MNB RG: Halo: Spartan Assault Preview, Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8

| July 19, 2013 | 23 Replies

MNB halo_spartan_assault_1Spartan Assault MNB halo_spartan_assault_2Spartan Assault MNB halo_spartan_assault_4Spartan Assault We mentioned that Spartan Assault was available for Windows Phone earlier today. Janne was asked to do a game review and shared a lot of thoughts and feedback with us.


Halo: Spartan Assault preview

I was asked to do a little review of Halo: Spartan Assault. Game reviews are probably beyond my scope, but I decided to write a little preview instead. Halo: Spartan Assault launched yesterday/today for Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8/RT.

The game is currently available for Windows Phone 8 1 MB devices, with a 512 MB version coming in August. In the U.S., Verizon operator has a 30 day timed exclusive – elsewhere there has also been some talk/rumor of carrier exclusives online, but nothing conclusive. Anyway, in Finland and many other European countries people have been able to buy the WP8 game just fine despite of carrier.

Getting the game

I bought the game on the launch night (4 pm PST but night for us in the Europe) for both Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8. Surprisingly, it was available to download for WP8 prior to Windows 8. I got the WP8 QR code from WP Central ( and initially it said the game is not available for my region, but this remedied itself in a matter of minutes. Download took maybe 10 minutes (it was clearly slower than my connection), but 30 minutes after the launch of the game I was already playing it on my unlocked Lumia 920 in Finland.

It took over an hour more to get the game to my Windows 8 machine. Microsoft’s Halo blog (!.aspx) admitted it would take some hours for the game to be found in the different Windows 8 Stores. I think in my case attempts to use various links (e.g. the one mentioned oat found online and the Store search finally yielded a result maybe an hour and a half after the launch of the game. Unlike Windows Phone QR codes, which seem to work pretty universally, the links to Windows 8 Store, while the showed the initial game, didn’t seem to find the actual game until it was really showing in my regional store.

On the other hand, this morning the Windows Phone 8 store search still doesn’t find Halo: Spartan Assault (which actually is named Halo: Spartan Asslt. confusingly, probably an unfortunate title length limit), unless you use the QR code. Microsoft really would do themselves a favor to step up and fix the Store experience in this regard. A more experienced user knows how to play around the propagation delays and inconsistencies, but a novice might just assume “it doesn’t work”.

Windows 8 vs. Windows Phone 8

MNB halo_spartan_assault_5Spartan Assault

From what I can tell of initial testing, the Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 versions are basically identical. They start with the same logos, videos, tutorials and menus. They play the same. The only real difference I could discern is the resolution difference. Although Lumia 920 is 1280×768, I believe the game is playing at a somewhat lower resolution – you can tell from the screenshots that while the resolution technically is 1280×768, the graphics are lower resolution. Some quick resizes tell me they look sharp at 800×480 (the base Windows Phone resolution), so I imagine the game plays at that. Luckily I couldn’t tell the difference from the Lumia 920 screen, it looks very nice on the screen, I only noticed this from the screesnhots later on.

On the PC the game is clearly higher resolution (I played on full HD in my case), at least most parts of it are – the video clips (which are plenty in this game) seem a little lower resolution than game screens, but overall still much higher resolution than the mobile version. Again something I only noticed when examining the screenshots, not inside the game really. Anyway, my initial impression of both the Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 versions is that they look great and they play great. Very smooth graphics, very high quality graphics. Clearly this is shaping up to be a AAA title, unless something drastic goes wrong later down the line in the game. Very nice.

Obviously the second difference is that still today these games are purchased completely separately – and there is a price difference, Windows 8 game is priced at €5.99 where as Windows Phone 8 version, I believe, was something over six euros. On the other hand, this is still like 12 euros for a game of this caliber playable on a multitude of devices. The mobile app pricing has skewed our thinking a little, I think this game is a bargain compared to what conventional games cost – even when buying for both platforms.

Third difference is the added control options on the settings screen in the Windows 8 version: you can select between touch and mouse & keyboard, whereas this screen has only a touch input cheatsheet on the Windows Phone 8 version. Later on (August?) Microsoft has also promised Xbox controller support for the Windows 8 version, so those options will grow on the PC side of things – Windows Phone 8 is and will obviously remain touch only (which is what this game was designed for anyway).

That brings us to the final point on Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, which really isn’t a difference – it is a convergence. You should actually be able follow the same game progress on both operating systems, as long as you are logged into the same Xbox account. Not only that, pre-release information sated you can actually pause your game on one of the machines and continue on the next. Unfortunately at this time I am unable to confirm either of these, even though I log-in with my same Xbox account, neither the stats or game situation seem to sync between the two. Maybe I’m doing something wrong, or maybe this feature only arrives in the August update (supposed to bring 512 MB WP8 support and Xbox controller support on Windows 8).


Halo: Spartan Assault is Halo canon, set between the stories of Halo 3 and Halo 4. The game pits Spartan soldiers in training against past missions in the humans vs. Covenant wars, actually playing on tablets themselves. So, really, Halo: Spartan Assault is a simulation of a simulator (this affects just the backstory and explains the top-down perspective, it doesn’t show in gameplay itself). Each mission starts with a very well done and narrated video clip slash animation – very Halo in itself – of the backstory and then you are hurtled in the middle of the action. Unlike past Halo shooters, which were first person, this one is from the top-down angle like Halo Wars.

