Halo: Spartan Assault - through the eyes of a die-hard Halo fan

“Wake up Sam”, that’s what my internal Cortana said on the morning of May 14.

Paul and I were in Santa Monica, CA to get an early preview of an upcoming, unannounced, non-console “Halo” action title. That’s all we knew, but the fact that Microsoft and 343 Industries invited Windows Phone Central gave us an idea of what platform we would be playing this on.

Was it finally happening? Halo on Windows Phone? As you know by now, the answer was a loud yes. And bonus, Windows 8 was getting in on the action. If you read us regularly, you might have figured out by now I’m a big Halo fan. So what do I think about Halo: Spartan Assault so far?

Spoiler alert: Forget E3 and Build, I want it to be July already.

So what’s this post about?

I’ll give you guys and gals a journal type entry for that morning, my initial impressions and finally I’ll try my hand at addressing some concerns I’ve seen on the web and have myself about the game. Then we're going to battle it out in the comments on what you all think of the game.

May 14, 2013

We were at Shutters on the Beach, a hotel in Santa Monica that, believe it or not, is on the beach. The conference room was situated right next to the boardwalk (well, technically a cement walk), but you couldn’t tell since all blinds were shut to keep Peeping-Toms at bay.

Shutters on the Beach

Microsoft and 343i invited about a baker’s dozen (or two or three) of gaming journalists, bloggers, and traditional news reporters to the event. First thing first, food and non-disclosure agreements. There was a full breakfast buffet to keep blood sugar levels from dropping too low and the NDA's needed to be signed by everyone for the presentation to start.

Basically you agree to an embargo on everything discussed, breaking that embargo results in the forfeiture of your first born or something else of equal value. Bellies full from the breakfast buffet and papers signed, it was time to kick off the presentation. Unfortunately, no videos or photos were allowed to be taken during the event, but that didn’t matter so much since they were planning on sending media assets for the game closer to the day the embargo gets lifted.

The presentation itself was solid. The speaker had a Surface Pro powering the large HDTV in the room. PowerPoint slides, screenshots, and videos were seen by all. In addition we got our first glimpse of gameplay during a live demo on that same display. But the most beneficial part of the morning came after the presentation. When a handful of Surface Pros were handed out for journalists to try out the game for themselves. The team of developers and designers working on Spartan Assault walked around, helping people get the feel for the game while answering questions.

Thoughts on Spartan Assault from a Halo fan

Surprise. I’m a Halo fanboy. I’ve played (and loved) every Halo game since it landed on the original Xbox back in 2001. Ever since I picked Windows Phone as my mobile platform in 2010 I’ve been to play the Halo series on my smartphone. Nearly two and half years have elapsed since and we’re so close to getting that game.

Was I surprised that the game wouldn’t be a first-person shooter? Yes and no. While I’ll always dream of playing a Halo FPS shooter away from my Xbox, it wouldn’t be the same experience on a smartphone or tablet. Because by default you interact with touchscreens on those devices. Sure you could add a controller, but that adds an unnecessary barrier to playing a game that wouldn’t sit with most gamers.

Tank beats everything

So what about a real-time strategy game, like Halo Wars? Well that also presents some problems. While I think a hypothetical Halo Wars 2 would be amazing on a tablet, it could be awkward on a smaller display. I think 343i did the right thing by giving the Halo universe a new genre: the top-down shooter. We’ve seen it work well on mobile devices, remember Z0MB1ES!!1 (on the ph0ne)? Try it out if you want a general idea of how Spartan Assault will play.

During the presentation I was a little hesitant about this twin-stick shooter for a Halo game. It felt slightly sacrilegious as a Halo fan that it would not be first-person, but then again so did Halo Wars. And like Halo Wars, after playing the game for a few moments it clicked – this is exactly how Halo should work on a tablet or smartphone. The picture below gives you the idea of how the touchscreen controls will work.

Abilities? Check. Melee? Check. Teabagging? Hmm...

And if you look at the diagram above, you’ll see how they managed to capture that Halo feel in a new game genre. Melee, weapons switch, grenades, vehicle controls, and armor abilities are all present in this game. It may look complicated, but it didn’t take long for me to get comfortable with the controls. I really can’t wait for you to try it out for yourself, but it handled really well and can only get better between now and then. Something I’ve never said about a touchscreen based first-person shooter.

