Halo Spartan Assault -- Windows Phone 8 gaming gets real

The Halo game franchise is wildly popular, having generated well over a billion dollars. There have been Halo licensed toys, clothing, and Mountain Dew soft-drinks. Heck, even the great Steven Spielberg is producing a Halo TV series. While the initial version of the game was released as an Xbox exclusive, there have been ports for Windows and Mac OS X. However, Halo is still viewed as largely synonymous with Microsoft and Xbox by the gaming world.

While Microsoft has had massive gaming success with both Xbox and Windows, one of its platforms is lacking in the gaming department -- Windows Phone 8. And so, Microsoft has turned to its successful franchise to boost the gaming credibility of the mobile platform. Today, Microsoft releases Halo Spartan Assault and it is a game changer -- Android and iPhone are officially on notice.

I love video games, so when I was given the opportunity to play the game early, I excitedly jumped at the opportunity. Like my colleague Alan Buckingham, I love my Nokia Lumia 928. However, as I said, Windows Phone 8 is lacking in the games department. Sure, there are plenty of great casual games (time-wasters) but nothing as mature and robust as on Android and iOS. However, if you don’t have a Windows Phone 8 device, no need to worry -- the game will also be released for Windows 8 and Windows RT.

Sadly, it is a 30-day exclusive for Verizon Wireless devices -- leaving the non-Verizon members of the Windows Phone 8 community in the cold. This is surprising as I have never considered Verizon a huge Windows Phone 8 proponent (one of its store employees recently laughed at my Lumia 928). Also, the game is limited to devices with 1GB of RAM which further alienates some Microsoft mobile platform loyalists. Hopefully, support for devices with 512MB of RAM may be added in the future.

My biggest concern was that the touchscreen controls would not be comfortable or accurate for a game like Halo. I am happy to report that my concerns about the controls were misplaced -- they are wonderful. Unlike the Xbox version of Halo, which is a first person shooter, Spartan Assault is a top-down affair which is better for a smartphone screen. The character is controlled using virtual twin-sticks -- the left side of the screen to move and the right side to shoot. It all works perfectly and allows full immersion into the game.

My only complaint regarding the controls is that on more than one occasion, my finger hit the Windows Phone 8 capacitive buttons which knocked me out of the game. This complaint is actually a testament to the immersion of the experience -- I am so involved in the game that my finger ends up straying to the side. Hopefully, Microsoft can come up with a solution for this in the future.

The graphics are beautiful and there are no dropped frames or slow-down. The game is simply breathtaking on the Lumia 928 screen -- AMOLED really shines. Surprisingly, even though the Lumia 928 only has a rear mono speaker, the sound is clear and crisp which lends to the total experience.

Overall, this is the killer-app that Windows Phone 8 so desperately needed. While the game is not easy, it is not overly difficult either -- anyone should be able to pick it up and play. This is one of the few rare games that I just can't put down -- I love it. I can say with confidence that Halo Spartan Assault is the best smartphone game I have ever played.

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