Halo Spartan Strike foriPad is an enormously entertaining top-down gamer that makes the best of your iPad’s display, and also its game control limitations. It strikes a great balance between too easy and too hard in order to be challenging and accessible, but never boring. The game has 30 missions, each with several sub-missions so you won’t exhaust the challenges soon. The game is pure, non-serious fun and isn’t spoiled with annoying in-app purchase nonsense.
In Spartan Strike you play a Spartan (soldier) sent on various missions on an other-worldly gamescape. In each mission you’re given a goal such as “recover the data module” and make your way around dispatching enemies with firearms and explosives and avoiding being killed. You’ll need both run-and-hide and run-and-gun approaches to survive. While some friendlies make a token appearance, Spartan Strike is essentially a you-against-everyone scenario. An AI computer and a (female) human helper give you missions and hints along the way. While I’ve wasted lots of time in front of a game console I was always PS3 rather than Xbox so can’t speak to the relationship between this iPad version and the Xbox FPS. But no matter: the gameplay is so different from a typical console FPS that I don’t feel like I’m missing out on the game legacy.
The creators have done a masterful job of making the best of the iPad’s limited control options. Translation of two-stick shooters to the iPad has usually been marginally successful (Modern Combat franchise) or a disaster. The controls for Spartan Strike also mimic the two-stick setup but do so simply: left to move, right to shoot, period. Hurling grenades and making hand-to-hand attacks are handled with taps almost anywhere on the screen, keeping the “sticks” dedicated to their primary purpose. I got used to the controls in about five minutes, tops. A nice tutorial, during which you can practice but can’t be killed, is a great way to learn the setup without frustration. You have a selection of weapons: you can carry two firearms at a time, picking up other weapons as you find them. Ammo caches are scattered around the landscape, and you can pick up ammo you find on dead enemies. There are two kinds of grenades which can likewise be replenished as you cover new ground. You can also commandeer vehicles or gun turrets which provide a great way to move quickly, or to wipe out enemy hordes in short order. You’ll confront several kinds of enemies, from easily-killed grunts to super-soldiers that need a grenade or several clips from your assault rifle.
The graphics are detailed and make the most of the iPad’s retina display. It’s easy to make out your enemies from your friends, and to tell weapons caches from barriers and shields. The sounds are helpful and I found myself most often using earpods so I could best hear instructions and the sounds of enemies, gunfire, and explosions. Whether you like the music depends on your taste, but there’s a setting to turn it up, down, or off. The game was smooth, quick, and responsive, and played without a hitch on my original iPad Air. Halo: Spartan Strike is available for $5.99 in the iTunes store, and worth every penny.