Halo is synonymous with Xbox, the Xbox is its home and for an awful lot of people, particularly when the Xbox brand was young, the reason to buy one. Rejuvenated recently by 343 Studios with the excellent Halo 4 it’s simply a matter of time before this ‘system seller’ comes a-knocking on the Xbox One and we all get to be next gen spartans kicking all types of grunt butt. Sadly Halo 5 is likely a Q4 Xbox One release in 2014 so for now we have some filler, a bite size chunk for all those Halo fans out there who are desperate for a fix.
Ported over from what was a ridiculous Windows 8 exclusive which landed with the launch of the new operating system and ever so slightly remastered, this twin stick shooter has had a lick of paint, a new two player co-op mode and the package also includes the additional DLC from the Windows 8 platform. Running at a lovely 1080p and 60fps everything points to a Halo based adventure that the masses will lap up, leaving them wanting Halo 5 more than ever. Well, remember Halo Wars and how it was universally mocked as a blip on the Halo universe franchise? Halo Wars was a much better game.
The story in Spartan Assault is set somewhere between Halo 3 and Halo 4 but immediately you will default to a don’t really care position as it is made very clear that everything you are about to do is a training exercise in a simulator. Throughout the adventure you are reliving moments in the shoes of Commander Sarah Palmer, one of the Spartan IV programme’s first recruits and as a result you feel like absolutely nothing matters. The often very short missions are interwoven with throwaway story, albeit often within lovely looking cutscenes, and to its credit there are quite a few to get through - twenty-five main missions as well as the additional five DLC missions which are included for free. Two things work against the title from the beginning. One it’s pretty much impossible to engage with the story, leaving you cold and bored. Two, some of the missions are so short that they surprise you, some of them may even warrant a “really?” from regular gamers. All in all there is about four hours of game to be played here for the non-completionist.
The missions themselves provide a reasonable mix of objective based gameplay, for the most part you are a Spartan with an array of weaponry and you need to complete a series of objectives on some samey maps. The gameplay for the most part is A to B stuff with very little mixed in to surprise. There are some nice breaks in the monotony in the form of the vehicle based missions and there is a ton of fun to be had in a Wrath - sadly though these missions are infrequent and like the majority of missions, far too short.
XP can be used for single mission-use weaponry, accumulated through performance in missions, or you can use real money to boost. It is utterly incomprehensible that someone would put down actual real life money for a one mission-use of a rocket launcher but sadly this world of microtransactions is where we are right now. Moving across from a tablet/mobile phone environment hasn’t helped of course and sadly such deplorable microtransactions are invading our beloved consoles. It wouldn’t even be so bad if you purchased a rocket launcher for the game and you get to rinse every mission for maximum points because you paid some hard earned cash - sadly though everything purchased is for a single mission only. At this time it really should be noted, again that some missions in Halo Spartan Assault can be done in under two minutes.
To counter these horrific microtransactions, you do get some stuff for free if you bought and played Halo 4. Halo 4 achievements result in additional free gear which as per everything else, can be used once per mission - Spartan laser, rockets and more can be used to decimate entire missions, helping you to easily achieve gold status on any level. Sadly though, as we’ve covered, one mission and they are gone. Luckily for Halo 4 players you get quite a few of these one hit weapons so if you do find a particularly challenging gold medal then you can always grab the rocket launcher and make quick work of it.
As we touched on earlier the story does very little to engage you throughout the entire campaign and as a result there is a constant “going through the motions” feel to it all. Add to this the fairly dull level design along with little or no adrenaline fuelled gameplay and everything just feels flat. At no stage will your heart be in your mouth, or the screen be lit up with crazy action, it just doesn’t happen - start mission, shoot a few grunts, plant a bomb, mission done. Unfortunately that is not an exaggeration. This is without a doubt as a direct result of where the game originated. Imagine if you will playing a twin stick shooter, a proper one, say Renegade Ops on a tablet - couldn’t happen - too much action, too quick, controls are too precise and the inputs wouldn’t be able to keep up with the AI. On a tablet it all needs to be taken down a notch, or five in this case.
In at attempt to make things interested each mission is basically a score attack - chain those kills and create more carnage to score higher points - this is all then reflected in the bronze, silver, gold rating at the end of each mission. It does little to provide any real excitement and aside from achievement hunters on their new shiny Xbox Ones, most won’t care to replay to achieve gold.
Co-op is a welcome addition to the Xbox One version and was missed on the original release, naturally though it makes perfect sense to add in a co-op mode now as the Xbox platform is widely known as the pinnacle of console multiplayer service. The campaign is completely separate from the single player adventure and is against a ‘new’ enemy, the flood. Ofcourse, this is not new to Halo but the flood are absent from the single player campaign. Teaming up with a friend is easy and jumping straight in is again, easy. The co-op campaign is arguably more fun than the single player jaunt but that could well be down to the fact that playing just about any game is better with a friend than alone. Whilst good though the co-op campaign, along with the free single player DLC that had come out in the time between the Win 8 launch and now does little to save the package as a whole.
One of the few redeeming features is the audio, it’s pure Halo goodness. Everything sounds exactly as it should and no-one has ever tired of the noise a grunt makes when he goes down. That authentic sound will resonate with Halo fans instantly and for a brief time at least allow the more casual player to forgive the shortcomings of the game - this good feeling will evaporate after the first set of short, boring missions.
A reasonable twin stick shooter elevated from complete mediocrity by the licence - not really worth the asking price due to limited amount of content on offer but at the discounted rate for Windows 8 game owners it’s probably worth picking up, if only for the addition of co-op and the inclusion of the DLC for free. Halo fans will purchase regardless and likely love every minute of it, this is the nature of adoring everything about a franchise, for anyone who doesn’t live and breathe the franchise though there just isn’t enough content and what there is has been done bigger and better many many times over. Arguably the most damning thing you could say about Halo Spartan Assault is that it is very easy to see that this is a game ported over from a tablet (or Win 8 PC for the pedantic), microtransactions and all.