is enabled, dropped weapons have less ammo. Pacifist drains shields with every shot fired while Thunderstorm makes enemies harder to kill.
Players also have the option of spending cold, hard IRL cash for game credits starting at $2.99 for 50 credits and topping out at $39.00 for 10,000 credits). Each purchase only lasts as long as the current mission, so if you have a favorite premium weapon, you’ll either be spending time or money for consistent access.
Gameplay and Replayability
Once we got the hang of the controls, gameplay was fast and furious. Depending on our loadout, we never felt too overwhelmed. Weapons are fairly plentiful — as long as you keep shooting Covenant, they’ll keep dropping weapons for you to loot. Missions are short and sweet, no longer than 10 minutes each. The game has 25 missions which means you can finish the game in a little under 5 hours.
In order to keep things nice and addictive, players can earn achievements that will be added to your Xbox gamertag profile. Gamers can also snag emblems that can be used in “Halo 4″ during career mode. In addition, to the main missions, 343 Studios and Vanguard Studios will be rolling out weekly challenges with leaderboards for a bit of competitive play.