Halo: Spartan Assault Review - Finish the fight on Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8

Ever since Windows Phone 7 launched with Xbox features and games, fans have been clamoring for a mobile Halo game. The Halo series of first-person shooters is Microsoft’s most popular gaming franchise, so a Windows Phone version would seem like a foregone conclusion. But two years passed without the slightest hint at a mobile Halo title, prompting us to question whether Microsoft has the will to bring its gaming franchises to Windows Phone.

Thankfully, a little PC and tablet OS called Windows 8 finally inspired Microsoft and franchise stewards 343 Industries to make the leap towards bringing Halo to mobile devices. Developing the game for Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 simultaneously allowed the creators to keep costs down; reach the phone, tablet, and PC markets in one go; and give Microsoft’s fledgling phone and tablet operating systems a shot in the arm.

Halo: Spartan Assault is finally available on Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8. Read on for our comprehensive review of both versions!

A slim story

Spartan Assault takes place between Halo 3 and 4. Since Master Chief is napping in cryosleep during that time period, players control two of his co-Spartans (genetically enhanced soldiers) instead. You’ll play as either Sarah Palmer (first seen in Halo 4) or newcomer Spartan Davis, depending on the level.

A new character would normally be exciting, but Davis doesn’t show any personality or even have a first name. His final appearance in the game comes in an awfully offhand manner to boot. Davis could have been left out without impacting the story.

Arcade Halo

Characterization aside, Spartan Assault deftly adapts Halo’s shooting gameplay into a title that can be played in tiny chunks on the go. Gears of War Judgment did pretty much the same thing earlier this year on the Xbox 360, breaking away from long, story-heavy stages into short, highly replayable levels.

Spartan Assault’s 25 stages vary in objective and length. Several have players defending a stationary location against enemies for a set duration of 2-4 minutes. Other times you’ll escort one or more NPC allies to their destination or hunt down a group of enemies. Mission length caps at five minutes or so, though you might spend much longer trying to actually beat the harder missions.

Play it again, Sam

While it won’t take especially long just to beat the game, the developers have done a surprisingly good job at instilling replay value. For starters, gamers can earn 32 medals to seek for kill streaks and specific types of kills. Medals add to a stage’s score, making it easier to earn gold star ratings.

Other than seeking gold stars for each stage, Challenges lengthen the game a fair deal. Three weekly challenges provide new objectives over time. Plus each level has three specific challenges such as killing a number of enemies with a specific weapon.

Challenges are fun to go after but one major UI mistake cuts into that fun: you have to visit a specific screen from the main menu in order to view those challenges. It would be so much more convenient and intuitive if the stage challenges showed up before and after a stage or when pausing the game. Having to back out to the main menu to check them is a major hassle.

Load-outs, XP, and difficulty

Every stage has its own specific load-out of two weapons and one armor ability. Players can spend XP earned from beating levels or credits bought via In-App Purchase (IAP) in order to access better weapons like the Sniper Rifle and Rocket Launcher instead of the default load-out. The catch is they only unlock during that specific instance; if you revisit the level and want a boost, you’ll have to buy it all over again.

Experience earned during a level depends on two factors: star rating and skulls. You can choose up to two difficulty-increasing skulls from a pool of six in order to get an experience multiplier. The problem with the XP system is you don’t get any experience if you fail the level. Spartan Assault is harder than a traditional Halo game – enemies can take your Spartan down a bit too quickly, and you get only one life per level with no checkpoints. Failed attempts at a level would be less frustrating if we still got some XP from them.

Twin platforms

Windows 8 version

Both the phone and Windows 8 versions use cloud saves and support the Play/Pause/Resume feature. Progress earned in one version transfers to the other seamlessly, provided a user purchases both versions. XP, medals, Challenges – they all carry over between platforms.

Both versions share the same content, but they differ slightly in controls and UI. On Windows Phone, double tapping the screen tosses a grenade in the direction you’re facing. With Windows 8, you either press a grenade button or right-click the mouse. Armor abilities have their own button on Windows 8, whereas tapping your Spartan activates the ability on the phone.

