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Halo Spartan Assault: pocket rocket

Tuesday, 4th June 2013 13:59 GMT By Stace Harman

Is that a Halo in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me? Stace Harman takes a first look at Halo: Spartan Assault as the series makes a long overdue return to PC. Sort of.

Halo: Spartan Assault

Halo: Spartan Assault is Windows-8-exclusive title developed by 343 Industries and Vanguard Games.

To promote Halo: Spartan Assault and further bulk-out its fiction, 343 has teamed-up with Dark Horse comics to produce a three-part tie-in story called Halo: Initiation, which offers more insight into the Human-Covenant wars.

There’s no Master Chief, instead players have the choice of either Commander Sarah Palmer or Spartan Davis and the option to customise their appearance and loadouts before each mission.

Halo: Spartan Assault launches in July, worldwide pricing is yet to be announced but it will retail for $6.99 in the US.

Halo: Spartan Assault is a Windows-8-exclusive, single-player twin-stick shooter. It features touch-optimised controls and will provide a mobile Halo experience that’s supported by optional micro-transactions.

If you’re still reading then please set aside your cynicism for the next five minutes so that we can explore just what all of that means.

I’ll start with an admission, Halo: Spartan Assault is not what I expected to see when I accepted Microsoft’s invitation to experience its new, “non-console” Halo project.

I was thinking it would be something along the lines of the recently confirmed Halo: Bootcamp or, at a push, a PC-collection of its notably absent Halo releases from the past six years.

Instead, Halo: Spartan Assault is an arcade-style, top-down shooter for Windows 8 whose fictional purpose as a battle-simulator program aboard the UNSC Infinity addresses the question that’s on nobody’s lips: what do Spartans do for fun?

The answer will soon be apparent as the game is on its way to Windows 8 as early as July.

As a Windows 8 exclusive (did I mention that yet?), Halo: Spartan Assault will be available for all devices that run Microsoft’s latest operating system and while that certainly includes laptops and desktop PCs, the design ethos has been focused primarily on mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones.

“We wanted to create a mobile Halo experience that you can take with you wherever you go but we wanted to make the right mobile experience, we didn’t want to just make a port of the console game,” explains Dan Ayoub, executive producer of publishing at 343 Industries.

“Halo has always defined the platform that it’s on, it’s always been the crown jewel of Xbox and Microsoft and we wanted to do the same thing here, we wanted players and other people in the industry to look at this and say ‘wow, how are they making the game look and sound this good.’”

At this point, disgruntled PC Halo fans may be asking not how 343 and co-developer Vanguard Games are doing it, but why. With only two of seven previous Halo titles released on PC, why is the series returning to the platform with an off-shoot of the main franchise?

The answer lies in that desire to create a mobile Halo experience, the host operating system’s mobile-friendly architecture and the simple notion that Halo: Spartan Assault looks to be aimed more directly at those searching for a quality mobile arcade-shooter than it is at series aficionados.

The Sarah Palmer Chronicles

That said, franchise fans will appreciate the wider Halo fiction that underpins Spartan Assault. Set between the events of Halo 3 and Halo 4, Spartan Assault tells the story of Sarah Palmer and the events that led her from a UNSC Shock Trooper to become the Spartan commanding officer aboard the Infinity warship.

The game exists inside the Halo universe as a battle simulator that the UNSC uses to both educate and entertain its current crop of Spartan hotshots on their days off. The simulator serves to highlight important conflicts in the UNSC’s history, in this case the battle of Dreatheus 5 that took place in 2552 when a splinter sect of the Covenant ignored a ceasefire and attacked a UNSC installation.

This fiction provides a jumping-off point for Halo: Spartan Assault’s 25 levels, which each last between 5 and 10 minutes and include shooting aliens, planting bombs, commandeering vehicles, defending bases and the odd escort mission.

Ayoub estimates that playing through all of the levels will take around 2.5 hours and so the focus is really on replay value, which is added via mission-specific challenges, such as killing 20 grunts with a plasma pistol or destroying two shield turrets with a grenade. There are also varied weekly challenges and global leaderboards to keep you interested.

Meanwhile, Halo 4 players will be able to earn XP, achievements and medals while stat-tracking will be incorporated via Halo Waypoint and multi-platform play will allow progress to be tracked across all of your Windows 8 devices.

Of course, control schemes across those devices will vary. Halo: Spartan Assault will support keyboard and mouse on launch for laptop and desktop platforms, while Xbox controller support will be added a few weeks later. However, it’s the touch controls of tablets and mobiles that are intended as the primary input for Halo: Spartan Assault.

To this end, 343 and Vanguard have found an effective solution to the problem of “gliding”, where your thumbs gradually move up toward the top of the screen of a tablet device due to the lack of purchase on the smooth surface.

Here, movement is handled by the left thumb while shooting is assigned to the right and, without finicky on-screen thumbsticks, these controls will work no matter where your thumbs move to on the screen. At any point you can lift your thumbs away from the screen and plant them back down in either corner in order to reset their position.

