Halo: Spartan Assault Graeme Jennings and Kevin Grace

Earlier today, Microsoft officially announced Halo: Spartan Assault for Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8. Just knowing that a real Halo game is coming to Windows platforms with Xbox Achievements is pretty much the best gaming news we could have hoped for this year. But of course, Halo fans will want to know more about Spartan Assault. Our fact-filled announcement article was just the top of the iceberg.

We actually attended a top-secret reveal event just a few weeks ago, where we interviewed several members of 343 Industries, Microsoft’s Halo-focused development company. Head past the break for the full video interview, Spartan Assault In-App Purchase (IAP) details, Windows 8 Xbox controller news, and everything else we couldn’t fit in the reveal article!

Hands-on experience

During the reveal event, Sam Sabri, myself, and other members of the gaming press first watched a PowerPoint presentation highlighting Spartan Assault’s basic features. The video portion of the presentation was actually delivered from a Surface Pro connected to a 70 inch television.

Once that wrapped, Microsoft passed around Surface Pro tablets so that we could all try the game for ourselves. Sam will provide more detailed impressions later today, but for now I’ll relay a quick observation:

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Spartan Assault doesn’t include any gimmicky touch-screen minigame type features. You don’t have to reach into the middle of the screen in order to pick up weapons or anything like that. The large interact button at the right side of the screen takes care of all that, and it helps keep this entry feeling like a real Halo game .

After the Surface was forcibly removed from our grasp, we remembered we had an interview to conduct. In the video above, we spoke with Graeme Jennings (Senior Producer) and Kevin Grace (Franchise manager) of 343 Industries. Kevin is also in charge of Spartan Assault’s story, hence a few interesting tidbits he dropped during our discussion.

Sorry, Prometheans

Halo: Spartan Assault

One of those factoids concerned the game’s enemies, the Covenant. We naturally wondered whether Spartan Assault would include the Flood, a parasitic race of aliens first seen in the original Halo or Prometheans, Halo 4’s dangerous new group of enemies. Regrettably, protagonists Sarah Palmer and Spartan Davis will only be fighting the Covenant in this game.

The reasoning makes sense though. 343 has already worked out the series chronology spanning the four years between Halo 3 and 4. By that time, the Flood was already wiped out and humanity had yet to encounter the Prometheans. Canonically, only the Covenant was stirring up trouble at this point in the timeline, hence they play the villains in Spartan Assault.

Weapons and grenades

Halo: Spartan Assault

Pretty much every human and Covenant weapon from Halo 4 will make its way into Spartan Assault. That includes highly destructive ordinance like the Spartan Laser and Rocket Launcher, plus some new weapons we haven’t seen yet. “But what about the sniper rifle?” you ask. After all, sniping traditionally involves zooming in from a first-person perspective. Spartan Assault is a third-person overhead view game, making traditional sniping tough to pull off.

As it turns out, the sniper rifle does show up in this game. It just doesn’t zoom, oddly enough. Yet you can run around no-scoping with it. Aiming is a bit harder than with an automatic weapon (as no-scoping has always been in mainline Halo games), though most shots result in one-hit kills. The sniper rifle might not be as effective in this installment as it should be, but it still packs a punch.Halo: Spartan Assault touch controls

Grenades also take a slight hit in the usability department compared to the console games. Toggling between different grenade types like frag and plasma grenades is a snap because you’ll find the grenade switch and throw buttons on both the bottom-left and bottom-right sides of the screen.

Throwing is the problem. When you press the throw button, the grenade flies in the direction your character is currently looking. Me, I would have made it so that you press grenade, aim with the right stick, and then release the stick. But I’m sure we’ll become accustomed to Spartan Assault’s throwing mechanics with further practice.

At least melee attacks are intuitive. Just double tap anywhere on the screen to bash your opponent at close range.

Credits and unlocks

Halo: Spartan Assault armory

Our first article discussed how in-game Challenges extend the life of Spartan Assault’s 25-level campaign. On top of that, the game also has a fairly robust grinding and unlocking system. Every level players complete – as well as those optional challenges – will award credits, Spartan Assault’s in-game currency.

Those credits can be spent on different equipment to customize your loadout with prior to starting a level. Loudouts include both primary and secondary weapons, armor abilities, and boosters. A few armor abilities we know of: a health regeneration field, overshield, and sprinting. As for boosters, they make the game easier to play by increasing the damage that players deal and other beneficial effects.

IAPs can be used to buy credits with real money. You can always choose to earn credits just by playing, so ponying up actual cash is never strictly necessary. It just saves some time. We’ve heard conflicting reports about whether boosters will be purchasable with credits or only via IAP though. Either way, I get the feeling that certain levels will be really hard to get high ratings on without boosters. Along the same lines of assumption, several Achievements will surely be tied to those tough-to-get ratings.

Windows 8 and RT Details

Halo: Spartan Assault elephant

Windows Phone Central broke the news that Spartan Assault will work in Windows RT in our previous article. RT wasn’t part of the message that Microsoft pushed during the reveal event, nor does it come up within the press materials released today. But for the first tablet-oriented Halo game to skip over RT would be quite a slight for Microsoft’s struggling tablet-specific OS. Thankfully, Graeme and Kevin did tell us directly that Spartan Assault runs on Windows RT. They described its RT performance as understandably lower than Windows 8 performance (RT hardware is much weaker), but still more than adequate. Surface RT owners can safely look forward to an exciting and faithful Halo experience.

Control methods are an interesting subject for Windows 8 and RT. Of course the game supports touch controls, as we’ve described already. But users of Microsoft’s tablet and PC operating systems also generally have access to mouse, keyboard, and even physical controllers.

Spartan Assault will support mouse and keyboard controls right out of the gate. The keyboard handles movement and several secondary functions, while the mouse controls movement, firing, and grenades. That actually makes throwing grenades much easier than with touch controls since players can look and aim before choosing to fire by clicking a mouse button.

Old school controls

What about Xbox 360 controller support? After all, Spartan Assault’s controls all involve virtual sticks and buttons – no tapping enemies directly or anything like that. The game would map perfectly to a control pad. And it WILL do so, but oddly not at launch. Instead, Xbox 360 controller support will come in a future update. If I had to guess, I’d say the decision to include it came after the launch feature set had been locked in. Silly not to plan for it from the start, but at least it’s coming.

Windows Phone 8 also happens to support a very Xbox-like controller, the MOGA Pro Controller. It would be highly synergistic for the phone version of Spartan Assault to offer MOGA compatibility. However, Microsoft has not confirmed any such support yet. It would probably show up in a patch, just like the Windows 8 game’s controller support.

Halo: Spartan Assault launches sometime in July and will cost $6.99 on each platform. We'll try to bring more impressions from E3 next week!