Xbox 360
Recommended
3.5 stars
Overall Grade
3.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Game Itself
3 Stars
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
3 Stars
The Audio: Rating the Sound
4 Stars
Replay Factor
3 Stars
Bonus Content
2 Stars
Bottom Line
Recommended

Halo: Spartan Assault

Street Date:
December 24th, 2013
Reviewed by:
Review Date:1
February 6th, 2014
Game Release Year:
2013
Platform:
Xbox 360
Publisher:
Microsoft Game Studios
Developer:
Vanguard Games
ESRB Rating:
T (Teen)

Editor's Notes

The Xbox 360 version carries everything over from the original Windows 8 release, along with the better controls, cooperative mode, the flood as you and you're partner's new foe, and new weapons from the Xbox One release. As the features between the two are virtually identical, microtransactions included, this review focuses on changes in the visual quality of the game, of which there are a few. Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of the Xbox One version of 'Halo: Spartan Assault.'

Introduction

Microsoft leans on a familiar friend with 'Halo: Spartan Assault,' originally a mobile and Windows 8 release. As a top-down, twin-stick shooter, it's not the 'Halo' anyone is waiting for, but it is an excuse to revisit the sights and sounds of a franchise known, no matter the view, for its vibrant presentation.

The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

There's a feel to the 'Halo' games that's both unmistakable and, as its own standard in first-person shooting, without comparable replication. It's why we're working our way towards 'Halo 5' right now. I've always found it's in the physics, the expansiveness of the levels and the lush, if somewhat convoluted, nature of the story. 'Halo: Spartan Assault' arrives bereft of these attributes. I don't believe it's too much to ask that a game, despite a change in perspective, can find that intangible, gameplay-based semblance with its forbears, but 'Spartan Assault' simply doesn't have it. You don't jump, for one thing, the enemy AI feels more erratic than the latter of the acronym. The narrative is totally placeholder.

Still, the bells and whistles are there. The guns sound great, you could find a checklist of 'Halo' enemies and clear it. The visuals shimmer clean as a reflection on Master Chief's visor, but those bells are hanging off a whole different beast, playing to a different song.

In essence, this isn't a 'Halo' game changed perspective, it's an arcade game with 'Halo' wallpaper. Little that makes a 'Halo' game great is present to grant 'Spartan Assault' that same greatness, but it's an enjoyable twin-stick shooter, designed with efficiency and directness, if not the love or passion poured into main franchise.

Split into six operations of five missions apiece, the campaign sets you in the shoes of various Spartan heroes, none of them the Spartan hero, as part of a simulation of past battles. From a design perspective, setting it all up as a simulation makes it easy to diversify your level design and objectives without having to weave in a narrative that makes any sense, but the downside is none of your accomplishments feel particularly vital. There's no impact, especially since most of the exposition is written with futuristic military jargon and planet names that belong in a filing system. You partake in Operation: Umbra on Draetheus-V's moon or Operation: Monolith with the 3rd Helljumper Platoon. It's the kind of setup that sounds cool once, and then never, ever again.

Once you're in a level, though, forgetting the unnecessary setup, there's decent interplay with the weapons you're carrying, swapping when needed with those dropped on the ground, as you tackle grunts, elites and the like. You'll even throw a sticky grenade or two. While it rarely gets more complicated than: shotgun this guy, assault rifle those guys, now chuck a grenade at that group, levels are designed with enough immediate variance to keep you engaged in the system. Armor abilities similar to those introduced in 'Halo 3' are another welcome shakeup, but if I ever stumbled across a health regeneration bubble, I picked it up and never looked back. Nothing beats it. That's a bad thing. Those last two sentences could be applied to any vehicle you might enter, powerhouses without a feeling of reward.

Reward, in fact, feels like a good way to characterize this game's major fault. Whereas in the numbered 'Halo' games you'd feel embattled and triumphant after a level, there's no sense of accomplishment with 'Spartan Assault.' The presentation just doesn't put it together for you, unable to make you feel like these are missions really worth doing. The lackluster arcade scoring system does little to alleviate this subtle but damaging issue, and the game's copout transitions of common 'Halo' staples, like the shield/melee system or splattering with a vehicle make it worse. If this were anything more than a factory-ordered franchise fill-in, we might be looking at something that genuinely feels 'Halo.' Maybe I expect too much, but hey, my burden is mine to share, so too bad. There's a distinct lack of flourish. It's clinical. It's quick and clean.

In between the mobile release and this one, however, the team decided to experiment a little more and throw in a surprisingly tense cooperative campaign. Though only playable with another online player, which means finding a competent teammate might take a couple tries, squaring off against the aggressive flood requires more than just using the right weapon at the right time. It requires a buddy. That's a good thing.

