After changing things up by venturing into the realm of real-time strategy gaming with Halo Wars, Microsoft’s most popular shooter and most prominent I.P. has been taken in a new direction with the release of Halo: Spartan Assault. The game, which was first a PC/mobile title, has now landed on the Xbox One and eschews first-person shooting and all of its tropes in favour of three-hundred-and-sixty-degree, twin-stick shooting. It’s an interesting change to say the least, and as a first effort the experience is a relatively impressive one, but it’s kept from greatness by questionable design decisions and an inability to stand out.
Available now through digital distribution, Halo: Spartan Assault presents a storyline that takes place between the events of Halo 3 and Halo 4. Now, I’m admittedly not the world’s most knowledgeable Halo librarian, or anything close, so I can’t go into too many specifics for you. What you need to know, though, is that the game is essentially recapping important battles between the Spartans and the Covenant, through some sort of poorly explained training system. It’s the type of experience that lets those who are interested delve into the details (via text descriptions prior to missions, as well as the odd cutscene), while those who just want to blow things away can just worry about doing that.
It’s admirable that 343 Industries and Vanguard Entertainment took the time to set up a storyline that is at least somewhat interesting, but it’s something that only the diehard Halo fans out there will remember, or fully understand. There’s definitely fanfare to be found within the 30 mission campaign, though, plus Spartan Assault’s five separate co-op missions, which are included as defense training simulators.
The idea behind the aforementioned, two-player co-op content, is that the Spartans want their soldiers to be trained in Flood management. Although the infectious species is thought to have been removed from Earth, it’s always better to be safe instead of being sorry, so survival simulators have been set up. This means that trainees must work together to avoid infection and death at the hands of overwhelming amounts of Flood-based baddies, while confined to mostly small-scale maps. Varied objectives — such as blowing up power-generating orbs — do come up on occasion, but they’re too basic and limited to make much of a difference in what is unfortunately an occasionally cheap and overly mediocre secondary option.
In truth, the campaign — which features six main operations — also lacks spark. Its thirty five to ten minute-long missions are fine, decent, and relatively enjoyable, but none of them really stand out as being memorable or incredibly well thought out. That’s the theme of this game, though, because it’s been developed with care and polish, but lacks a hook or a standout feature.
When it comes to gunplay, the basis of a game such as this, it’s hard to really complain. All of the Halo series’ most prominent weapons, from the battle rifle to the the rocket launcher and Spartan Laser, are included, and they all fit in very well. Each weapon has its pros and cons, as you’d expect, which adds strategy into the experience. However, it could be said that the Needler might be a bit overpowered. Then again, when you consider that Halo: Spartan Assault has difficulty spikes in certain areas, and promotes the use of two game-changing skulls at once, it’s kind of nice to have that advantage from time-to-time. The enemies get it, too, of course, so make sure to hide whenever you see a trail of pink needles flying towards you.
Guns, and their complementary grenades, aren’t the only offensive options that the Spartans can take advantage of this time around. There are no Warthogs, but tanks, Wraiths, turrets and Revenants are regularly made available to the heroes. Granted, some need to be hijacked before they can be used; nevertheless, the vehicles fit in well within the design that 343 and Vanguard have crafted.
Truthfully, the developers deserve to be commended on how they were able to take the core of the Halo experience and shrink it down into a small-scale and score-based, twin-stick shooter experience. It’s just too bad that they didn’t think outside of the box, because with all that being said, the game still lacks an immediate wow factor. Furthermore, it’s also full of repetitive mission constructs and objectives, which recycle familiar tropes like, “Survive until back-up arrives!” and, “Escort this scientist to this place, then protect him.”
Now, you’re surely wondering how Halo: Spartan Assault looks, runs and feels on the Xbox One. Thankfully, the title excels in almost all areas, thanks to a seemingly flawless frame rate and some solid presentation aspects. Still, while it looks good on an HDTV, it doesn’t quite compete with the other titles that were built with the new console in mind. It looks good, though, with themed visuals that do their job well, in addition to solid voice acting and boisterous sound effects.
The unfortunate truth, however, is that glitches did mar my playthrough. To start, after every instance of turret usage, my gun would choose to automatically fire until I pressed the trigger to make it stop. Then, there were two occasions where I had to completely restart missions, because I’d become frozen in place. The good news there, though, is that they’re very short to begin with, so I didn’t lose a lot of game time.
Switching back to the positive side of things, it’s also important to note that the Xbox One controller is utilized well here, although not perfectly. There were times where I had trouble lining up some of my shots perfectly, but they ended up being quite rare and didn’t affect my experience much. Additionally, it took a bit of time to get used to having to press the right joystick to shoot, but that’s not something I’m complaining about or bothered by. Just note that it’s a necessity, much like picking up new weapons and/or ammo, due to the game’s limited bullet supply.
With all of the above having been said and explained, I’ll conclude by noting that, even though it lacks a spark of originality and a great amount of replay value, Halo: Spartan Assault is still a decent game. As a result, those who are looking for some more Halo-inspired gameplay, or just a solid twin-stick shooter in general, should check this one out. Just don’t go in expecting anything revolutionary.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided.