Halo: Spartan Assault first made its debut on Windows 8 mobile platforms, but this December Microsoft also announced its release for the Xbox One and Xbox 360. For a mobile port it looks glorious in 1080p running at 60 frames per second, and it’s visual and audio design will instantly resonate with long time Halo fans. All of the familiar gun sounds are present, as well as other Halo franchise staples such as Scorpions, Wraiths, Ghosts, and of course the heroic Spartans and troublesome Covenant. There’s no denying that Halo: Spartan Assault is part of the Haloverse; just don’t expect it to be on the same level as its traditional console game big brothers.
At its core Spartan Assault is a top-down twin stick shooter, similar to other mobile titles that incorporate character movement on one thumbstick, and targeting on the other. For the most part the controls are tight and precise, allowing you to systematically dispatch the Covenant just like the Master Chief. Unfortunately, the whole twin stick mechanic doesn’t take too much skill to master, so waylaying the bad guys becomes fairly simplistic and mundane about halfway through the 30 mission single-player campaign. Each mission offers a bit of variety in objectives, but for the most part they all felt like shooting galleries that could be cleared with enough ammo and trigger pulls.
What helps to break up the monotonous campaign is the inclusion of a scoring system that is similar to other mobile titles, which encourages multiple playthroughs and a bit of strategy. Each mission has three tiers of scoring: Bronze, Silver, and Gold, which require skill and skulls to achieve. If you enable skulls before each mission you can definitely ramp up the difficulty, effectively allowing you to earn more points through scoring kill streaks, and in turn higher mission ratings. For example, enabling the Hollow Man skull makes it so your Spartan only has a shield and no life meter, which definitely adds a wrench into charing headlong into a fire fight. Achievement whores will be pleased to know that plenty of rewards await those willing to tackle these challenges, so Halo: Spartan Assault definitely offers a ton of replayability to master its achievement list.
In terms of a narrative Halo: Spartan Assault falls drastically short of the other Halo properties. You’re a new recruit who must relive the missions of two Spartans who fought to protect a human colony from the Covenant in between Halo 3 and Halo 4. These missions recount the rise of the Spartan Ops program, most notably its commander Sarah Palmer (Halo 4). There are a few cutscenes, but they’re merely animated comics, so they don’t really draw you into the world. The bulk of the story is told through text boxes before each mission, so it’s made clear early on that Spartan Assault is all about gameplay and not too interested in story.
In addition to the single player campaign there’s also a new online co-op mode included with the Xbox One version of Halo: Spartan Assault. These five missions allow you to team up with another gamer (online only) to take on the Flood, and actually require teamwork to succeed. A few new co-op mechanics get introduced to reinforce the whole partnership motif of the mode, and the challenges of each mission make for some fun and frenetic gaming moments with friends.
The most glaring negative aspect about Halo: Spartan Assault is the inclusion of microtransactions that allow you to bypass XP grinding to unlock new weapons and armor abilities. What’s frustrating about this setup is the fact that these are all one time use items, so after you spend some cash to use a new weapon for a mission it’ll be gone by the next. All of these purchases are intended to help you reach a higher score, so it’s not like they have any value to them outside of the initial purpose. They just feel out of place, especially since the game itself costs $15 ($5 if you bought it on mobile before 12/15), and the fact that you don’t get to keep any of the unlocks permanently. I’m all for in-game purchases if they add long lasting value, but Spartan Assault’s just feel like a money grab.
Halo: Spartan Assault is a faithful tribute to the franchise in a mobile package for the Xbox One, but it isn’t perfect. The campaign can be completed in 2-6 hours depending on player skill and achievement needs, but the overall difficulty is weak compared to what you may have experienced in the traditional Halo campaigns. It does look beautiful in HD and runs as smooth as silk on the Xbox One, and there’s definitely an omnipresent Halo feel to its design and soundscapes. There are a few stability issues, but overall it plays well. Just don’t get sucked into paying for in-game purchases, because they’re definitely a ploy to snag more of your hard earned money for no real long lasting value. Regardless of that tacky feature, Halo: Spartan Assault is still a worthy entry in the Haloverse, and it will surely provide a few hours of fun gaming by yourself or with a friend.
Review Statement: The author of this review was given a code by the publisher for purposes of this review.
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