Friday, July 26, 2013
Halo: Spartan Assault review
Thankfully, the developer Vanguard alongside Microsoft Studios seems to have realised that and designed the Halo: Spartan Assault around a smartphone's more limited input options. The result is something beautiful and is easily one of the best tactical based shooter available on any smartphone. This isn't yet another Halo first person shooter. The huge difference in gameplay mechanics, not to mention the platform, Halo: Spartan Assault deserves a proper examination.
Visually Halo: Spartan Assault is brilliant. You would not believe the game is running on an aging dual core Snapdragon S4 processor and Adreno 225 GPU. The game does benefit from having to only support the Snapdragon line of SoC on Windows Phone 8, so I am guessing Microsoft Studios has done a lot to optimise the title. Animations are well done and while the game environment could do with a bit more colour, at least it isn't just shades of brown. The game isn't rendered at its native 720p (more like 480p) but it is hard to tell when playing on a small display. And to be fair, it doesn't really matter. The subtitles are rather small, perhaps hinting that Microsoft developed this game on 1080p 'phablets'. Ha, we can only hope...
Cut scenes are generally sweet and short though you can tell that the videos suffer from aggressive compression. This is likely to be a byproduct of a decision to limit the installation size of the game. After all Microsoft has imposed a rather stupid limitation by not allowing one to install apps and games on external storage or to mandate OEMs to include larger storage. I had to free up 3 GB of storage space on my HTC 8X before the game would install. This despite the game's download size coming in at a reasonable 700 MB. Lord knows what people with 4GB devices will think once this game is made available to them.
There were times when the game would almost plays like a one-person tank rush in a real time strategy game, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, there is nothing wrong with running in and gunning every baddie you see. Good thing the campaigns have a bit more variation than that. For example in one level you have to survive an assault by baddies, while in another your job is to escort a bunch of suicidal vehicles. It never gets boring.
Yes you heard that right. Credits which can't be earned in the game, but instead must be funded using real money via in-app purchase. Some items can be upgraded using XP, which can be earned during the game. But the fact that the requirement for credits to uplocking certain weapons, armor and booster abilities like shield is frankly insulting considering the fact that the game costs £4.99 or £5.49. To make matter worse, the items you unlocked are only available for that one specific game. Revisit and you have to buy again. I can understand Gameloft riddling Asphalt 7 Heat with micro transactions but the game costs only £0.79 and everything is achievable with patience.
Speaking of difficulty, the difficulty level can vary from each campaigns. There are levels where your hero can take abuse after abuse without much sweat only to die after a couple of hits. You often have NPC allies with you has unlimited health so you can always rely them on helpin... Wait, except, you can't. Each of your allies has an AI of a sheep. Enemy combatants aren't the brightest bunch here as well. They don't hide or duck (not that you can with the simple environments) or attempt to sneak behind. Weapons and items dropped by enemies can be picked up. You can also commandeer turrets and other vehicles, which will increase your firepower dramatically. Personally I didn't find the difficulty to be over the top. Challenging perhaps, but nothing on the level of Demon's Souls.
All in all, for the amount of content, the price by itself is right, but I still found Microsoft's decision to introduce in-app purchase on a commercial game, and without clear warning, to be cheeky. Tut tut. But shrewd micro transaction mechanism aside, Halo: Spartan Assault is a rather enjoyable and well presented game with high production value.
Bite sized campaigns which are perfect for mobile gaming
Windows Phone 8 version costs more than the Windows 8 version
Controls are a bit iffy
Shrewd in-app purchase mechanism
Plot? What plot?
Tested on HTC Windows Phone 8X. Currently compatible with Windows Phone 8 smartphones with 1GB RAM. A version updated for 512MB RAM support is being developed. Halo: Spartan Assault is also available on Windows RT (Microsoft Surface) and Windows 8 platform.