Story time

It’s easy to dismiss Halo as just another mindless shooter if you haven’t really played. But fans of the series will quickly talk about the Halo mythos and how it draws them in. The Halo universe spans many different story-telling mediums: books, comics, videos and more. It looks like Halo: Spartan Assault will continue to carry that torch of finding a good balance between story and gameplay. Within the Halo community there are fans who enjoy and engage each other in specific segments of that universe. Most of you are familiar with those who just play online multiplayer. But there are solid groups who spend most their time in just campaign. There’s also fans who have never played the game, but greatly enjoy the books. The in-game cinematics are of a quality that you usually find in AAA titles on console games and that has me excited.

Concept art for Spartan Assault

Cinematic from Spartan Assault

So what do we know about the story so far? Well Spartan Assault is tied tightly into the Halo 4 story. You’re on board the UNSC Infinity, the main ship in the Halo 4 campaign. The ship is used as training for Spartan IVs through an X-Men like Danger Room. Basically a training facility where Spartans can re-live past battles to hone their skills or do skirmishes against one another in this simulator. The battles that you’ll be re-experiencing focus on Sarah Palmer, an ODST who becomes part of the first wave of Spartan IVs. You’ll also have a new character named Spartan Davis, who we don’t know much about at this time.


This is the part where Spartan Assault clicked with me that morning. The weapons in Halo have always had their own unique feel and sound. Maybe it’s the countless man hours I’ve sunk into the Halo series, but I can close my eyes and tell you what weapon is on screen by ear. You know that feeling when you fear the pink mist as your body explodes after an opponent unleashes their Needler on you? You’ll get that feeling playing Spartan Assault. I couldn’t stop grinning as I played the demo and heard that grenade bounce, that sticky stick, or those Grunts begging for mercy.

Dual SMGs

Dual SMGs are back

Spartan Assault will come with a variety of weapons. You’ll see some old friends (dual SMGs anyone?) and some new weapons that we’ll learn about at launch. But the moment that really clicked was how good the weapons work in this top-down perspective. You can pick your initial weapons at the start of each mission. I picked the sniper and went to town. A click flick in the general direction of an enemy will result in that sniper bang followed by an Elite knocked off his socks.

Vehicles are all present too. During my short hands on with the game I was able to kick an Elite out of a Wraith. Like all Halo games before this, you can control the vehicles and wreak havoc. I quickly took out the surrounding enemy Wraiths with mine. It was satisfying to splatter Grunts along the way.

Concerns and some misses

Right now there is no multiplayer or co-op in Spartan Assault. To me, that’s a miss and something I wish 343i had pushed hard to make happy. Why does Halo have such a high replay value on the Xbox? Because once you finish the campaign you can spend an insane amount of hours online doing multiplayer games in a variety of gametypes. Slayer, Capture the Flag, and others would have been fun even in this top-down perspective. I think it would have been possible to do since they were able to create a compelling story and campaign with this new twist.

And even if online multiplayer would have been too time consuming to add, co-op would have been equally as rewarding. I’m not sure how Spartan Assault will stay relevant once you’ve beaten the game. The game will feature challenges, specific to each level and then weekly ones. But I’m not sure that’s enough to keep people coming back. The allure of multiplayer is that no two slayer games are the same. On the console, new human opponents always present different challenges and test you as a player on Xbox Live. That could have translated well to this game.


Buy credits? But I bought the game...

Across the internet a handful of people have grumbled about this being only available for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. They see it as a money grab and selling out of Halo for the purpose of pimping their new platforms and making cash. While it’s true that most companies actually try to make money, you shouldn’t let that detract from enjoying Spartan Assault. Windows Phone and Windows 8 are getting a game that’s produced like it belongs on the console.

However it’s hard to ignore the in-app purchases. When you have to initially buy the game (6.99) and there are still IAPs in the game it kind of stings. 343i stressed that you can beat the game without using them. However, it’s hard to judge how true that statement is until we actually get to play it. As a game developer do you design a game to slightly encourage micro-transactions? If I had to guess, 343i won’t take that approach since they’ve generally shown a loyalty to their fan base.

