Microsoft's surprise orbital insertion of Halo: Spartan Assault and Halo: Spartan Strike onto the App Store was successful. These are two of the best dual-stick shooters available (if not the best).
Over the last several years, whenever I saw my kids playing Halo on their Xbox, I found myself wishing I could play it on my iPad. Sure, first-person shooters don't lend themselves well to the touchscreen, but being the eternal optimist I never give up hope that somebody will crack that nut. When Halo: Spartan Assault (HSA) and Halo: Spartan Strike (HSS) dropped unexpectedly into the App Store last month from what must have been a very high orbit indeed, I wasn't initially excited because they weren't real Halo games. Well, I'm excited now. After playing through HSS and HSA for a little over a month, I've realized that the things I most enjoyed about the Halo series wasn't the FPS gameplay, but the game's high production values, and excellent backstory/lore; both of which are gloriously intact in HSA and HSS. Besides, while mobile isn't the greatest platform for first-person shooters, it's pure Tabasco for the dual-stick variety.
Spartan Assault initially debuted a few years ago on Windows, and the surprise iOS version is identical. Gameplay is broken-up into bite-sized missions, which have you playing as one of two Spartans that must work together to succeed against a group of rogue Covenant that have taken a dislike to you. As previously noted, HSA and HSS are top-down dual-stick shooters. Movement is controlled on the left side of the screen and weapons are controlled on the right. It's a bit more complicated than that, though, because there are also grenades (which I found a bit fiddly) and personal power-ups that are controlled by tapping on the right side and tapping on your Spartan; respectively. You can also switch weapons and even switch to melee mode. It all felt a little overwhelming at first, but it's a well-designed interface so success really just comes down to practice.
Spartan Strike is the sequel, and it launched on all supported platforms simultaneously last month. Gameplay is obviously quite similar, but Microsoft took the opportunity to refine a few things, making it the superior of the two. While both games give you the chance to earn credits in order to buy upgrades and specials, Spartan Strike seems to be a bit more generous in this department. It also has more polish than Spartan Assault. Both games offer 30 missions each, and give you the opportunity to operate a variety of vehicles and a plethora of weapons. Unfortunately, these games are single-player only, which is quite a shame; not because the campaigns aren't fun, though. To the contrary, they are extremely fun; but they absolutely cry out for the chance to tackle them with other humans.
Both games look fantastic, although Spartan Strike is the newer of the two, and it shows. Beautifully detailed environments, smoothly animated characters/enemies, and satisfyingly flashy weapon effects. These are games that you will likely want to use to showcase your device to others.
Great music, great sound; as you'd expect from a company like Microsoft.
In-App Purchases (IAPs)
Spartan Assault and Spartan Strike are premium games, and offer no IAPs of any kind.
If you enjoy dual-stick shooters, Spartan Assault and Spartan Strike are two of the very best you're going to find on the App Store. Polished, beautiful, and most of all, fun.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 5 - Beautiful games, start to finish; particularly Spartan Strike. Sound: - 5 - Top-notch music and sound. Controls: - 5 - Takes a bit of time to master them, but well worth the work. Gameplay: - 4.5 - Highly recommended (I took off 1/2 point for lack of multiplayer, though).
Playing Hints and Tips:
The upgrades purchased prior to each mission do not persist in future missions. This means you should spend only what you absolutely need to succeed. If you are having trouble, try dialing down the difficulty of the mission by reducing the number of skulls before you spend extra money. It's important to horde your credits for the later levels, but this is a premium game, not freemium, so the difficulty is scalable enough to allow you to succeed, even if you made bad choices early in the campaign.
Developer: Microsoft Release Date: April 16, 2015 Price: $5.99 each with no IAPs, or $9.99 for both via App Store bundle Buy App: Halo: Spartan Bundle