Halo is going mobile with Halo: Spartan Assault, a new game in the franchise bound exclusively for Windows 8 tablets, smartphones and PCs.
Developed by Vanguard Games (Gatling Gears, Greed Corp) and 343 Industries, Halo: Spartan Assault is a twin-stick-style, top-down arcade shooter that, over the course of 25 missions, will recreate classic battles fought by the UNSC. The Windows 8 game will be set between the events of Halo 3 and Halo 4, touching on the early days of the Spartan Ops program.
Players will battle Covenant forces as either Commander Sarah Palmer or Spartan Davis in "never-before-seen" battles, Microsoft says. Fleshing out Spartan Assault's narrative will be a comic book mini-series from Dark Horse Comics titled Halo: Initiation which serves as a prologue to the spin-off game.
Spartan Assault's operations, with names like Umbra, Captured Chance and Frostbite, are presented as missions in a UNSC tactical simulator. Players will be able to jump into these missions and battle waves of Covenant while escorting troop transports, piloting classic Halo vehicles or rendezvousing at a landing site. The Windows 8 game will also feature daily and weekly challenges, and taking part in these events can net players unlockable rewards in Halo 4 and Halo Waypoint.
The new content unlockable through Halo: Spartan Assault is new and exclusive, according to 343 Industries. The developer held back on a few unlockable items, a rep said, apparently an attempt to incentivize Halo fans to take a chance on the arcade-style Halo game — and maybe Windows 8 as a platform.
Players will have access to classic Halo weapons in Spartan Assault through unlocks, some of which can be earned by racking up points through gameplay and others which can only be purchased through microtransactions. We were told the upgrades that require players to spend real money are designed to make the game much easier, and based the purchasable options in the demo, will represent the majority of unlockables.
Spartan Assault players can boost their point gain by equipping skulls, the classic Halo modifiers that make the game more difficult while multiplying experience. In Spartan Assault, those skulls can strip a Spartan of their health, forcing them to rely on shields only; will drop weapons with smaller ammo counts; or see shields deplete with every shot fired.
Actually playing Halo: Spartan Assault is a surprisingly enjoyable experience. The virtual twin sticks on the Surface tablet we played with were excellent, a feeling surely aided by the game's liberal use of auto-aim. Pointing in the direction of an enemy provides a soft lock, making it easy to circle strafe around things like turrets. Bordering the screen are a handful of control icons that throw grenades, switch weapons and pick up discarded weapons from foes. Control-wise, Spartan Assault nails it.
While we didn't get a chance to play Spartan Assault on the smaller screen of a phone, 343 Industries had a build of the game running on a Nokia Lumia 928. The version targeted for phones modifies its control layout slightly, with the intent of making twin-stick control easier with less real estate.
Unfortunately, Spartan Assault will not be a universal app for Windows 8 devices. Like previous device Windows 8 games, each version (PC, tablet and phone) will be sold separately. Players will be able to take advantage of Windows 8's "play, pause, resume" feature, however, picking up on one device where they left off on another.
Halo: Spartan Assault will be released for Windows 8 tablets, phones and personal computers in July for $6.99.