The “Halo” universe is getting bigger, but it’s going to look a bit smaller. Microsoft’s 343 Industries this July is releasing “Halo: Spartan Assault,” an arcade-style action shooter designed primarily for Surface devices, tablets and mobile phones within the Windows 8 ecosystem.
The “Halo” franchise has long been considered a major contributing factor in the success of the Xbox and Xbox 360. “Halo: Spartan Assault” marks the first major effort on behalf of Microsoft to essentially use the series as an app on other Microsoft platforms.
“We wanted to build a ‘Halo’ experience that could expand onto other platforms and one that was highly pick-up play,” said Graeme Jennings, a producer at 343. “We built something that I think is an excellent five-minute experience. Take on the boss, play and you’re good. I think that expands the audience.”
The $6.99 game is aimed at the touchscreen market, but it will work on a PC with a mouse and a keyboard. “Halo: Spartan Assault” was conceived as a game for quick play sessions but it does include in-game cinematics to more closely tie the game to “Halo 4.”
The game will also support in-app purchases for those who want unique armor or weapon abilities; integration with a wired Xbox 360 controller is to come later.
Dan Ayoub, executive producer of publishing at 343 Industries, said at a May unveiling in Santa Monica that the goal of “Halo: Spartan Assault” is to “look as if you’re playing a console experience on your phone.” But rather than the first-person shooter perspective of the console titles, “Halo: Spartan Assault” gives players an overhead look at the planets and sci-fi military campaigns of the “Halo” universe.
“Halo: Spartan Assault,” which is to be shown at next week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, was developed by 343 Industries in conjunction with Vanguard Games, which previously issued the top-down, arcade-style shooter “Gatling Gears.” The “Halo” title, said Jennings, was in development for about a year and a half.
Nearly all the game’s action is handled with a player’s thumbs. “Halo: Spartan Assault” was sampled by Hero Complex on a Surface Pro and Windows 8 phone, and movement and shooting controls required minimal movement on the part of the player.
Essentially, players seem to be able to park their thumbs on a screen — a slight tilt of the left hand would send a character moving and a slight tilt of the right hand would fire a weapon. The action on the screen can quickly get chaotic, and though there’s the occasional need to tap (if one, for instance, wants to punch instead of shoot or jump into any of the vehicles there for the taking), there’s little need to swipe across the screen or cover up any of the blast-em-up intensity.
Though Ayoub stressed the game’s ease of play and accessibility for those new to the “Halo” franchise, “Halo: Spartan Assault” is set between the events of “Halo 3″ and “Halo 4.” Hero Master Chief was out of commission between those titles, but Ayoub said previously introduced “Halo” character Sarah Palmer figures into the game “at a very high level.”
The game is essentially split into five different operations with five different chapters each for a total of 25 missions. As part of the storyline of “Halo: Spartan Assault,” the missions in the game are essentially training reenactment tools, said Ayoub, as players are Spartan soldiers aboard the starship Infinity.
But players aren’t required to understand any of that backstory, said Ayoub. (This iteration of “Halo” is clearly not meant to be taken as seriously as “Halo 4,” which heavily explored different aspects of Master Chief’s personality.)
“It’s a tremendous blast to get in there and start blowing things up,” he said.
“This was Dan’s brainchild,” said Jennings. “He wanted an arcade-accessible ‘Halo.’ We worked a lot to make this feel like ‘Halo.’ I think this looks and feels like ‘Halo,’ but it plays differently.”
In addition to “Halo: Spartan Assault,” 343 Industries is working with Dark Horse Comics for the three-part “Halo: Initiation” series, which will further explore the story of Commander Palmer.
— Todd Martens
Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex
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