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Review: 'Halo: Spartan Assault' brings twin-stick love to franchise

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Halo Spartan Assault

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Halo: Spartan Assault was recently released to Windows 8 PCs and devices and is a surprisingly solid twin-stick shooter. While the Halo series is best known for its first-person-shooting mainstays, it has veered off into other genres before and it conquers its newest venture with aplomb though a couple of side issues hold it back in this Monday review.

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Game Within A Game

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. 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 and UNSC forces, fortified by Commander Sarah Palmer and Spartan Davis.

The transition from first-person view to a third-person, overhead view is made smoothly with Halo: Spartan Assault and is made all the more enjoyable due to game’s color palette. In that, it shares more with the original Halo with the garish purples, orange splashes, glowing blues and more. Players will never lack for distinguishing Covenant enemies or vehicles, that’s for sure.

Colors aside, the environments plus character and vehicles models and animations are well done with nary a hitch experienced during the review. Additionally, the backdrops for the various missions are well-done with plenty to look at whether it is interesting vistas or action from other parts of the on-going battle.

Bite-Sized Missions

Spartan Assault comes packed with 25 bite-sized missions that will never take longer than five minutes to complete. The story moves between Spartan’s Palmer and Davis as they assault, defend and escort throughout until the final boss battle.

The missions are ranked bronze, silver or gold at the end of each based on points from killing Covenant and killing Covenant with style. Silver can be achieved easily with the default difficulty settings more often than not with gold in reach for some. However, enabling Skulls prior to the starting a mission will be just about the only way to ensure gold status on all of the missions.

Enabling Skulls will modify the game in different ways such as limiting the player’s health to shields only, increasing the toughness of enemies and more. Each Skull comes with its own multiplier and up to two can be enabled at a time.

Microtransaction What?

The enabling of Skulls does make the game more difficult though and will cause the player to want to upgrade the default weapon and equipment loadout for their Spartan. Unfortunately, this is where Spartan Assault stumbles due to micro-transactions. One armor ability can typically be swapped by using XP points to purchase a new one. Upgrading weapons to the Sniper Rifle or Spartan Laser, however, involves spending a little bit of cash to purchase credits to purchase those power weapons.

If Halo: Spartan Assault had been released for free or even a buck, these microtransactions would not be so galling. Unfortunately, the game costs $6.99 and a pulsating “Buy Credits” button on every mission screen comes across as kind of insulting at that price. Fortunately, every mission can be completed with the varying default weapons and others dropped by enemies during gameplay plus a bit of skill.

Controls

For the PC, Halo: Spartan Assault uses the classic WASD plus mouse combo for movement and aiming for now with Microsoft planning a patch later to enable gamepad support. One enterprising NeoGAF member already put together an Xpadder profile that’s worth a spin until the patch is released. As for Windows 8 tablets and the Windows 8 Phones, virtual thumbsticks are used instead which work well enough for the game.

The mouse and keyboard combination for the PC wasn’t a problem except when it came to driving the Scorpion Tank. The way it moves is best suited to the gamepad as the WASD key setup can lead to a good bit of frustration when trying to make the tank turn in the right direction.

Finale

Halo: Spartan Assault isn’t going to light the world (or Windows 8) on fire but it is a genuinely entertaining twin-stick shooter once the issues of pointless microtransactions are set aside. The only other true issue with the game is that it is limited to Windows 8 PCs, tablets and phones. It seems a natural as an Xbox LIVE Arcade title but that does not factor into the game’s score. Instead, it starts out as a solid four star review before being docked a point for microtransactions and some control issues.

Pros

  • Fun, quick and distracting gameplay
  • More Halo for the Halo lovers and more Roland for the Roland lovers
  • Colorful graphics that work well on the PC screen or tablet.

Cons

  • Gamepad controls not ready for PC
  • Microtransactions
  • Windows 8 only

Title: Halo: Spartan Assault
Platform(s): Windows 8 PC, Tablet and Smartphones
Developer: Vanguard Games / 343 Industries
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Price: $6.99
Release Date: July 18, 2013

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