When playing on Windows Phone or on Windows 8 with a touch screen device, virtual sticks control character movement and firing. Unfortunately, the phone’s virtual sticks are surprisingly ineffectual! The phone gets no-onscreen representation of the sticks, but that’s not the main problem. The movement controls are just super floaty and fiddly. Walking in a straight line or turning quickly are much harder than they should be. I’m adept at virtual sticks and Spartan Assault’s Windows Phone controls still give me trouble.

The Windows 8 game will receive Xbox 360 controller support in a post-launch patch, but it already provides a control option the phone lacks: mouse and keyboard controls. Moving with the WASD keys and aiming and firing with the mouse should feel perfectly natural to anyone who has played a PC shooter. The only downside: you can’t remap keys or adjust mouse sensitivity. Those are basic, important options in any real PC game.


Spartan Assault does multi-platform Achievements so much better than Skulls of the Shogun. You can earn all the gold stars in one version and the same Achievement will unlock the next time you get a gold star in the other. The same applies to the Achievements for medals and weapon and armor ability use.

Certain stages have their own specific Achievements. You’ll have to complete those requirements separately on both platforms. Considering the brevity of the individual levels, replaying a few specific ones hardly proves an inconvenience.

Overall Impression

Microsoft and company have largely done a bang-up job with Spartan Assault. It captures so much of the look and feel of the Halo series, complete with most of the signature weapons and vehicles. The threadbare story and absence of multiplayer are slightly disappointing compared to Gameloft’s more robust efforts, but the game works even without those elements.

The Windows Phone game will be updated to run on phones with 512 MB of RAM in August, right around the time it stops being a Verizon exclusive in the US. Hopefully Microsoft fixes the movement controls and occasional crashing issue eventually as well… While they’re at it, they should make mission-specific challenges viewable during missions.

Nitpicks aside, Spartan Assault is one of the best Xbox-branded games on Windows Phone or Windows 8. Let’s hope that more games from Halo and other high-profile Microsoft franchises follow!

  • Halo: Spartan Assault – Windows Phone 8 with 1 GB of RAM – Carrier-exclusive in some regions until mid-August – 691 MB – $6.99 – Store Link
  • Halo: Spartan Assault – Windows 8 and RT – 843 MB – $6.99 – Store Link (opens in new tab)

QR: Halo Spartan Assault

Paul Acevedo

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!

