Halo Spartan Strike is a twin stick shooter for Windows Phone and Windows 8.1, serving as a follow-up to 2013's Halo Spartan Assault.
For those who don't know (all 3 of you), Halo is Microsoft's flagship video game franchise. The sci-fi shooter has sold millions of copies spanning a history of almost 15 years, and shows no signs of slowing down. Halo 5 will release this October, spearheading Microsoft's efforts to shift Xbox One units in the perpetual console war.
Halo Spartan Strike is a smaller, humbler title, currently available only for Windows touch devices, PC and iOS. It launched out of the blue back in March, with far less pomp than its predecessor Halo Spartan Assault.
Halo Spartan Assault came out for Xbox One in addition to Windows Phone and Windows 8.1. Spartan Assault also sported synchronous progression via the cloud, Xbox Live integration, high quality graphics and twin stick shooter gameplay. Sadly, the game drew ire for weapons unlock micro-transactions that arrived in addition to a cost of entry. Halo Spartan Strike rectifies this, removing micro-transactions entirely, meaning I can review the game without feeling a pang of annoyance every time I see a cool weapon used as an in-app purchase incentive.
Pay model aside, how does Spartan Strike stack up? Let's take a look.
Setting and Presentation
Similarly to Halo Spartan Assault, Spartan Strike is a combat simulation which retells stories from Halo's lore. Spartan Strike follows the UNSC's efforts to recover the Conduit - a Forerunner artifact. The story is told by Roland, UNSC Infinity's AI (like Cortana), and provides animated cut-scenes between operations for additional context. The story comes across like an afterthought, but I generally expect it of a mobile title - you don't want hours of exposition while you're commuting on the bus. The plot 343i does provide is worthwhile enough to keep you engaged.
Halo Spartan Strike is certainly up there with the best when it comes to mobile gaming presentation. The game sports an angled top-down look, but it's fully 3D with beautifully crafted layers. There are 5 operations each split into 6 separate missions, taking place across various locales. You'll battle Covenant and Prometheans across war-torn locations on Earth and exotic alien landscapes on Gamma Halo, all lovingly detailed and brimming with authenticity. 343i failed to impart a great deal of variety when it comes to the game's locations, but what is on offer is rock solid.
Similarly to Spartan Assault, Spartan Strike does well to encapsulate the classic Halo feel despite its gameplay paradigm. Covenant enemies react similarly to how their iconic console counterparts do, and the music, sound treatment and special effects all play into this.
I'd argue that Spartan Assault managed to compact Halo into mobile phones pretty well, and nothing has changed in Spartan Strike. I feel as though Spartan Assault may actually have the upper hand when it comes to location diversity, but how does it fare when it comes to gameplay?
Gameplay and Combat
Optimizing gameplay for touch devices is hard. In my opinion, touch screens simply don't lend themselves well to imitating analogue joysticks - but 343i have done their utmost to ensure the game works well on our mobile devices.
Spartan Strike features virtually identical controls to its predecessor. Placing your thumb on the left side of the screen and tugging in a direction controls movement, whilst the same is true for aiming and shooting on the right side of the screen. You can double tap to throw a grenade or melee, and tap on the centre of the screen to use your Spartan ability.
Similarities aside, Spartan Strike has added a mid-range aiming reticule that helps you figure out where your thumb is aiming at. This simple addition helps a lot, in addition to a ramping up of aim assist. Control-wise, Spartan Strike is a notable improvement over the original, but as you might expect, it's still best experienced on a PC - either using mouse and keyboard controls or a connected Xbox controller.
Halo Spartan Strike follows the same gameplay direction of Halo Spartan Assault, but without the ridiculous micro-transactions which incentivised in-app purchases if you wanted to use anything other than the most standard weapons. It was possible to accrue credits over long periods of time in the previous game, but unless you were playing enough to rub the glass off your screen it wasn't really worthwhile. Spartan Strike does away with this, allowing you instead to gather reasonable amounts of credits through regular play, thankfully side-stepping micro-transactions altogether. The inclusion of this system is still slightly puzzling, making me wonder if a free to play variant may be on the horizon at some point. Microsoft don't seem to have gotten a good angle on mobile monetization yet, frankly, so they may still be testing the waters.
The combat is mostly familiar, providing similar tactical gameplay to its console counterpart. You'll be managing your shield strength, ducking for cover when it your shield depletes, and procuring new weapons in the field when you run out of ammo. The most notable addition to Spartan Strike is its Promethean enemies, which make their way across from Halo 4. The Prometheans add an extra dimension to the game, which would've otherwise been littered with only Covenant enemies.
Prometheans bring some of their weaponry over from Halo 4 as well. The Incineration Cannon scatters a huge area with fiery projectiles that kills most enemies outright, and the binary rifle allows for precision kills over long ranges. In addition to an expanded arsenal of personal weapons, there are new vehicles from the Halo universe, such as the UNSC Kestrel.
343i break up the twin stick kill fest by throwing in all sorts of objectives, none of which I can say are too taxing. If you're wanting to add more challenge to Halo Spartan Strike, you can do so by equipping a skull modifier at the start of a mission. You can only equip two at a time, and they provide limitations like removing the HUD or your shields, but can also modify gameplay, such as making enemies more difficult to deal with. Using skulls increases the amount of points and thus credits you'll receive at the end of a mission, which you can use to purchase boosters, power-ups and more exotic weapons for the next mission.
Over-all Halo Spartan Strike is another admirable effort to marry the Halo universe with touch-based casual gameplay. 343i haven't done a great deal to change-up the gameplay from Spartan Assault, which is a shame, but the minor improvements will be welcome for returning fans.
My biggest problem with Halo Spartan Strike is that it's simply so pedestrian. I wrote off Halo Spartan Assault for slapping me with a fairly premium cost of entry in addition to locking out the more fun weapons behind one-use-only micro-transactions or hours of grinding.
It's hard to fault Spartan Strike for anything other than a chronic lack of ambition. Halo is a franchise that deserves something a little more for its outing on our mobile devices in my opinion, but perhaps it simply doesn't make great business sense right now.
One thing is certain though, if you enjoyed Halo Spartan Assault, you will enjoy Halo Spartan Strike. They are virtually indistinguishable from each other save for minor improvements which could easily be patched in to Spartan Strike's elder sibling. The gorgeous graphics, reasonable price tag, 3-4 hour campaign, Xbox Live integration and cloud saves make this another solid mobile offering from 343i. I just hope they'll try something more ambitious next time round.
Halo Spartan Strike is available now on the Windows 8.1 app stores (featuring cross-buy), Steam for PCs and iOS.