What happens next?

Between now and the release in July there’s still a lot more to learn about Spartan Assault. We expect to get more hands on at E3 and learn more about the game. For example we still don’t know what you’ll unlock in Halo 4 while playing this game. Other mysteries include whether or not there are separate achievements between the phone and tablet versions. Will we see a version for the Xbox One? All questions to ask and find out.

As a lifelong Halo fan I am extremely looking forward to this game. Not only for the small push that Windows Phone and Windows 8 might see, but because it’s the first time we’re getting to experience Halo away from the couch.

I’m curious what you Halo fans think of this game? What about non-Halo fans? Sound off with your thoughts below!

Sam Sabri
  • And another quick question... should we make some Windows Phone 8 ready wallpapers for your lockscreen with the Spartan Assault images we have? Sounds like a good idea right? ;)
  • Yes, please, sir.
  • Give me a giant "But Credits" one and I'll be happy 
  • What reason could there possibly be not to?
  • Oh deffo if of high quality will be my lock screen in the run up to e3 make it happen Sam.
  • Yep
  •   Oh, hell yeah! Thank you.
  • Yes, please!
  • Yeaaah!
  • Lets just hope to god Microsoft don't release this down the road on ios and andoid.
  • Here, here!!
  • Agreed keep it exclusive drive and support your platform and keep em coming now you have started.
  • HALO is the mascot of Microsoft gaming expeeiences. They only Made them for xbox and ignore PlayStation and other consoles. So it won't make sense if they release HALO to other Mobile platform.
  • True, but MS enjoys a healthy lead in consoles. The exact opposite is the case in the smartphone wars. So that may sway them. Especially when they think about the tens of millions they stand to make if they do release it to Android & iOS.
  • They do now but when the first halo came out they didn't. It was a flagship game ment to push sales of their (MS's) console and has never and will never go to the Play Station people stay on or buy an XBOX just for Halo.
    This will not end up on iOS or Andriod either. Halo is ecentially the jewel in MS's gaming crown and is ment to push sales of their platforms which in the long run will net MS more money than a game released on other platforms.
    And for the people crowing for this on Andriod aka Googles biggest software platform while google isn't bringing their services to the WP platform - I laugh at you.
  • +8X
  • +Quantum
  • In Engadget, Android and IOS user are already complaining about it. They say Microsoft needs to release this for there OS if WP needs to be taken serious. I just laugh at them, and ask why don't IOS and android share with us?
  • Yeah, that's rich. They tout the greatness of Android and iOS over Windows Phone because of their collection of apps. Windows Phone is dogged for NOT having the big apps. Now, we're getting a phenomenal game (it appears), and they're saying that we ARE getting it is proof that the platform isn't worth taking seriously? I've never heard of such blatant idiocy.
  • Totally agree. Fanboy idiots they are...
  • Spoiler alert. Could this be true? Got this from another site.... The only downside is that the game will have to be purchased twice; once on Windows 8/RT and once on Windows Phone 8 for $6.99 on each platform
  • That part is true. 
  • Lol!
  • if i buy the windows 8 vrsion, is it tied to my windows 8 account or do i have to rebuy it for every windows 8 laptops and desktops in the household?
  • It's tied to your account. All Windows 8 game purchases work that way.
  • That's how it works for every app that is on windows 8 and phone 8, sadly. It isn't like IOS.
  • Every app except Galactic Reign (unless you want achievements on both)
  • Yeah it's wiered, but on the other hand, if they went for a big Windows Phone such as the ipad is in comparison to the iphone or Andoid tablet to the Android phones, it wouldn't be anything special. Lets see if it was the right move.
  • It's just a different area of overlap.  For Apple stuff, you can buy once for iPads and iPhones, but have to purchase separately for MacBooks.  For MS stuff, you can buy once for tablets and desktops, but have to purchase separately for WP.
  • Well. For that price alone, re-playable is a must factor for non-Halo fans. 25 mission might looks to few (i don't know the difficulty of each levels though). So multiplayer where we can challenge various type of opponent should be a great added values.
