System: Windows 8, Windows Mobile
Release Date: July 18, 2013
Genre: Third-Person, Top-Down Shooter
The Good: Strong graphics, tight controls, voice-work, challenging gameplay and immersive storytelling will satisfy both Halo fans and casual gamers. 25 missions, a multitude of weapons, armor abilities, upgrades, challenges, and Live-Enabled Achievements provide for strong replayability.
The Bad: Credit purchase system. Utilizing credits, purchased with real money, to procure powerful upgrades comes off as a bit greedy on MS’s behalf. But only getting to use those upgrades once per mission is a slap in the face.
Having ripped through the Covenant, from New Mombasa to High Charity, for the past twelve years, I consider myself a Halo-veteran, versed in the ways of Needlers, Dual SMGs, and SPNKRs. Through the insanity that was Halo 3, the neo-noir landscapes of ODST, the understated awesomeness that was Halo Wars, the CoD-rip that was Reach, the sad departure of Bungie, the news of 343 Industries taking creative control to the glorious majesty of Halo 4, I can safely say I’ve seen it all. But when Microsoft announced that Halo would be making it’s way to the Mobile Gaming front, I can say I was not only skeptical, I was concerned. Had my beloved Halo series been chosen to join the ranks of Angry Birds and Candy Crush? Would Master Chief soon find himself at the mercy of any bored slouch with a Windows 8 phone? Was anything sacred in the gamingverse anymore?
So it was with a heavy heart that I paid my $6.99 and downloaded Halo:Spartan Assault for my PC. I braced for impact as the words Halo and App kept appearing in the same sentence. And then the inevitable crest of the roller-coaster approached and I dove in, praying to whomever that there was water in the bottom of this pool.
Now all fanfare and inventive similes aside, this game is freakin’ awesome and in more ways than one. Halo: Spartan Assault breaks all the rules of basic app-gaming, both for PC and for Mobile units. I have to say that on mobile devices, the easily grasped touchscreen controls are fantastic and fit neatly within the story actually increasing the immersion factor. And while this aspect doesn’t reach the PC version (unless you’re Tony Stark), the differences stop there. No matter what platform you choose, both games are amazing.
Anyone familiar with Halo 4 knows that the multiplayer experience or War Games are handled in-game from the deck of the UNSC Infinity, almost like a training simulator on board the massive cruiser. Spartan Assault is no different. Set between the events of Halo 3 and Halo 4, while cryo-sleeping Master Chief floats through space accompanied by an ever-increasingly psychotic Cortana, Spartan Assault is set as a simulated instruction course for UNSC Cadets. The storyline follows the exploits of Spartan-IV Davis and Commander Sarah Palmer from Halo 4, giving more details about the brewing conflict between the Humans and remaining Covenant after the ceasefire at the end of Halo 3.
Through 25 missions of increasing difficulty, the player controls either Davis or Palmer through intial skirmishes with the Covenant to a head-on collision with a new boss religiously intent on reigniting the Human-Covenant War. If you have any familiarity with Halo Wars, the top-down perspective will be eerily familiar and casual gamers will find an interesting if alien-twist on the shooter front. Like Halo 4, you will choose or customize your weapon loadout, get a little storyline to set up the mission and off you go to put a bullet between the eyes of every Sangheili you encounter.
From here the game requires very little explanation. The missions are divided up into 5 Operations (A-E) and each Operation contains 5 Missions. Varying objectives will keep players on their toes and the familiar presence of Skulls will enhance gameplay to near impossible levels of difficulty which is good because gone are the settings of Easy to Legendary. Throughout gameplay you will have the option of completing challenges (3 for each Mission, 75 in total) which reward XP. There are also 3 Weekly Challenges which are somewhat more difficult and reward the requisite increased XP for the effort. These XP points can then be used to purchse upgrades to your primary and secondary weapons and armor abilities and I can assure you, Sniper Rifles are just just as wildly fun in the Top-Down perspective (think Command and Conquer’s Commando-levels but with insanely better graphics and a Player Character with personality).
Now comes the most annoying and potential game-killing aspect of Spartan Assault. The Credit System. Within the game, you have the option to use real-life money to purchase in-game credits. These credits can be purchased in packages of 500, 1000, 3300, or 10000 and you use these credits to gain access to items such as the Rocket Launcher and Overshield among others. The maddening part of all of this is that these purchased items can only be used once per mission. Now if you replay the same mission time and time again (like completing a challenge or hunting an achievement) that upgrade will be available as part of your loadout but once you switch to another mission you lose that upgrade and will have to purchase it again. This little stipulation would, in all honesty, be a flat out killer for any sub-par game, but thankfully Spartan Assault is actually solid enough in its entire build to forgive this travesty and it helps that none of these upgrades are required to achieve anything in the game (they just make it far easier in the long run).
With its dynamic visuals (for the platform), rich storyline, and immersive gameplay Halo: Spartan Assault breaks serious ground when it comes to App Gaming and at only $6.99 it’s an absolute steal. Like Halo 4 and the Halo: CE Anniversary before it, Microsoft has proven once again that handing 343 Industries the reigns to one of the greatest franchises in all of gaming history was a successful choice. And with more downloadable content set to expand the Spartan Assault universe, MS has time enough to (hopefully) correct it’s one mistake and deliver more of the pure awesome to your Windows 8 PC or Mobile Device.
Final Score: 9 out of 10