Earlier this month, Microsoft registered a domain name for Halo: Spartan Assault. You can stop guessing what it is now, because I’ve played 343 Industries’ new Halo game. The developer is taking the franchise to mobile devices. The Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 game is inspired by twin-stick shooters like Robotron and tells a new story across 25 campaign missions set between Halo 3 and 4. Halo 4 owners will also earn experience, emblems, and achievements by playing Spartan Assault. I got my hands on the tablet version and blasted apart Covenant forces from the new top-down perspective.

The missions of Spartan Assault are a mixture of pivotal UNSC battles told in a framework that expands on Halo 4’s Sarah Palmer and the origins of the Spartan Ops program. Players choose between Commander Sarah Palmer or Spartan Davis. The game is presented like it’s a training tool for prospective soldiers. It allows users to relive the most important Covenant conflicts from the history books. The story is told through slick cinematics, which look like polished motion comics. 

I played through a section of the game on a Windows 8-powered Surface tablet. Players customize their load-out before each mission, and unlock classic Halo weaponry as they progress. I stick to Halo 2’s classic dual SMGs for my hands-on time. Digital thumbsticks can be a pain, but Spartan Assault mitigates this with controls that pop up wherever you place your thumbs on the touchscreen. Movement is controlled with the left thumb, and your Spartan shoots in the direction of the right stick. Various on-screen buttons let you switch grenade types and swap weapons. The control scheme works well for the missions I played, but we’ll have to wait and see how it holds up during more chaotic skirmishes.

An overhead perspective offers a broad look at the lively battlefield. Banshees streak through the air, trailing light from their wings. Blue blood splatters from Covenant grunts and elites as they fall to guns and explosives. The lighting, particle effects, and detailed character models and vehicles make Spartan Assault resemble a zoomed-out look at an intense battle from one of Halo’s console entries.

Vehicles play a key role in the game. One mission tasked me with taking out a squad of anti-air Wraiths. I begin by using the powerful and accurate sniper rifle to clear out a pack of elites guarding a Wraith. I hijack it with a press of the touchscreen and hop inside. I proceed to use the commandeered Wraith to destroy the rest of the fleet. Just like in the console games, vehicles gradually begin to smoke and show wear as they take damage, concluding with a dramatic explosion. 343 Industries’ attention to these details keeps the experience grounded in the Halo universe.

Halo: Spartan Assault arrives on Windows 8 devices this July. If an accessible, single-player twin-stick Halo game sounds like a good fit for you, be sure to set aside $6.99 for it. 343 Industries is supporting wired Xbox 360 controllers for all versions of the game with a post-launch update, so here’s hoping the downloadable game makes it to XBLA.