Other controls involve double-tapping for melee and visible on-screen buttons for grenades, picking up items, swapping weapons and activating Spartan abilities. Vehicles utilise the same control set-up as when on foot with the exception of double-tapping being the trigger to fire heavy weaponry such as cannons.

The economic environment is still being finalised, but Ayoub explains that there will be two different currency types: one you earn and one you buy. Weapons, temporary boosts and customisation items can be purchased via microtransactions or earned in-game, though there is currently no word on whether certain goodies will only be obtainable by via one currency or the other.

From a brief hands-on with a handful of levels on a Windows 8 tablet, Halo: Spartan Assault looks to provide a series of fun, bite-sized levels with solid controls, high-quality visuals, recognisable weapons and Covenant species, familiar sound effects and ample replay opportunities.

What Halo: Spartan Assault does not provide is an answer to PC players’ ongoing calls that they be permitted to conclude the original Halo trilogy; nor does it offer them the chance to experience 343 Industries’ own Halo 4.

Instead, Halo: Spartan Assault is a Windows-8-exclusive, single-player twin-stick shooter. It features touch-optimised controls and will provide a mobile Halo experience that’s supported by optional micro-transactions. So, does your cynicism tell you that’s all you need to know or is your curiosity urging you to give it a try?

Halo: Spartan Assault is a Windows 8 exclusive title that’s set for release in July 2013.

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22 Comments

  1. Gheritt White

    The game that literally NOBODY was asking for. MS have officially run out of fresh ideas.

    There’s lots of scope for a tablet/smartphone game set in the Halo universe… but a twin stick shooter? REALLY? Talk about setting the bar waaaaay low.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Jonathan42TD

    I’m worried for the future of Microsoft. They are really loosing it! First the XboxOne, now this… this… sad excuse for a Halo game. They have absolutely no interest into making fresh, new IPs. What a disappointment!

    They just want to cash in on any given chance, just because the greedy bastards will do anything in their power to alienate themselves from the gaming community by selling out to mainstream consumers who don’t care much for games, just a TV that watches you when you sleep.

    The PS4 will stand over the XboxOne, and become this generations console. E3 is just a few more days away… that’s all I’m saying!

    #2 2 years ago
  3. TheBlackHole

    I like twin stick shooters. Actually a real lack of good ones on iOS (I’m still amazed an MTX version of Geometry Wars hasn’t surfaced).

    I won’t play it as I don’t have a Windows device, but it looks nice enough.

    Feel like they’d have made a killing if they had gone multiplat.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. TheBlackHole

    @2

    “They just want to cash in on any given chance, just because the greedy bastards will do anything in their power to alienate themselves from the gaming community by selling out to mainstream consumers who don’t care much for games, just a TV that watches you when you sleep.”

    Funny that, being a business and all.

    Remind me how well Sony’s hardware and platform division is doing?

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Edo

    Ha ha ha ha NO!

    #5 2 years ago
  6. Jonathan42TD

    @4

    A business, yes, I agree.

    How well is Sony’s hardware and platform division doing? In a word, ok. They’re not doing exceedingly well, but “ok”. Microsoft, however, is not doing any better. Both companies want to affirm themselves in peoples lives through consoles, phones, etc., but they have are not succeeding in a way that they expected, because they have other competition. Its a business, yes.

    On the other hand, their consoles speak differently. Sony has oriented the PS4 towards gamers. Microsoft has oriented the XboxOne towards a general public that want a multi-media device for their necessities.

    Microsoft has stated over and over again, that the console is for gamers who want a “better experience of entertainment”; and that’s a nice thought, but it still isn’t as promising as to what people want out of a gaming console, which basically are games, not a TV!

    I could be wrong, that’s a possibility. But… after reading and hearing all of their new policies on “Always-online” and “disc-linked profiles”, I just really feel let down. Maybe they will bring new models in the future with less restrictions, or gamer-friendly policies, who knows?

    Thanks for the comment ;D

    #6 2 years ago
  7. G1GAHURTZ

    Other people put £thousands into their hobbies.

    Some so-called gamers whinge because they can’t ‘borrow’ a game.

    Not real gamers IYAM…

    #7 2 years ago
  8. monkeygourmet

    Should have been a touchscreen Halo Wars RTS sequel…

    #8 2 years ago
  9. Samoan Spider

    @7 Yup, I know a guy that likes racing. So he bought a new Caterham Seven (Zetec 1.6 if you care) at £18,000. He had to put it together himself. 2 weeks spent doing so, followed by days of tweaking. He then spends tons on race days, insurance, repairs, a trailer and a car to tow it with and so on. That’s a fucking expensive hobby. Makes ours look bloody cheap by comparison :D

    #9 2 years ago
  10. G1GAHURTZ

    @8:

    Yeah, those screens make me wonder why they ever canned Halo Wars.

    One of the best games MS have ever made…

    @9:

    Yep. Even Sunday league football needs a whole lot of money spent on a regular basis.

    Skiing, tennis, golf, paintball, and even keeping fit costs a load of money these days.

