Halo: Spartan Assault
- Street Date:
- December 24th, 2013
- Reviewed by:
- Trevor Ruben
- Review Date:1
- January 3rd, 2014
- Game Release Year:
- Xbox One
- Microsoft Game Studios
- Vanguard Games
- ESRB Rating:
- T (Teen)
The Xbox One version carries everything over from the original Windows 8 release, along with a brand new cooperative mode with new weapons and the Flood as you and your partner's new foe. The Xbox One version also offers a much improved control scheme for the Xbox One controller. Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of the Xbox 360 version of 'Halo: Spartan Assault.'
Every new console needs games, but those games don't have to be new. Continuing a stream of minor but fulfilling releases on the Xbox One post launch, 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 exactly the full-size '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 series' standard. The narrative is merely basic.
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 distinct 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
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.
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.
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.
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