GAME NAME: Halo: Spartan Assault
DEVELOPER(S): Vanguard Games / 343 Studios
PUBLISHER(S): Microsoft Games Studios
PLATFORM(S): Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC, Windows Mobile
RELEASE DATE(S): January 21st, 2014
The Halo franchise is easily one of the greatest in gaming history. The original Halo changed so many things about the FPS genre, especially in terms of multiplayer and even more so for console gaming. Ever since then, it has been a flagship title for Microsoft and the Xbox brand. Halo 4 blew minds and showed just how well 343 Studios could take up the mantle following the departure of Bungie, and the future was exciting for Halo fans.
With the series doing so well, however, somewhere, someone at 343 (together with Vanguard Games) decided that Halo needs to expand a little bit, take on different markets and ideas. That sounds great in theory, and so they took on the mobile market with Halo: Spartan Assault. It was then decided that the game should also be ported to the Xbox One and the Xbox 360, and the theory went bang.
Halo: Spartan Assault’s story falls between Halo 3 and Halo 4, though nothing in the story provides you with any reason to keep track of what is going on. Before each main section, there is a little cutscene video which has a tiny bit of action and reference, and then there are bodies of text which you can read before each mission. None of them mattered at all, and if you are going to play the game, don’t even bother reading it. It’s boring.
With the lacklustre story out of the way, we can move on to the gameplay. Spartan Assault is essentially a top down twin-stick shooter featuring the Halo universe. What it essentially means is that all of the great visuals and the futuristic themes remain, but the finely balanced weaponry, honed over many iterations throughout the series, well they’re pretty much equally effective. It’s actually great to see how well they conveyed the Halo world into a top down view, but the novelty wears off quickly and you soon start wondering why on earth you are playing a top down Halo game?
The graphics are, I suppose, as good as a top down game can be. There are lots of colours and it all looks very pretty when put together, but the colour in the visuals does nothing for an otherwise dull experience. The soundtrack is a highlight, but only if you are a Halo fan. It has the great chanting music to go along with some excellent sound effects. At times, it was better to play with my eyes closed so I could pretend something else was happening on screen.
With the average visuals and good sound, the real standout feature is the gameplay. And by standout, I do not mean in a positive way. Every mission follows one of a number of very similar patterns. You either go on a mission to destroy some enemy/big weapon/who cares, or you have to accompany soldiers/engineers/who cares across the terrain. At other times, you have to survive for a few minutes before help arrives, or some variation of that. It may not seem too bad, but over the 30 missions you honestly feel like nothing ever changes. You do get to ride a tank in some levels, but even that gets old quickly.
If you can find it within yourself to get to the end of the game, you’ll find that it’s not very long. Some missions were as short as 2 minutes, while longer ones could take around 10. It makes for a very short game, but that is aided by a few things. Firstly, you get a score on each mission, which, depending on the time it takes, the amount of kills and other factors, you get a bronze, silver or gold score. If you enjoy punishment and want to play the missions again to get a better score, well you’re a braver person than I.
As is custom in the Halo games now, you also get different ‘skulls’ which are akin to handicaps in that it makes it more difficult to finish a level. So something like playing with less ammo being dropped and the like. It adds a bit of variety, but, again, this takes place on the same dull levels, in the same boring missions.
Halo: Spartan Assault also has online co-op as an option. I managed to play it briefly (considering I don’t know many with the game) and it is more of the same with some extra missions which encourage some team play with your co-op partner. Almost everything is more fun co-op, so it did improve the experience slightly, but not enough that would make you want to play it to the end. It also doesn’t help that there is no couch co-op for the game; this in spite of it seeming like the perfect type of game for it. Pity.
Considering what we expect out of Halo games, Spartan Assault is a huge disappointment. It’s understandable that it isn’t on the same type of budget as the normal Halo games, but that just makes it feel like a total cash in on the Halo name and world. It’s a bit of an insult to the fans to be honest, and that is made even worse by the fact that it has ridiculous microtransactions as an option to upgrade your weapons on the different missions. A slap in the face, truly.
If you are dying for a top down, twin-stick shooter and absolutely love everything Halo, Halo: Spartan Assault may just interest you, but the likelihood is not great. It’s a game that is better left to the mobile market, where it can compete with other less than engaging games.