  • Its a total load of crap that you have to pay for weapons upgrades. You should be able to get upgrades with XP only, not credits.
  • You don't HAVE to buy any weapons. Game can be played without spending any additional money. Already finished it on two difficulty settings (RT version).
  • I don't always play halo, but when I do...i use rocket launchers.
  • lol +1
  • It would be a total load of crap were your rant true. But its not. XP does just fine. Lrn2halonubcake
  • I think the real problem is that it's a one-time use. So, I spend real money buying a rocket launcher that I can use only one time? Given how easy it is to die if you have the skulls jacked up to incease the difficulty, you could literally be spending money on something only to use it for a few seconds. That is so idiotic that whoever came up with it should be fired.
  • Then don't buy them. Use, oh i don't know, the xp you get! Its a moron tax, so just don't buy it!
  • The main problem is that you can't even try certain weapons, boosters or abilities if you don't use IAP credits.
  • You keep whatever you purchased for a mission until you either complete or abort the mission. If you die and retry, you should still have access to the item.
  • Thanks. Good to know. That's better, but they should've made it so you can reuse it every time you play that mission, especially as you pursue gold medals, achievements, XP via skulls, and challenges.
  • Yep, would be nice to be able to permanently unlock them for a mission, even if it costed more.
  • That's the way they do it now, you would be surprised him many people actually give money to this crap.
  • And thats why I haven't bought the game and don't plan on buying it. If they want to put in, in app purchases the game should be free, otherwise they can keep it. I will not spend $$$ on a game and then don't have access to everything without having to grind for XP or spend more $$$.
  • The trend towards offering IAPs in paid games will only continue to grow in the years to come. if you pass on games that offer IAPs, you're going to miss out on more and more games.
  • Yeah I agree; it's a cool game, but it's expensive AND has in-app purchases. I want to use all the weapons!
  • I still think we'll get multiplayer in a future update. I'm hanging on to a thread of hope :)
  • Yeah. If not the true multi-player mode, at least a pseudo co-op game mode like the Gun Bros game.
  • I can't imaging true person vs person multi-player but I could be wrong - I just don't think it would work well.  Co-op, on the other hand, would be incredible!
  • I wish Xbox live connectivity wasn't broken on Gun Bros and the game saved in cloud. It would have been awesome.
  • Yeah.. i learned it the hard way.. Whatever my GunBros charater was wearing, got carried over to my new phone.. But I lost everything including coins in my inventory.. :(
  • Kudos for Paul For "Finish the Fight"
  • Wow everyone is soo occupied with this game and the Lumia 1020 no one mentioned a new game yesterday, if there is....
  • +1
    But considering Halo was released I think a majority didn't mind the drought. :)
  • Actually most of have att and we are quite upset two weeks without a game for the Xbox phone is garbage when ur already behind by years that game takes like 3 hrs to beat its a decent game but these droughts are uncalled for
  • I have a 920 and am not upset about Verizon getting the game first. It gives me more time with Order & Chaos Online. Which is the best game thus far on WP8. In my opinion.
  • Love Order & Chaos but it has sluggish fps on my 920 which seems like I'm the only one with that problem. I still play it but man would it be cool to have it run smooth.
  • Hmm. Is it still exclusive to Verizon? I want this game already... I'm getting an error message when I try to install on my device.
  • It is still a VZW exclusive. The article is a little misleading with that T-Mobile 925 running the game. :-\
  • Not misleading... We're just running the game on the phones we own. The exclusivity is mentioned in the review itself.
  • I'm sure it'll be worth the wait...
  • Not everyone lives in a country where Verizon exists or has exclusivity.
  • I've bought Spartan in Lithuania ~a week ago. I think restricrions US only
  • Your right it is a little misleading considering the Lumia 920 on at&t in the beginning, had to do a double take
  • it's a really good game! I enjoy it so much. But i hope they will bring more missions or an coop - / Multiplayer Mode to the game...
    Hopefully Microsoft will release a Gears of War Mobile Version or better a Forza Mobile Race ;-) i LOVE Forza!
  • Forza would be cool
  • +920. Would love a forza, GOW or blue dragon. Or ooh ooh freelancer! They should totally do.freelancer, that was a brilliant Microsoft game.
  • I bought this for my Surface, and yes, it's a good game, and it's not hard, really. Don't like the IAPs, because they're one time use, I could live with regular DLC, but consumable DLC ? Not cool MS. Also (I don't like virtual sticks, but that's not the issue) controls are also fiddly on Surface, so it's not only a WP thing, which is kinda shocking, since Halo is known for is top, second nature controls, I mean, this franchise is the quintessential of control scheme, in its fps and rts incarnations. 8/10.