  • Knowing MS with this being a Halo title, I think there is a good chance we will see DLC down the road or updates pushing new levels. Especially if this is a hit.
  • I don't care about the grumblings of people concerning wp/w8 exclusivity. That's the way it should be, and there should be much more of this down the line.
  • It'll be on iOS in 6 months, its almost guarenteed.
  • So which part of Only on Windows 8 and WP8 guarantees it will be on ios in 6 months?
  • Jamdot, you're a killjoy. Go jump in a lake. :-P
  • Proof or GTFO!!
  • No port to android or ios. MS should use this exclusivity to pull Halo fans on those platforms to WP. It may backfire but still, MS has a great marketing strategy for gamers. Now my only issue if MP, friends only will be an issue as most of them use ios and droids. Time to persuade i think.
  • I agree. I had a buddy of mine (huge halo fan was in OXM a few years ago for the hug halo LAN gaming den at his house) he just got the Nokia 928 recently and I know this made him even more excited for the Windows Phone platform.
  • I agree. This title should never leave the Microsoft ecosystem. But that doesn't mean it won't.
  • I still don't understand how the shooting works. Is it like a dual joystick shooter? If it is, why don't people just say that?
  • Been having been using both terms throughout the web. So it's a top-down, twin-stick shooter!
  • Just like Smash TV! I'd buy that for a dollar! Oh wait... it's 7 dollars right :P
  • So, you grape gropers knew it was coming all along? Man!!.. I wonder what else you taffy tasters know.. What app is coming out tomorrow that's so special Sam?.. You lint licker..
  • In the article about snapchat Daniel Rubino said that their was another popular app coming to windows phone soon
  • Okay, you made my day. Thanks.
  • Lol its hidden in the comment section of that article
  • Of the other article? You cookie cuddler..
  • So psyched for this.
  • I can't belive people are getting bent out of shape because this is WP exclusive.  Does Nintendo and Playstation get Halo?  Nope!
    My biggest complaint with this is the lack of mulitplayer.  I'm not a die hard Halo fan, but multiplayer is definitely one of, if not the most, important aspects why Halo became so popular.  
  • It's great that people are getting worked up about it's exclusivity, WP needs big name apps, especially exclusives!
  • Agreed!
  • Actually, its a good thing people are getting worked up. It means that WP has something that everyone wants, but can't get on iDroid, and that's just perfect.. I hope it causes a"riot"!!
  • Multi player or not, still picking it up. Its halo!
  • Hell yeah!
  • If only Cortana could really project herself from our bedside phones......
  • And into your pants? You perv...!
  • LOL!
  • Lol... I would love to see some VR like that in the future (Maybe it disables VR when it sees a pocket?
  • I cant wait halo is awesome. I am glad its only on windows products. It deserves it if people want it buy the product. It not like windows is rubbish. Its a solid and great system. Ios has a load of shit only on that system. So bring it on and leave it for windows only.
  • Not on my win8 laptop? Has no touch screen.
  • Supports M/KB
  • Come on man, our previous article totally answers that question in detail: Hands-on with Spartan Assault and developer interview
  • My fault. Hadn't read that one yet as I saw "windows phone 8" in the first paragraph through the wpc app and skipped over it, still on 7.x.
  • So, it controls like Robotron? Am I showing my age? LoL
  • Multiplayer?
  • No co-op for campaign/story mode nor slayer type mutliplayer. A miss in my book. 
  • If it had multiplayer or slayer you could play this game forever and never grow tired of it. Hopefully an update is in the future. We should just be happy Microsoft is making an effort. Beggars can't be choosers. As of now re play value will be little to none.
  • I guess they have to keep some room for excitment for the next release, whenever that would be. Thats how it grows, doesnt it?
    Lets  first test the market with this game and advance as we continue up ahead, increasing the brand equipty one bit at a time, no? :)
  • There are some great games for WP at this time. This will top my charts. Just need Final fantasy II & III (US numbered of course).
  • This is a good start. This is what the WP community has always been shouting to microsoft. Bring the halo franchise to WP. And we got it, plus Windows 8. That's already more than we asked for and I am super excited for this. I wanna see what this means for the Xbox One also, having the same framework as RT. Could there be a possibility of this game being ported to the Xbox One? They already confirmed it will support the controller, that ticks all the boxes.
