Halo: Spartan Strike – Once more with feeling

When it was released in 2013, Halo: Spartan Assault was a pleasant surprise in that it brought the Halo franchise into the genre of twin stick shooters. While it succeeded in making the formula work in this universe, there were still enough flaws in its design to make it only attractive to fans. Not having controller support at launch of the PC version didn’t help either.

So now in 2015 we have the follow up arrive several months later than initially planned (thanks to those little problems in Halo: The Master Chief Collection) but now also sporting versions for Apple’s shiny iDevices.

The game will be familiar to those of the previous title but everything here feels like it's been tweaked just a little for the better.

The game will be familiar to those who’ve played the previous title but everything here feels like it’s been tweaked just a little for the better.

The game places you in the boots of a Spartan soldier, not unlike Halo‘s Master Chief, replaying scenarios via a simulation aboard the space vessel UNSC Infinity (from Halo 4). The game plays like twin stick shooters in the vein of Assault Heroes or Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light where you have a top down view of your character as the traverse the map.

The game can be played with a controller on the Windows version or a touchscreen if your machine supports it. I’ve played it on both my Surface Pro and Lumia 930 Windows Phone and both touchscreen controls are very similar. I’d say they’ve been tweaked a little since Spartan Assault, especially for the phone version where previously the button placement could lead to many mistaken presses.

Getting touch screen controls to work well is not an easy task, especially for a shooter like this, but the developer (Vanguard Games) has done as good a job as you could ask. Still, nothing quite beats having a controller in hand so if that option is open to you I’d recommend it above all other options.

Completion of tasks and missions will reward the player with credits which can be used to better outfit the player for the next mission. Modifiers to the game can also be made via “skulls” that can add some variety too but there’s not a lot of incentive to use any of it. The game could potentially be better off without both.

Visually the game is not too bad – the characters are detailed and animate in a fashion very similar to their FPS counterparts. In comparison, it’s not a great stride ahead of the first game but I think what we see here is greater use of assets to make the environment seem like a busier place as you’ll often see a lot happening in the background outside of your mission.

Cinematics in the game tend to take on a motion comic look and feel that works well thanks to good art design.

Cinematics in the game tend to take on a motion comic look and feel that works well thanks to good art design.

Cutscenes that play out are like motion comics and are effective in creating the appropriate mood and settings for the missions in the campaign. Though they might not have the budget of the CGI extravaganzas of others in the franchise, they work extraordinarily well. I could see this working more in other games.

Owners of Halo: The Master Chief Collection will be rewarded with some additional player customizations which isn’t really necessary but nice for the completionists out there,

If you had to choose one of the Halo twin stick shooters, this is definitely the one to buy. It’s a more polished version of the first game and succeeds in that way but it doesn’t make as massive a leap forward that I’d have hoped for. If these games are to become a series, hopefully a third game will try to push the envelope and focus less on being an accompaniment to the rest of the franchise.

Halo: Spartan Strike is also available for iOS. No Xbox One or 360 versions have been announce yet.

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