  • Oddly enough, this was the most impressive Halo game in my opinion.  I am a HUGE Halo fan - yup, the dork with the t-shirt and the legendary and collectors edition of every game.  What I mean is that almost everyone knows what to expect with the Halo fps games.  They are consistant and amazing (at least in my opinion).  It's one of the only game franchises that really provides an unparalleled experience both single-player and multi-player.  I didn't know what to really expect with this release.
    I was expecting a cash-in disappointment.  I was extremely excited because it was a Halo game but I didn't expect it to be half as good as it is.  They captured the Halo feel amazingly well!  The graphics, the difficulty, etc.
    I hope, hope, HOPE the updates add more and that there is a sequel released for WP8 and W8.
  • So... how'd you get the game on T-Mobile when it is still exclusive to Verizon?  
  • Check the forums for a Fiddler 2 workaround. Loving it on my 925!
  • Really Not cool of you to show it running on the 925 and its locked to big red for a few more weeks.
  • http://www.xbox360achievements.org/forum/showthread.php?p=5898943 Scroll down for tmo instructions
  • I've not played it a massive amount on the move as it can can drain a full battery in no time at all but apart from that I really like it, controls could be more user friendly as they can be a bit fiddly (especially in the vehicles) and I suspect folk new to phone games would have more of an issue with this but overall it's a fun, refreshing shooter which looks really nice and will be very familiar to regular halo players, it also has good replay value so I would definitely recommend it.
  • The first thing that surprised me about this game was the controls (on Surface) are great! I'm usually wary of virtual joysticks but I don't mind them at all.
    The graphics are also very nice. For an overhead view game I didn't expect much, but there are particle effects, foliage, smoke, dust and more constantly accenting the action onscreen. The vibrant colors are good as well.
    Even the music and sound effects are top notch. You can't hear this game without recognizing that it's Halo.
    Can't wait for controller support for PC/Surface, and can't wait to get it on my 925 next month.
    I wouldn't be at all surprised if this winter they put it out on Xbox Arcade. Not saying they will, but I almost expect it at some point.
  • That's an awesome thing I cant put on my phone because so much room is being taken up by Other Storage. Keep up the good work, Microsoft
  • Can u not use storage shrink?
  • If you haven't checked around Shrink doesn't work that well for some (or most). While my 920 is fine, my gfs 820 is useless with 0 games installed.
  • +1
    Hopefully I can finish Angry Birds and Ice Age by the time the exclusivity unlocks, because I'm looking at a phone reset just to install this thing.
  • "ineffectual" controls sound like more than a nitpick. I think I'll hold off for a while and see if they fix them. Thanks for the review Paul.
  • I have no problems with the controls, but I have heard multiple people with the same complaint. After the 2nd mission ihad them down pat.
  • I've been enjoying this game on the RT. Started with the touch controls but find the keyboard controls much easier for me. Being a console guy I really look forward to the upcoming 360 controller support. Haven't played on the phone but I can see where touch controls could be an issue for some on such a small screen with so much action going on.
  • It's not the concept of touch controls that bother me - they're just really badly done in this game.
  • One time use IAP for a $7 game? Umm no.
  • This is billed as a comprehensive review, but it overlooks two points: performance and graphical quality on Windows Phone. I've seen complaints about less than ideal framerates and graphics being somewhat inferior to other WP games, specficically that the same isn't really running in HD resolutions. Is this true?
  • I had to cut some things for length, including greater discussion of the story. Graphical discussion is often one of the first things to go because it's superficial and thus boring (to me). The WP game runs in HD (of course, come on now) and at 30 FPS. It looks very good, other than everything being necessarilly tiny.
  • The controls work well on the phone.
    E levels i am finding SOLID. 2 to go, using standard layouts.
    Coz i finished halo 4 you get a free use of them. It even remembered my session didn't complete after it crashed once, so i got another go.
    The graphics are superb. Glass effect on E-3 amazed me.
  • I set my Xbox beacon for this game knowing full well that none of my friends have a WP. LOL
    I even told some Halo fans to check it out and laughed when they couldn't find it on their phones.
  • Good Friend
  • I also think you should be able to use XP to install more weapons
  • Agreed, XP seems bit useless.
  • The only thing I really lament is lack of touch sensitivity controls... I would have loved to dial that down a lot
