STAFF REVIEW of Halo: Spartan Assault (Xbox One)

Thursday, January 2, 2014.
by Adam Dileva

Halo: Spartan Assault Box art I’ll admit it, I’m probably one of the bigger Halo fans out there. I’ve got all the games, books, toys, board games, you name it. So when a new Halo game is getting released, I naturally get pretty excited as the date nears closer. Halo: Spartan Assault was originally a Windows 8 exclusive game for tablets, but now it’s been ported for the Xbox One (and soon Xbox 360) for more Halo fans to enjoy, but does Spartan Assault live up to the Halo name?

The most drastic thing you’re going to notice right away, other than this isn’t a Master Chief story, is that Spartan Assault is a top-down twin-stick shooter. That’s right, it will control more like a Geometry Wars rather than your traditional Halo shooter. The original release on Windows 8 was optimized for an Xbox 360 controller, so it’s a safe bet to say that controls here feel natural as well if you’re accustomed to the twin-stick style of games. Halo: Spartan Assault really does feel like a traditional Halo game, as its’ got iconic characters, Spartans, Covenant, weapons, vehicles, sounds, and more. Its heart is in the right place, but something feels missing, which pains me to say as a huge Halo fan.

Spartan Assault fits into the canon lore of the Halo universe, as it takes place between the events of Halo 3 and 4. After Halo 3, a ceasefire was signed between the Covenant and UNSC but once the Covenant find a forerunner artifact, possibly a weapon, the ceasefire is quickly forgotten. The missions follow Spartans Palmer and Davis through their experiences and missions, though with a twist. You’re not ‘actually’ playing them, as you’re a cadet aboard the UNSC Infinity simply reliving these missions through the simulator aboard. These missions are very brief and bite sized (as it was a tablet game originally) and the only narrative tying it together is the wall of text that is assumed to be read between missions.

Originally the tablet version had 25 missions, but for the Xbox One release, five more missions have been added (originally the DLC), and an online cooperative mode consisting of 5 missions has been added as well (which the tablet version didn’t have). With 30 story mission and 5 coop ones, you’ve got about 4 hours or so of gameplay within, so take that for what it is. Unless you’re heavily invested into the Halo lore and want to learn more small details about these side stories, it’s quite difficult to care about the story itself as most of it is simply given to you via a wall of text, which most people probably won’t even read. For those of us that do know much of the Halo universe, there’s some neat little tidbits of information but not once was I blown away or had an “Ah-ha” moment like I did with some of the reveals the novels provided.

Because Spartan Assault was originally designed for a mobile tablet platform, the game design follows suit and caters towards the bite-sized missions that mobile games are known for. Because of this core design, finishing it in a single sitting is not unheard of. Missions vary from one to another, as sometimes you’ll be fighting Grunts and Elites, destroying Wraith’s, defending allies, and other types of missions as well. Some mission objectives do get repeated, but the missions themselves are so short that you won’t really notice it for the most part.

You are scored on your performance based on how well you do, time it takes, etc, and these scores are put onto the leaderboards so you can see how you compare against your friends and everyone else on Xbox Live. As you finish missions as earn XP, this XP can then later be used to purchase different weapons or armor abilities, as missions start you out with a predetermined outfit of weapons and abilities. Purchasing new weapons can make some of the mission much easier to complete, but if you run out of your XP currency, you either need to replay missions to earn more or can purchase credits with real money to bypass the grinding needed to test out some of the more powerful weapons. This is where I start to have a problem with Spartan Assault, as it’s clearly been ported from its mobile version, micro-transactions and all intact as well. You aren’t going to find the powerful Sniper rifles, Spartan Lasers, and Rocket Launchers during missions just lying around either, so you need to unlock them via your earned XP or purchased with real money. While these aren’t required to complete the game in any way, some of these are essential to the Halo experience and it’s somewhat locked behind a wall.

A Halo game wouldn’t be the same without all of the iconic weapons included within, and you’ll be using your Pistol, Assault Rifle, Needler, and even picking up Covenant weaponry quite often, as ammo is scarce on the battlefield. You’ll need to be quick on picking up ammo or swapping weapons, as the enemies can be quite relentless at times, especially the later levels and coop missions. The mission difficulty and pacing isn’t a smooth curve either. Some missions you’ll fly through them in a short few minutes, others difficulty level randomly spikes and will have you retrying a few times to get just the right strategy figured out. Then there are the timed missions, possibly the most frustrating of all the missions included; luckily there aren’t an overabundance of them contained within.

A new feature the Xbox One version gets over the tablet is the inclusion of online cooperative multiplayer. Here you can play with a random player or friend and once again use the UNSC Infinity simulator to train for some truly unique situations. In these five missions, the dreaded Flood has returned and your team of two must tackle the objectives as best and quickly as you can. Cooperation is imperative and if you’re stuck with a player that doesn’t pull their own weight or understand the coop mechanics, you won’t succeed. The last mission in particular was quite frustrating and took me about a dozen tries as my cooper partner just wasn’t pulling their weight with the never ending onslaught of Flood as you try and complete your objectives. While the coop was a fun little distraction, it doesn’t last long unless you’re trying to climb up the leaderboards and surprisingly it doesn’t allow for local coop either, only online.

Sure the game looks a little better than it’s tablet predecessor, and the textures have been bumped up to look good on your TV, but there’s no mistaking that this was once a mobile game at its core. Spartan Assault is completely serviceable and fits into the Halo lore and universe no problem, but it just feels somewhat uninspired at times. I know I got a little more out of it because my deep knowledge of the cannon and side stories, but your average Halo fan that’s only played the game might not get as much out of it and may be let down by the lack of cutscenes or non-read narrative.

Halo: Spartan Assault is absolutely authentic, as all of the weapons have the sounds you know by heart, a great soundtrack (though not as memorable), and most of the other elements that defines the series even with the drastic switch to the overhead perspective. If you’re really thirsting for some Halo before the next big game launches on Xbox One, Spartan Assault is completely serviceable and a quick side distraction, it just didn’t live up to some of the expectations that should come in tow with a Halo game.

Overall: 6.8 / 10
Gameplay: 5.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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