Halo: Spartan Assault first debuted for Windows 8 PCs, tablets and smartphones back in July but it finally made its way to the Xbox One this month. The console just happens to be where it feels most at home and it’s not just because of the Halo franchise name.
Story About a Spartan Named Palmer
The game returns players to the UNSC Infinity where the ship’s AI, Roland, returns from Halo 4 to give some newly minted Spartans a bit of a history lesson from the Human-Covenant war via a holodeck-like simulation experience. This lesson takes players back to a time between Halo 3 and Halo 4 when a Covenant religious splinter group was attempting to access a powerful Forerunner weapon. UNSC forces, fortified by Commander Sarah Palmer and Spartan Davis, are on hand to stop the attempt while wiping out scores of bad guys in the process.
The transition from first-person view to a third-person, overhead view is made smoothly with Halo: Spartan Assault. Aside from the top-down, twin-stick shooter format being a natural fit for the Xbox One controller, it also works excellently thanks to the game’s shooter DNA.
The Shooting Bit
Gamers should have no trouble making the leap as everything from the mainline Halo games from enemy colors and behaviors, the varying weapon types, vehicles and even sounds are all present and accounted for. Everything runs smoothly as well with the backdrops providing interesting vistas to look to make you feel like you are part of a larger battle.
The Xbox One version of Halo: Spartan Assault comes with all of the free DLC that was previously provided straight out of the virtual box. There are six single-player episodes (one of which is the Operation Hydra DLC) with five missions each that vary between assaulting, last stand defense and escort throughout until challenged with a multi-phased final boss battle.
Each mission lasts around five minutes so the entire game can be completed in an afternoon or two. The challenge to come back and replay the missions is to earn a gold star from by earning the appropriate amount of XP in each mission by killing enemies and earning badges from multi-kills, killing sprees, vehicle kills and other ways to conduct murder and mayhem against a fanatical menagerie of aliens bent on your destruction.
A silver star can be achieved more than not and gold will come surprisingly easy for some missions but not most others. The trick is to enable Skulls prior to starting the mission for score multipliers to gain more experience than normal. The skulls will modify the game in different ways such as limiting the player’s health to shields only, increasing the health of enemies or removing the HUD from the UI.
While the Halo franchise is known for its multiplayer options, Spartan Assault comes with a meager offering of just five co-op missions that were originally DLC for the Windows 8 release. Unlike the single-player missions, the enemy here is the Flood and the swarming, parasitic alien race could not be a more suitable fit to a top-down, twin-stick shooter.
The missions are tense affairs where you and your co-op partner will want to stick together to literally watch each other’s backs. In a couple of missions, teamwork is mandatory to make it through as one Spartan will need to step on a plate to deactivate a shield to allow the other one through who will then step on another plate to allow the first one through.
It’s good stuff but thin selection of co-op mission is dragged down even more by the fact that Halo: Spartan Assault only support online co-op. Local co-op is not an option which means those tense, “Holy crap, they are coming from everywhere” moments can’t be shared with a buddy, sibling, parent or child in the same room. This diminishes the overall impact of the co-op and is a real missed opportunity.
While the co-op leaves you wanting more, the inclusion of microtransactions will leave you scratching your head. Prior to each mission, you can purchase a weapon upgrade, armor ability upgrade or booster upgrade with experience points. However, the purchase of these is good for only that single mission and you will quickly find your reserve of points dwindled down to nothing as a result. This, plus the pulsating “But Credits” button appears to be explicitly designed to encourage players to spend real world cash in the game after plunking down up to $15 just to buy it.
Some of the upgrades make little sense as well. For example, a Score booster upgrade costs 1,000 experience points to purchase but you more than likely won’t even earn back the points you spent so why bother, especially with real money?
While these microtransactions come across as somewhat galling and insulting, they can thankfully be ignored as every mission can be completed with the default loadouts plus weapons and other equipment found on the battlefield during the missions.
Halo: Spartan Assault feels at home on the Xbox One thanks to the natural fit of the controller and the franchise’s importance to the console. It’s a fun and distracting side-story that can be taken in small chunks or swallowed whole in the course of a few hours. The lack of local-cop is disappointing as are the pointless microtransactions. The co-op missions that are present put on a strong showing but the game desperately needs an infusion of another set or two.
- Fun, quick and distracting gameplay
- More Halo for the Halo lovers and more Roland for the Roland lovers
- Xbox One controller a natural fit for this game genre
- Only five co-op missions
- Co-op limited to online only
Title: Halo: Spartan Assault
Platform(s): Xbox One
Developer: Vanguard Games / 343 Industries
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Price: $14.99 ($4.99 if Windows 8 version already owned)
Release Date: Dec. 23, 2013
A review code for the Xbox one was provided by Microsoft for the purposes of this review.
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