  • This is the best game ever. LOL if ur not on Verizon like I am with my 928. All those scrub carriers don't get the 30 days of foreplay, in the meantime we'll be racking up the game having fun while scrubs wait and play gun bros, lol.
  • Had it on my at&t 920 since day 1. You really think its the best game ever? I enjoyed Gun bros more tbh. Better controls
  • Yeah, crazy how Gun Bros controls (which aren't even that great because the sticks are too tiny) ended up better than Spartan Assault's.
  • I have to agree.  The controls are good but they need a little more fine tuning to make it great.  Being a flagship title for Microsoft, the controls have to be great not just average to stand out above the rest.  I am loving the game though.  Excellent mobile experience.
  • You can install this on any WP8. There is a workaround in the forum.
  • Don't be "that guy".
  • Actually everyone can get it
  • Paul, will you ever make an article to show how to get this game on at&t or any other carrier in us? You know, the link?
  • Out of respect to Microsoft, we're not going to publish an article like that. But you can find the info if you look around a bit.
  • how did you get this in a tmobile phone?
  • http://www.xbox360achievements.org/forum/showthread.php?p=5898943 Scroll down for tmo instructions
  • Week achievement overview but otherwise you convinced me to give it a go.nice paul
  • Working under a word limit, Mr. Senic. I had to cut several things for length. :P
  • Aside from battery drainage (and finger burn) this game is solid.
  • Really? One of the best? The controls are absolutely dismal and that alone makes the game nigh unplayable. The addition of this new Spartan character does nothing but drag it down and as far as I'm concerned, the release title Ilomilo had more compelling graphics.
  • Controls work fine for me, maybe you're just lacking in skill?
  • The graphics can't really be compared because they're two totally different kinds of games. Spartan Assault looks exactly how a game of this type should look and fits perfectly within the Halo universe. Yes, the controls are bad, but you can get used to them. I remain hopefuly for a patch that will improve them.
  • Just picked this up on my ATT phone. Anyone else?
  • Anyone finished this? Difficulty suddenly ramped up on E. Can't finish it.
  • The grenade control mechanics in this game need to be improved/tweaked. You should be able to double tap on the screen and then the grenade goes to the exact same spot regardless of where your character is facing. I end up wasting more grenades than necessary. Am I missing something here? Cheers!
  • You're right - that's a much better system. At least on Windows 8 they are easy to aim with a mouse.
  • Agreed about the grenade control mechanics. I'm not a fan of the controls either, but oddly was able to complete a level on the phone that I kept getting killed in on the Windows 8 side. It seems like there is some autoaim going on in the Phone version or maybe it's just my imagination.
  • Yeah, definitely some autoaim. The pistol is much easier to use on WP8.
  • Sorry for spamming but i need to write this here so WP gamers will see it!.Xbox branding on WP needs to be something like GameCenter on iOS and GooglePlay Services on Android.MS need to give the oportunity to every developer to apply his game so that it will receive the Xbox branding!The certification needs to be more lax cause it s**ks.It takes months for a game to pass the certification process and after all it's broken (like many gameloft and miniclip game achievements and BUUUUUGSSS! )
    If you agree with me please vote for my suggestion!http://windowsphone.uservoice.com/forums/101801-feature-suggestions/suggestions/4163745-windows-phone-xbox-live-more-something-like-gamece
  • I'm probably starting to sound like a broken record, but W8/WP8 needs 'universal' apps - really lame to have to buy them twice.
  • My biggest gripe so far is the keyboard controls.  You have WASD for movement in the four cardinal directions, but most of the level design is on the diagonal.  Maybe it's just been too long since I've played a PC game, but constantly having to use two keys at once is just annoying.  (Actually, maybe that's the reason I died a lot when I used to play PC FPSes -- I kept running in a straight line?)
    Second-biggest gripe is the IAP for consumables.  If I buy something, let me keep it.  I have no desire to spend money on something for a game that I can only use once.  (At least, thankfully, the achievements do not require an IAP to complete.)
    That seems to be the new thing, unfortunately.  They're adding more IAPs to paid games now.  Defiance does it, where you can buy in to extra inventory slots or XP boosters, and now this.  It's like all the fun and enticement to pay of the free-to-play games, now with a cover charge.
    I realize this is pretty similar to having paid DLC add-ons that introduce new weapons or enhancements, but it seems like they are now purposely making things harder or more annoying (slow level progression, very limited inventory space, underpowered weapons) just so they can extract more money.