Halo: Spartan Assault isn't enough to make you buy a Windows-powered device, no matter how much Microsoft wishes it were.
One game was never going to do that. What it is, however, is a spectacular, polished twin-stick shooter that gives Windows Phone and Windows 8 gamers something to crow about.
It's by no means a perfect game, but it tickles the sweet spot that only the very best top-down blasters can reach.
Its arcade gameplay is bite-sized but filling, its lore interesting enough to woo Halo fans, and its crunchy rhythm of dodge and fire creates an addictive challenge.
No, it won't make you fork out for a new phone or tablet, but if you already own one that can run it you're in for a rare and beguiling treat.Assault and battery
The game is actually a game within a game. You're playing a Spartan training program that recreates a battle from the Human-Covenant War. There are 25 levels for you to blast through, each with a three-star rating system.
A floating stick on the left of the screen moves you around and one on the right aims your gun. A variety of buttons are arranged within easy reach of your thumbs letting you swap between your two weapons, hurl grenades, and interact with the world around you.
Each level lasts about ten minutes, and sets you a number of objectives. These range from killing everything in an area to escorting enormous transports as they slowly and precariously make their way over choke point bridges.
The violence is tense and focused, and a clever radar and walled-off arenas mean you're never far away from something to shoot. For each level you're given a loadout of weapons, grenades, and armour abilities, but you can change these by spending credits or XP.Far from spartan
You can also set Skulls for each level. These increase the difficulty but give you bigger rewards. One gives you just a shield, for example, while another makes firing weapons damage you. Adding combinations of these before play gives you an XP multiplier but makes the game an awful lot tougher.
Like in most Halo games, the vehicle controls here are still somehow slightly wonky, even though they're the same in principle as the ones when you're on foot. Getting tanks stuck on scenery is a sometimes hilarious frustration, but it can spoil your fun.
Halo: Spartan Assault isn't quite as tactical as its FPS kin. There's the same rush-in, rush-out beats, where you'll dodge out of a combat to let you shield recharge before you dive back into the fray, but the smaller arenas mean there's less chance to flank or divide and conquer.
The enemy AI isn't perfect either, with some Covenant forces only leaping into life when you're close enough to execute them.Shoot to thrill
These are minor niggles, though, because the crash and spectacle of the piece is enough to sate even the most cynical of detractors. The rattle of assault rifles and the pew-pew of the Covenant's lasers feel just as exciting when they're coming out of a portable device, and the Halo universe works brilliantly from a different viewing angle.
It won't sell hardware, but this is a rich and enjoyable arcade blaster with enough content and challenge to keep you playing for a good couple of days. The lack of multiplayer is a bit of a sore spot, but it is promised in the not-too-distant future.
Halo: Spartan Assault shows the potential of Windows-powered tablets and phones as gaming machines. Microsoft, 343, and Vanguard have shown the way - now it's up to the rest of the game-developing world to take notice.