Switches that open up barriers, requiring one man to stay behind as another goes on, and a turret powered by one while shot by another, each require the kind of minor communication that makes it easy to play with someone you've never met. The flood as an ongoing offensive force, as opposed to the more timid covenant forces in single-player, is both a welcome change of pace and well-suited towards cooperative play, when dying doesn't mean resetting the entire level. I only wish there were more than five coop campaigns, but this game's DLC history suggests that may very well come.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

The Xbox 360 version 'Halo: Spartan Assault' reflects all the clean, pragmatic visual inclinations from earlier versions. The differences between this and the Xbox One version, while virtually ineffective to the gameplay experience, are obvious to the trained eye, and stem from what appears to a drop from 1080p to 720p. With this particular game's modest amount of either high-poly models, dense textures, or expensive particle effects, the native resolution drop makes for a minor visual change.

As you can see, the 360 version covers up the slightly more choppy models and landscape with pronounced contrast. The lamp's circle of light around our hero is a bit brighter, the dark around it a bit darker. The Xbox One colorations are more natural, suggesting either a global lighting or post-processing change, or just a slight variance in the two versions. Either way, as it should be, the more powerful Xbox One displays an image easier on the eyes.

Additionally, the view is ever so slightly squished on the 360, the Xbox One version more widescreen, and that may be caused by the tighter safe area design restrictions on the 360. I chose this arguably unexciting scene because it emphasizes a bunch of things at once, all consistent through the entire experience. Technically, the Xbox One version is superior, but from a gameplay standpoint they're the same. The same models, character counts on-screen and atmospheric elements, such as that covenant ship flying by or the red flare on the box, are all present.

The one thing that's not shown, and perhaps the most important, is that the 360 version is running at the same buttery-smooth frame rate as the One version. Whatever sacrifices the team had to make in the translation, frame rate was not one of them.

As for the actual stylistic design of the game in any version, well, that's another discussion. Though not much has changed in the translation from mobile to next-gen console, this game was pleasant to look at to begin with. Tiny spartans and space marines scatter across the battlefield like toy soldiers, swapping bullets with the covenants plasma fire. It's a blessing that any game should adopt a well-known and wonderfully conceived mythology as 'Halo's,' and the development team did a good job of translating those visuals. But, like the rest of the game, it's clinical and direct. Unlike, say, 'Halo 4,' where a new planet and species really opened up the 'Halo' universe in interesting ways, the levels of 'Spartan Assault' do very little that hasn't been done before, or better, in previous games. Well, there's more ice this time.

The change in perspective is amusing, no doubt, but aided very little by a lost desire to find new ground.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

Here we go again. It sounds like 'Halo.' Submachine guns rattle convincingly, grunts do their little yelps and suicide screams, and, as my personal favorite, the covenant wraith fires off its barrage with a powerful futuristic sound I can't even describe. Closing my eyes put me back into 'Halo 2,' which I imagine is exactly what the team was going for.

The same goes for the score, with dramatic choruses and echoes of Marty O'Donnell's score reminding us exactly what universe we're in. Maybe it has something to do with the linkage of nostalgia and sound, I found the audio in 'Spartan Assault' a much more convincing method of immersion than the purples and greens of the visuals.

Replay Factor

The arcade scoring system doesn't do the one thing it's supposed to do: make you go back and do it again. As a combination of time, kill points and an obtuse multiplier system set around medals, working your way towards from a bronze to gold star feels more like a trial of will than of skill. Every level feels entertaining once, but never again. That said, those looking for a reason to do it all over again have it. Fortunately, the cooperative levels have a little more staying power, as completing them with a new, better partner grants a feeling of tactical progression that the scoring system lacks. These levels even motivated me to accept my first blind friend request on the Xbox One.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

'Spartan Assault's upgrade to console release brings along with it the cooperative mode and some new weapons. I've emphasized my pleasure with the former, while the latter lack significance in tactical or visceral affect, save using the new machine pistols against the flood. Unfortunately, as in the original release, 'Spartan Assault' continues Microsoft's disturbing microtransaction trend. Though everything is purchasable with experience points, players can opt to spend a little extra dough for one-time-use boosters and weapons, including the sniper rifle, rocket launcher and Spartan laser. Yes, these are pay-to-win options. And yes, this is the only way you get to use those power weapons. If you don't want to pay for them, get ready to grind, hard.

Final Thoughts

Master Chief is on vacation, and with no intergalactic war to fight we'll have to settle for a simulation. Not a facsimile, nor a cheap knockoff, it isn't even something in the middle. It's something off to the side. Understanding that virtually any genre privy to guns and bad guys, that 'Halo' technically works as a twin-stick shooter isn't surprising. It's just there isn't much surprising beyond that either. It works, and those with a propensity for some laid-back, arcade-style gunplay will certainly be happy, if not happily overwhelmed, with the result. The best thing you can do is find a friend and go after the flood.

And while the Xbox One version is technically superior, there's little to no substantial reason to prefer it over the 360 version, or to hold off until you make the console jump. Either version is just fine, not explosively fun, not terrifyingly dull, just fine.

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Video Resolution/Codec

  • 720p

Multiplayer Mode(s)

  • Online Co-op

Motion Controls

  • No

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