Halo: Spartan Assault is unlike any Halo you've ever played

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Fun fact: there was a time when Halo was going to be a Mac-exclusive real-time strategy game. Now, the franchise is synonymous with first-person shooters and the Xbox, but developer 343 Industries is looking to blast that stereotype with a plasma rifle in the upcoming Halo: Spartan Assault. It’s big, it’s cheap, and it’s a huge departure from the Halo games you might have played in the past.

The upcoming top-down two-stick shooter has a full story, incredible visuals, and more than two dozen massive levels to play through. Oh, and it’s coming exclusively to Windows 8 and Windows Phones. That’s pretty important, too.

But just because it’s ditching first-person doesn’t mean Halo is being dumbed down into your average shoot-em-up. The developer wants the game to require the same level of skill and strategy as the FPS versions, with large, open sandbox levels filled with enemies to fight and objectives to complete.

Any weapon you find in the world can be picked up and used to battle the universe’s varied aliens. Any vehicle you stumble across can be piloted, letting you ride around in style as you blast apart enemies with massive cannons. It's this sort of free-form gameplay that has made Halo so popular, and it's intact in Spartan Assault.

Even though the game uses the top-down perspective, it doesn’t really feel like a traditional two-stick shooter; instead, it’s more like a third-person game that just so happens to have the camera pulled up way, way, way high in the sky. In that, it’s more like Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War II than Binding of Isaac, putting you in control of a powerful, armored soldier as you explore the huge levels and interact with the world. You’ll see vehicles flying in the sky and battling each other as you run along on the ground—the production values are incredible.

Spartan Assault is framed as a teaching tool given to prospective Spartans aboard the UNSC Infinity ship. The 25 missions tell different stories in the Halo universe, training by allowing soldiers to experience classic battles. Fans of Halo lore will recognize names like Sarah Palmer as they complete what 343 is calling “the first Spartan Op,” complete with animated, fully voiced cutscenes that wrap the narrative together.

And because it has the feeling of a training module, you’re given the opportunity to adjust your experience, adding different modifiers onto the missions in order to spice things up. You can also customize your character, outfitting her with different weapons and armor abilities before heading into the battlefield and kicking some alien butt. Sure, it’s not a traditional Halo game, but I doubt anyone will care when they’re tossing plasma grenades at Grunts and running over Brutes in ghosts.

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