However, unlike Halo Wars, Halo: Spartan Assault otherwise plays like the first person games. This means not only that it is a shooter (it actually reminds my a little of the old MicroProse hit on 8-bits, the Airborne Ranger, due to the perspective and versatility), you can also do pretty much all the stuff you can do in Halo 1 – 4, including mounting cannons and vehicles such as tanks and Warthogs as well. There is of course the usual multitude of weapons, different kinds of grenades and so forth. You will even come across sharpshooting, although here the familiar zooming-in action (so nice on FPS Halo games) is naturally missing due to the changed perspective.

So, how does it play? First of all, I must say I was really apprehensive about the touch aspect of this game. I have seen enough mobile games merely simulating console controls on a touchscreen to really dislike that approach. Usually games like this simply place a couple of circular control points on the bottom corners of the screen that mimick analog sticks. Not only do your fingers take up valuable screen real estate, those circular control areas do not provide the tactile feedback an analog stick does, meaning often loss of control. Considering that Halo: Spartan Assault, too, is mainly controlled with your thumbs on the bottom corners of the screen, I was worried.

Worry not, it seems. Halo: Spartan Assault plays great. Although the mission start screen might suggest so (you place two thumbs on circles to start the mission), Halo: Spartan Assault actually doesn’t have the conventional control circles at all. Instead, your two thumbs are free to wonder anywhere on the left and right sides of the screen, so you can follow the action without worrying where exactly your fingers need to be. This works particularly well, because there are also some little gestures your thumbs can do that make the character do certain actions.


So, as already mentioned above, the basic controls of Halo: Spartan Assault are keeping your two thumbs on the sides of the screen and moving them around. Your left thumb controls your movement, basically you swipe a little to the direction you want to go and then hold down the controller as long as you want to go there. It works, really, really, well. But that’s not all. On your right thumb, you fire your weapon, but not just by clicking it, you can also swipe with the right thumb to different directions and the character then shoots there.

Basically you can hold your both thumbs on the touchscreen all the time (you don’t have to lift your fingers) and just roll/swipe them into different directions to run and shoot everywhere. Mayhem. And it works great. Now, that’s not really all you can do. First of all, there are some gestures that require halting your thumb or lifting it up a little, such as charging some weapons and firing bigger blasts. These work very intuitively as well. So the basic mechanics work wonderfully. It really feels like a game designed for touch and the end-result is a pretty crazy shooter. Perhaps not Touhou bullet-hell crazy, but crazy nonetheless.

The weakest link, like on any touch game, are the actual touch buttons that populate the bottom edges of the screen. Here you can swap weapons (you can carry two types of weapon and two types of grenade at a time), intiate interactions with things like mounted guns and vehicles and throw grenades. Now, these controls are not badly done at all and work really well, but the requirement to look in their direction reminds me how well a traditional video game controller works – with mechanical controls you don’t even have to look.

Of course, on Windows 8 PC you have other control options. Eventually you can even play with an Xbox controller for Windows, but for now a combination of mouse and keyboard is the alternative to touch controls in PCs. The keyboard/mouse controls are quite traditional: you use the mouse to point, aim and fire (and throw grenades), while WASD buttons control your movements. Various other buttons on the keyboard replace the touchscreen buttons for switching items, melee attacks and so on.

The optional mouse and keyboard control work well for what they are, people familiar with them will surely be at home instantly, but I didn’t like them compared to the touch controls – the natural feel for the movement is lost. I’d expect the console controller with two analog inputs to fare better when the update to support that on Windows 8 hits later on. On the upside, when using mouse and keyboard controls, the sides of the screen clear up from those pesky touch buttons.

Parting words

There are 25 missions in the game and it starts off with a really nice tutorial, that gives you all the information you need. What I think is most striking in Halo: Spartan Assault, it must be the soundtrack. Not only that slightly melancholy music, best part of any space opera, the first time you hear those enemy grunts groan in that familar manner you are inside Halo – no matter the change of perspective. That’s the power of sound design.

The other great part, especially for a Windows Phone game considering the production values – but striking on the bigger screen as well – are the video clips that accompany the missions. While the simulation backstory lacks the sense of urgency in some Halo games, making this feel a little lighter (perhaps good for a mobile experience you play less intensely), those clips and the narration really bring that sense of Halo universe in the game. Anyone who has ever played Halo knows that these kinds of things are what really tie you into the story, it is not only about the fighting – and luckily, this remains intact in Halo: Spartan Wars.

Third, I must say, I’m impressed with the touchscreen gameplay. This game was really done for Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8/RT touch devices, no question about it. The two-thumb action really works wonders and the traditional, tried and true WASD/mouse controls seem almost clunky in comparison.

This is a game to be touched.

(Images 1-4 from the Windows 8 version, 5th image from Windows Phone 8 tutorial.)



Category: Applications, Lumia, Nokia, Windows Phone

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