    I honestly couldn’t imagine having a hobby where I rely on other people giving me stuff they don’t want anymore.

    #10 2 years ago
  11. TheBlackHole

    #6

    “Microsoft, however, is not doing any better.”

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-22210762
    $6b in profits and beating market predictions. I’m not being a pedant, but Microsoft are doing better than okay, even considering the Windows 8 debacle.

    “what people want out of a gaming console, which basically are games, not a TV!”

    But X1 clearly isn’t a television, it’s a very powerful piece of hardware that allows you to watch television through the device, via whatever cable box you already have. It’s simply being a hub for all your entertainment so you don’t have to keep switching channels and devices. It’s not a set top box, it’s a gaming console with a lot of bells and whistles, whether you want them or not.

    “after reading and hearing all of their new policies on “Always-online” and “disc-linked profiles” ”

    You mean the policies they haven’t actually released yet, and stated they would explain in greater depth at a later date? I admit that their attempts to explain the issues have been awkward at best and piss poor at worst, but ultimately nobody knows what these ‘restrictions’ genuinely amount to.

    Also, I’d like to point out that millions of PC gamers manage to cope with Steam and its restrictive DRM and lack of sell-on policies. I don’t see people damning Valve. I hate that blatant hypocrisy, but it’s not unexpected, sadly.

    Appreciate the response – always a good debate on this site.

    #11 2 years ago
  12. ysleiro

    @#12 TheBlackHole

    Don’t bother citing legit numbers. Most commentators don’t know how these companies are doing (stock market) in the first place. The very fact he said “isn’t doing any better” means he is just clueless. MS and Sony are in VERY different financial situations.

    Guys complaining about this game: Would you have preferred 343 create another FPS only this time for touch devices? (WOULD THAT HAVE WORKED?)

    Give the studio a freaking break it’s a breath of fresh air. It’s different and looks new.

    #12 2 years ago
  13. ayman03

    I hate M$ so very very much

    #13 2 years ago
  14. ps3fanboy

    Look at that shit, it’s just what every Halo fan wanted, HAHAHAHAHA!!

    #14 2 years ago
  15. Hcw87

    Atleast it’s not Killzone, right?

    #15 2 years ago
  16. Lengendaryboss

    @16 Killzone is hardly as successful as Halo and as such fans are very picky to what they want to see. Personally this and the Halo TV series is not what no-one asked for.

    #16 2 years ago
  17. ps3fanboy

    @18 after micro$haft have killed off their halo game and made into a crappy rts clone. only for win8 and tablets/mobil phones… i can promise you killzone will be the more successful.

    #17 2 years ago
  18. Merlot

    As long as virtual controls are done right will be instant buy for my Nokia920.

    #18 2 years ago
  19. noamlol2

    the halo series died with the takeover of 343i

    Halo 4 was a disaster-a piss poorly made game, with terrible story,balls to the wall shot everthing that moves, and half finished multiplayer with a crappy comunity

    no thx, no more halo 4 me

    #19 2 years ago
  20. Jonathan42TD

    @12
    “But X1 clearly isn’t a television, it’s a very powerful piece of hardware that allows you to watch television through the device, via whatever cable box you already have. It’s simply being a hub for all your entertainment so you don’t have to keep switching channels and devices.”

    This feature that is implemented into the Xbox is set once the console is released in the U.S. In Europe, this feature will take some time before it is up and running when companies like Sky, Virgin, Ono or other free-view services have the needed requirements to broadcast the given channels through the box.

    Even so, doesn’t it seem that this console is tending towards an HTPC box? Given that the previous console already shared functions with WindowsMediaCentre, this console seems to be completely integrated for multi-media entertainment.

    You mentioned as well: “Also, I’d like to point out that millions of PC gamers manage to cope with Steam and its restrictive DRM and lack of sell-on policies.”
    This is true, and it is a pain in the backside. But that was one of the benefits of having a console; not to go through so many restrictions just to enjoy a game. Alas, now it seems that this will soon cease to become a benefit, and more like another restrictive policy.

    So, one could say that the Xbox is actually a PC than a console, if you look at it.

    @13
    I’m sorry if my phrasing on Microsofts status was inadequate, but I was making a general comparison between both companies in a console-gaming situation, not in a financial situation.

    And in retrospect to the Halo game, it would have been nice to see a sequel to Halo Wars; thats just my opinion. I still have hopes for 343i.

    Thanks for the feedback. I enjoy a good debate!

    I’ll add this here if anybody finds it interesting:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2S_ipybUR00

    #20 2 years ago
  21. Joe_Gamer

    Sweet! This is exactly the game that PC gamers…didn’t want at all. I fervently hope that Microsoft suffocates itself in it’s own fetid bowels as it turns itself inside out by jumping through it’s own asshole in a futile quest to become the one true “Apple”.

    #21 2 years ago
  22. redwood

    either you die a AAA with meager sales, or you sale millions of copies long enough to be spinned off into a mobile game.

    #22 2 years ago

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