Is there room for a AAA title that uses touch controls?
Windows 8 is the latest in a long history of products launched with the full weight of the Microsoft corporate gorilla behind it, but like several of its predecessors it has failed to gain popularity the way the company would like to see. Complaints against Windows 8 and its “Metro” interface are many and though the Windows 8.1 update is on the horizon, Microsoft has done little to entice users into the modern UI or even Windows 8 in general.
One of Microsoft’s key plays with Windows 8 is to integrate many of its first-party platforms and services, such as Xbox and SkyDrive, either natively or through modern Windows 8 apps. Now Microsoft has brought one of its most popular gaming franchises exclusively to Windows 8 in the form of Halo: Spartan Assault.
If you're hoping for a good story with Spartan Assault, you'll be disappointed. We hate to say it, but you won’t be missing much from a story standpoint if you skip this one. The game is played from the viewpoint of two Spartans and you switch between the two depending on the level. Throughout your journey, you'll play as Sarah Palmer, who first appeared in Halo 4, and new Spartan soldier Davis. In regards to the timeline, Spartan Assault occurs between Halo 3 and Halo 4. While the story may not dazzle you, the premise is unique and has you going through a Spartan training system where you learn tactics by reenacting some historical battles.
Gameplay-wise, Spartan Assault isn't a first-person shooter, nor is it an RTS like Halo Wars. Rather it's a top-down third person shooter. This point of view works better on touchscreen devices in our opinion as it reduces the need to constantly turn around, a move which can be difficult using the control systems common to FPS games on touch hardware.
The game is broken into five operations, each of which has five individual levels. The scenarios involve everything from holding your ground against an oncoming attack to escorting a caravan of slow-moving vehicles to fighting your way through entrenched adversaries. Many of the classic weapons and vehicles make appearances throughout the game, and each level provides different armor abilities for your Spartan to use. At the beginning of each level you have the ability to upgrade your weapons or abilities at the cost of XP or Credits, which will set you back real-world money.
As an Xbox Live game, Halo: Spartan Assault earns Xbox achievements (even on PC) and medals as you would in a game built for the console. You can also participate in leaderboards and weekly challenges which will earn you additional XP. Unfortunately there is currently no support for multiplayer, though Microsoft has promised periodic updates.
In terms of performance, we tested Spartan Assault on both a Windows RT tablet and a respectable Core i7-based machine with exactly zero performance issues. Where many of the mobile games we’ve played take some time to load, Halo: Spartan Assault loads each level within seconds. While this isn’t Crysis-level graphics or anything crazy, it is nice to have a level load up when you’re ready to play without an extended wait time.
Gamers can play Spartan Assault through a touchscreen device on a tablet surface, or hook up a standard keyboard and mouse.
Tablet devices use a virtual dual-stick control system, where the left stick controls movement and the right allows you to aim and shoot your weapons. Most of the on-screen buttons on the bottom/right edges of the screen are used to switch weapons, choose grenades, or activate your armor capability. Activating a melee attack requires you to quickly double-tap on the screen, but we didn't like how this can throw off your movement, even if it is just for a split second.
Keyboard controls use the WASD keys for movement while the left and right mouse buttons are used for primary weapon fire and tossing grenades. Other keys such as Q, E, Shift, Control, and Space are used for the remaining actions like armor ability, use object, switch weapons, switch grenades, and melee attack. A major downfall in the keyboard control setup is the inability to customize the keys. There aren't even any different preset configurations to choose from.
We’re excited about Halo: Spartan Assault as it shows what is possible for a game using a hybrid touch/traditional keyboard and mouse play style with Windows 8. There are quite a few rough edges that we’d like to see cleaned up and more content would be a welcome addition, but at $7 it’s hard to complain too much. In comparison to other tablet or touchscreen-based games on competing platforms, we’d have to say that Halo: Spartan Assault stacks up favorably as far as being able to explore the environment and determine the best way to accomplish your objectives, but it needs more content and customization in able to fully compete against games like Infinity Blade or some of the best first-person shooters on iOS.
As far as being a reason for people to make the jump to Windows 8, color us skeptical. If you’re a die-hard Halo fan that was already on the fence then maybe, but other than that we have a hard time believing people are going to make the jump solely for Halo: Spartan Assault.
Halo: Spartan Assault
Good, but not great, control with both keyboard and touch; first big-name franchise for Windows 8; impressive load times
No multiplayer support; Zero customization options for controls; lackluster story