Halo: Spartan Assault Brings the Fight to Xbox One

By jason - December 31, 2013

Halo Spartan Assault Review

Since the 2001 release of Halo: Combat Evolved, Microsoft has pushed to expand the franchise with spin-offs and sequels of varying quality. Developed by 343 Industries, Halo: Spartan Assault is a departure from the traditional first-person perspective; instead offering a light, twin-stick arcade shooter experience akin to Robotron or Smash TV.  But does it deliver an innovative take on the genre or fall flat?

Unfortunately, while close attention was given to audio and visuals to ensure the game “feels” like it belongs in the Halo universe, the gameplay itself is rather lackluster – hampered by dull level design, short levels, uninspired gameplay and a microtransaction system.   Set on planet Draetheus V between the events of Halo 3 and Halo 4, the UNSC and Covenant have signed a ceasefire agreement.  The game’s protagonists, Spartans Palmer and Davis, and the rest of the UNSC find themselves in the middle of an attack when a rebel Covenant sect breaks the truce.  Discovering Draetheus’s moon is actually an ancient Forerunner weapon, the Covenant forces plan to activate it.

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Using a dual-stick control scheme and observing the action from a bird’s eye view of the playfield, players will move their Spartan warrior with the left analog stick while aiming 360 degrees around them with the right.  Aiming reduces movement speed slightly, making it easier to line up a shot, but this can still be difficult as there is no way to determine the trajectory of your bullets before they’re fired.  Unlike many of even the more modern games of this genre, such as Geometry Wars or Assault Heroes, aiming with the right stick doesn’t automatically spam a never-ending stream of projectiles from your unlimited supply.  Precise aiming isn’t important in this scenario as you can always see where exactly where your payload is being directed.  In Halo: Spartan Assault, ammo is limited so you won’t want to necessarily waste any just to help line up a shot, but you’ll find yourself doing it often.  A visible laser sight or even a subtle auto-targeting system would help alleviate this issue, offering something to make up for the fact that you can’t look down your gun’s sight for accurate shots like you can in the first-person realm.  Similarly, grenades have a set distance they can be thrown and cannot be tossed in the higher or lower to change their effective range.  It’s nice that nearly every weapon you can think of from the franchise is represented her (even if players can’t use all of them) but it would reduce frustration by implementing a fix to improve accuracy.

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There are also familiar vehicles to hijack as well as usable turrets, all of which have unlimited ammunition.  The drawback I’ve found with using these, however, aside from the clumsy controls, is that enemies are quick to target and blow them up, meaning instant death for anyone inside.  On the plus side, dying will likely only mean you’ve lost a couple minutes of time invested in the game as each level is extremely short with simple goals to achieve.  It becomes abundantly clear that this title was designed with mobile phone users in mind as, when playing on that medium, the bite-sized adventures are perfect.  When brought to PC and consoles though, the experience comes across as shallow.  This is of course compounded by a ridiculous menu of microtransactions that greet player each time they start a new mission.  While the more powerful weapons and items one can acquire through additional transactions aren’t required to complete the game or even get the most enjoyment out of it, it’s a bit insulting to constantly thrust the in-app purchase model in players’ faces when they’ve already shelled out a premium for the game.

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On top of the two dozen single-player levels, there is a cooperative mode in which you can search for an online partner to take on survival scenarios against hordes of enemies.  While the mode is entirely serviceable for what it is, it’s pretty surprising that they couldn’t go a step further and simply allow for local co-op games on one console.  The very nature of the game seemingly makes it easy to play couch co-op without even splitting the screen.  Perhaps the most shocking exclusion is that of a competitive multiplayer mode, considering Halo’s deathmatch scenarios are a large reason the franchise became so successful in the first place.  Halo: Spartan Assault is a fast-playing, simple game that’s easy to get into and will definitely appeal to die-hard Halo fans, but many will be disappointed by the bland design and gameplay.  The $14.99 won’t break the bank and, with the Xbox One’s current library lacking content, isn’t a terrible investment for a bit of fun and some achievement-hunting – but in the long run, it’s a forgettable addition to the series.


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