Halo: Spartan Assault Review
Written Tuesday, December 24, 2013 By Richard Walker
Until a proper Halo game arrives for Xbox One, Microsoft's next-gen platform remains free of Spartans, Master Chief, Covenant, Battle Rifles and Warthogs. Enter Halo: Spartan Assault, Vanguard and 343's twin-stick isometric top-down shooter, filling a Halo-shaped void on Xbox One. It's a Halo title, yes, but is it worth a look?
Set between the events of Halo 3 and 4, Halo: Spartan Assault is a game that was designed for mobile platforms like Windows Phone 8 and Microsoft's Surface tablet. Now it's out for Xbox One, and still feels like something that was designed to be played in short, bite-sized sessions. Like the PC version, Halo: Spartan Assault has been optimised for the Xbox controller, and controls fairly smoothly, but it's not without a few shortcomings.
Operation: Hydra is included as standard.
If you're unfamiliar with Spartan Assault, the story is as follows. You play as a Spartan in training, reliving the past glories of Commander Sarah Palmer, one of the Spartan-IV programme's first ever recruits. What follows is a series of brief missions tied together by a narrative thread that runs throughout the entire single-player campaign. Cue 25 missions from the original release, and an extra five as part of the bundled Operation: Hydra DLC.
That's a total of 30 missions, amounting to about four hours of gameplay. Across Spartan Assault's 30 missions there's a decent enough spread of objectives, mixing things up regularly. One minute you'll find yourself escorting vehicles, the next you might be eliminating Covenant Elites, eradicating enemies, destroying turrets or defending engineers. There's some overlap and occasional repetition, but none of the missions last long enough for you to really care.
Unless you're deeply invested in the lore and universe of Halo, the story is largely disposable stuff too, making the campaign an exercise in simply completing each mission to see the next painterly cinematic sequence. Completists can return to each mission and attempt to rack up higher scores and a more respectable standing on the leaderboards, as well as to earn gold stars and additional XP. Accumulated XP can be used to purchase one use of an extra weapon, armour ability or boost, while the impatient can purchase credits with real money to do the same thing. Quite why you'd spend real money on a single use weapon or ability is beyond our comprehension.
Spartan Assault's cut-scenes are pretty nice.
Halo 4 achievements you've earned carry across and enable you a few uses of armour abilities, Spartan lasers, rocket launchers, score boosts and shield boosts, but once they're used up, you'll have to go back to using XP or credits. Whatever you choose to do with your XP earnings, you'll choose your loadout before each mission and acquire a variety of different weapons out in the field. Ammo is soon spent rather quickly, so choosing and juggling the right rifles and pistols is all part and parcel of the game's strategy.
From a gameplay standpoint, Halo: Spartan Assault soon wears a bit thin, but missions never outstay their welcome. You're always moving along to the next objective, maintaining a sense of momentum through to the game's damp squib of an ending. Returning to the campaign for medals and leaderboard bragging rights is all well and good once the ending cinematic has played out, but co-op is where Halo: Spartan Assault's real longevity lies.
Thrust into the UNSC Infinity's simulator once again, this time you're in training for a scenario in which the Flood returns. It's an excuse to throw a load of the gooey, infected freaks your way in several waves across a handful of maps, making for a fun if somewhat throwaway few hours of fun with a friend or stranger. Built for two players, it feels like co-op could have quite comfortably accommodated up to four, making the mode seem like a bit of a missed opportunity. As a two-player experience it's perfectly serviceable however, and should have you whiling away an hour or two shooting hordes of Flood.
Co-op: kill the Flood!
You'd hope that being a Halo game, there'd be an interesting selection of achievements to nab, but Spartan Assault's list is a bit too workmanlike. There's an onus on earning every gold star in each mission, spinning out the campaign perhaps more than we'd like, and in the same vein, there are a ton of mission specific objectives to complete. Prepare to repeat the whole game over and over for the full 1000 Gamerscore then. You'll find a couple of fun achievements thrown into the mix, but overall, this is largely uninspired stuff.
Halo: Spartan Assault looks nice on Xbox One, benefitting from a hike in resolution and detail, but it's essentially the same game with a lick of paint. 343 and Vanguard have done a fine job in building a twin-stick shooter that slots neatly into the Halo universe, with all of the iconic audio, weaponry and vehicles and that have come to define the series. At the asking price however, Halo: Spartan Assault on Xbox One doesn't represent particularly great value for money. You're probably better off sticking to a copy on your tablet or phone, though if you already own a WP8 or Windows 8 version of the game (purchased before December 15th), you can get the Xbox One version at a lower price. Nonetheless, Halo: Spartan Assault is a neat shooty romp while it lasts, but it's far from essential.
All the authentic Halo audio you know and love. A needler sounds like a needler, a plasma grenade sounds like... You get the idea. The orchestral soundtrack is excellent too.
Better resolution and a bit more detail than its mobile counterpart. Halo: Spartan Assault looks perfectly fine, but is only really an incremental improvement.
Twin-stick shootiness that works well enough. Occasional glitches and some slightly shonky aiming mar the experience somewhat however.
You don't get all that much for your money. 30 short missions and a co-op mode are the sum total of Halo: Spartan Assault's package. Decent enough, but not exactly an embarrassment of riches.
A mixture of boring and half-decent, Spartan Assault's achievement list isn't really anything to write home about.
A solid port of its mobile and PC counterparts, Halo: Spartan Assault is an enjoyable twin-stick shooter that provides little in the way of real longevity or value for money. Still, if you've nothing else left to play on Xbox One, you could do a lot worse.
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