  • Bingo. That's what we have been thinking.
  • Well which bit? That the game will come to Windows 8 or that it might come to the Xbox One?
  • We know it works on Windows 8. We just hope it will come to Xbox One as well.
  • This was a great & fun read. I am so excited to think we will be able to play Halo on our phones soon!
  • I've never been a big Halo fan, but this is huge for the platform! Now bring me some Gears of War and we'll be in business!
  • Same here but this is going to be a huge selling point, especially with eos and the two major updates to the OS by years end. Hopefully we see a major increase in advertising because none of this is going to matter if no one knows what strides wp8 has been making to be competitive.
  • Halo! I'm a fanboy since day one also! For me I've never played online multiplayer (any game really), so that's no problem for me. Just so excited to finally get Halo on my WP!
  • Will it work on 512 mb ram .,like 720 lumia
  • Yes
  • So excited about this game.
  • I was at my girlfriends new place in venice beach and we took bikes down to santa monica.  We drove by 'shutters on the beach' and I pointed to it and said 'holy shit that place looks expensive'.  The next day I read your post about it!!! Weird.
  • It was super expensive. But so comfy and beautiful!
  • I used to play Halo 1 at friends houses but I have never owned any halo game.  This looks pretty good though I will probably get it for my surface RT.
  • Not my type of game (don't have a console, my favorite is Farm Frenzy 2, you get my point LOL), but good for the platform!
    Regarding the Android and iWhiner folks, I'm telling them: enjoy your exclusives and deal with it :-)
  • Can't wait a must buy
  • Nice job, Sam! Had a blast going along with ya. Each platform will have a set of Achievements, btw.
  • Todays xbox?
  • Hey Sam, I use my Xbox 360 controller with my Surface RT to play games, does Halo also support the Xbox 360 controller? That would be super awesome, as I hate touchscreen gaming (I neeeeeed my tactile feedback! :P).
  • It will in future update.
  • I'm not sure about you... but I was introduced to Halo through the fantastic PC port from Gearbox, even today I'm still enjoying Halo "away from the couch."
  • Hopefully with this release, other major devs can see that MS is taking the platform seriously by releasing such a major IP and will start to bring some of the bigger games to WP. Fingers crossed.
  • Im not a huge gamer but I'm very happy about the news, this is great for the platform.
  • I have never played a Halo game before but yeah that's going to change with this!
    Hopefully this will increase the phones marketshare amoungst gamers too.
  • The engadget comments are great, people are saying if MS release more exclusive games like Forza etc they would jump ship immediately, some are even saying they will jump ship because of this!
  • Yeah, Im so happy :D :D Bye bye iShit and Crapdroid
  • No online multiplayer is a major let down for me. What a great opportunity it would have been for Microsoft to bring a real top online game for the platform. The game would suit it so well too and there'd be multiple game modes that they could have created for it. A real shame...
  • How about test the waters first for performance, then add feature once feasibility is ascertained. You would have more of a backlash if it didn't work than if its not there in the beginning. People love to bash a feature that fails especially were MS is concerned.
  • Sorry but I don't see your point.
  • The point is you see what the platform can handle, then expand based on your findings. Halo is renowned for its MP experience and i don't think 343 want to give Halo fans a bad experience.
  • I bet my hat the multiplayer will come in some future update, then I might hop on the train, otherwise not my cup of tea on a phone. And even on xBox - aiming with a THUMB? Come on ;)
  • All hail high n mighty ancient pc gamer
  • And a proud one too ^_^ Quake III Arena, the One True multiplayer shooter!
  • Ah i as well. Altho I did play quake 3 on Dreamcast lol
  • I hope this doesn't become a Nokia exclusive as i am soon to be switching to the Samsung Ativ S.
  • hehe that would make my day :D
  • ?
  • Sarcasm :3
  • So... Early, mid or late July?
  • Thanks for the game preview Sam. I'm really excited to get this for my 920 and surface rt on the release day. It's great that we finally have a killer app for wp8 and I'm looking forward to showing it off to my apple and google friends and coworkers.