A highlight of the Xbox E3 2013 Media Briefing was the brief cinematic teaser teasing the return of Master Chief. At the end of the day, after EA, Ubisoft and Sony had their keynote presentations, Microsoft held an Xbox Showcase event where media could – for the first time ever- get hands-on with the Xbox One, peripherals and most of the games unveiled today.
And one of the available games I made sure to play was the new Halo… but it wasn’t the eagerly anticipated followup to 343 Industries’ Halo 4.
Hopping on Windows 8 powered Surface tablets, Game Rant writer Anthony Taormina and I each took the opportunity to try out Halo: Spartan Assault, the recently announced twin stick shooter for Windows 8 devices (both smartphones and tablets) and Windows 8 PCs, developed by 343 Industries and Vanguard Games.
Spartan Assault is set between Halo 3 & 4 and is based on the first missions of the Spartan Ops program featured in Halo 4. Players take on the role of either Commander Sarah Palmer or Spartan Davis throughout the 25-mission campaign, and the experience earned ties into players’ Spartan career on the UNSC Infinity (bonus in-game rewards!) if they have one from Halo 4.
And they should if they have Windows 8 hardware because Halo: Spartan Assault works very well on touchscreen devices and offers an authentic Halo experience, from the weapon mechanics, controls and character designs, to the missions themselves. Players use the Windows 8 touchscreen to control the on-screen character, using the left thumb to move and the bottom-right corner of the screen to shoot by simply pointing in the direction. In that sense it’s a traditional twin-stick shooter and the game assists in aiming directly at the nearest enemy so that element is rather easy and it comes down to the player’s ability to dodge incoming fire while dishing out damage themselves.
Playing on the Surface is the best mobile option because of the screen (and device) size and dimensions. It’s a natural fit and the HUD display is very clean, not even featuring circles for where player thumbs should be. Players can double tap anywhere to melee and there’s a grenade prompt on each corner where the player normally has their thumbs as well, and on the right side, there’s an additional button for activating the pre-selected Spartan ability. Using in-game credits players can equip better weapons and unlock the better abilities as they progress. We upgraded from the secondary Magnum to the big iconic Sniper Rifle for some easy one-hit kills on Grunts and Elites.
The graphics are great and the game runs perfectly smooth on mobile devices, but more important, the level and character design along with the general presentation values of the menus, maps and more all feel like Halo, not unlike Halo Wars.
From our limited time with Halo: Spartan Assault, the title plays as a natural and fitting extension of the franchise and has an opportunity to appeal to a new demographic who may only know the brand by name. With potential for further integration with the core Halo series down the road, we see much potential for future stories, gameplay experiences and more of a push towards getting Halo getting back on PC. We could even see it leading some interesting asymmetric gameplay modes in Halo 5, should Microsoft Game Studios and 343 be thinking as ambitious as we hope they are.
Halo: Spartan Assault will be hitting Windows 8 PCs, W8 tablets, and the Windows Phone 8 this July for $6.99.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.