Halo Spartan Assault announced for Windows Phone and Windows 8, we go handson

Between the Xbox One, Steven Spielberg's latest TV project and the approach of E3, fans have been eagerly awaiting the announcement of a new Halo game. 343 Industries has heard their pleas, but its answer is somewhat unexpected -- the next game in the legendary franchise isn't for Microsoft's next-generation game console, but for the company's mobile and tablet platforms. Built specifically for Windows Phone and touch-enabled Windows 8 devices, Halo: Spartan Assault hopes to offer the essence of Halo in a portable format. Engadget stopped in at the game's launch event to take a look.

"In a nutshell, it's a top-down twin stick arcade-style action shooter," explained Dan Ayoub, executive producer at 343 Industries. "Really, a brand new way to play Halo." Ayoub told us that the game was designed to push the limits of phone and tablet graphics, stressing the Halo franchise's history as a trailblazer on Microsoft platforms. "We wanted this to be no exception," he said, inviting journalists at the event to try the game for themselves. We picked up a nearby Surface Pro slate and tucked in.

Halo: Spartan Assault

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True to Ayoub's word, Halo: Spartan Assault looked pretty sharp on the tablet's 10.6-inch display, but it took an HDTV to make the title's graphics really shine. It's not that it looked so much better on a 40-inch display, it's just that it didn't look worse -- presenting a clear, detailed world with no noticeable aliasing. It's not going to compete with your Xbox in visual fidelity, but it upscales well.

The game's control scheme is a top-down standard: a virtual left-hand joystick controls your Spartan's movement and a starboard counterpart dictates aim. Fans of games like Gun Bros. should feel right at home. The demo's control sticks felt a little too sensitive at first, but we eventually adjusted and took to the battlefield, tearing through Covenant forces with various rifles, shotguns and even a tank. 343 devs told us that they wanted to make sure the game felt like Halo, and including vehicles was a must.

Most of Halo's trappings seem to have made the leap to mobile well enough, but one fan favorite didn't make the cut: multiplayer. "What we've got right now has been designed for a single player experience," 343's Kevin Grace told us. "There are multiplayer components in the challenges and leader boards -- so you can challenge your friends and get that level of interaction -- but for this story and this particular game, it's just single player." In fact, story seems to be a major part of the project, following the rise of Sarah Palmer and filling in the narrative gaps between Halo 3 and Halo 4. The game will also have a companion comic book series called Halo: Initiation, which further details Palmer's saga.

Halo Spartan Assault announced for Windows Phone and Windows 8, we go handson

Naturally, the adventure is bound for Microsoft Platforms, and will be arriving exclusively on Windows Phone and Windows 8 devices next month. 343 developers wouldn't rule out the possibility of a future Android or iOS port, but they wouldn't entertain the idea either, telling us that the game was being optimized for Windows platforms. Even so, Windows 8 desktop users will have to wait a bit before getting a fully optimized experience: the game won't support the wired Xbox 360 controller, leaving PC gamers with only a keyboard and mouse to control their dual-stick shooter. We're told that controller support will be added sometime after launch.

It's almost surprising that Halo didn't make the transition to mobile sooner, but Grace suggests that its a matter of quality. "Everything that 343 does starts with fan expectations in mind," he told us. "We know where the bar is set for Halo." Is Halo: Spartan Assault good enough to satiate discerning fans? Maybe. It's at least as fun as any other top-down shooter, and the Halo brand goes a long way -- but the game's Windows 8 and Windows Phone exclusivity is bound to burn fans on the iOS / Android end of the spectrum. Still, if you bought into Microsoft's would-be mobile gaming platform, you'll be able to pick it up in July for $6.99. Read on for the game's official press release.

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"Halo: Spartan Assault" Brings the Award-Winning "Halo" Franchise to Windows 8 Devices this July
With best-in-class action, audio and graphics, "Halo: Spartan Assault" showcases the epic scale and action of the "Halo" universe only on Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8

With millions of franchise fans worldwide, Microsoft and 343 Industries today revealed an all-new way for gamers to experience "Halo;" this time, you can do it on Windows 8 devices.

Available this July for $6.99 ERP1 only on Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, "Halo: Spartan Assault" is the first top-down action shooter that brings a "Halo" video game to touch-based devices. Developed by 343 Industries in conjunction with Vanguard Games, "Halo: Spartan Assault" provides an accessible, pick-up-and-play experience for fans and newcomers alike.

Set between the events of "Halo 3" and "Halo 4," "Halo: Spartan Assault" explores the first missions of the Spartan Ops program and dives deeper into the backstory of Human-Covenant wars. Play through the eyes of either Commander Sarah Palmer or Spartan Davis stationed aboard the UNSC Infinity as they fight in never-before-seen battles against Covenant forces.

With 25 unique missions featuring unrivaled action and intensity, the single-player experience allows you to compete against friends in Leaderboards or hone your skills with Weekly Challenges. Replay the missions to collect more than 40 in-game Achievements and Medals.

For fans who already have a prospering Spartan career aboard the UNSC Infinity, "Halo: Spartan Assault" lets you earn experience points (XP), all-new Achievements, and emblems for your "Halo 4" Spartan, with additional integration features available after launch.

In addition, 343 Industries has teamed up with Dark Horse Comics to create "Halo: Initiation," 2 a 3-part comic series which reveals the story of how Commander Sarah Palmer became a Spartan-IV and leads directly into the exciting missions of "Halo: Spartan Assault."

To watch the trailer and learn more about "Halo: Spartan Assault," please visit Halo Waypoint: http://www.halowaypoint.com/en-us/games/halospartanassault

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Halo: Spartan Assault revealed for Windows Phone and Windows 8, we go hands-on