Halo Spartan Assault may seem like little more than a teaser for Halo 5, but this release offers a few surprises of its own. A twin-stick, top-down shooter affair, you’re a Spartan that has been sent on a series of missions across different planets to neutralise the threat of the Covenant and the Flood.
With the ability to change loadouts before heading into battle – including equipping boosters, armour abilities and adding skulls – this mere mobile game has the makings of a genuinely thrilling digital console release. But how does it translate onto your Xbox One?
In the menus…
Everyone loves a good piss-around in the menus, right? Just me? Eh…
As a default loadout, you can go into battle with a Spartan’s trusty Assault Rifle, but also the standard UNSC Magnum Sidearm. It is possible to upgrade and give your Spartan some extra punching power with a Sniper, Spartan Laser or even a Rocket Launcher, but to equip those, players have to have acquired a certain level of XP, or must have additional in-game credits (which can be purchased through micro-transactions).
The same applies to armor abilities and boosters. Providing you’re not paying to get ahead, I like that Spartan Assault already gives the player something to work towards.
The skulls also diversify the challenge, much as they have in every previous Halo release. The player can either choose to face a more challenging nemesis, or they can hide their entire HUD or even have their shields and armor deplete whenever they fire a weapon. Unquestionably, these things stop the action from getting stale.
On the battlefield
The action is surprisingly fast-paced. I’m actually cringing imagining it play out on a mobile screen. I wouldn’t feel in proper control without the twin sticks and a 47″ TV!
The game works just nicely; the familiar Halo sounds and staples are all there. From the little mannerisms each creature has, to the weapons they use, the sticking of a plasma grenade, the look and feel of the environment and the way fights break out. It’s all there.
Even the medals are back. Killing Spree. Killtacular. Killimanjaro. Players are given rewards based on how many enemies they kill within a period of time, but also how much destruction they cause and the manner in which an enemy is killed.
Basically, the action in-game feels great and fits the dynamic, pedal-to-the-medal spirit one would expect from a Halo release. The weapons all bare their unique qualities and handle adequately in this environment. It’s great.
I can’t, however, forgive the lack of local co-op. Outside of the fact this has been ported from a mobile release, Spartan Assault would absolutely thrive with its inclusion. It’s the type of game that fits co-operative gameplay perfectly. Why on Earth isn’t it part of the final package? Especially when there are actually co-op missions..
The Types of War
It didn’t take long for a good old escort mission to rear its head. Three missions in and i’m already defending Wolverines from the Covenant. Although the mission was straight forward and over quicker than I expected. After occupying a few gun turrets and lobbing a few grenades, the Wolverines barely took a scratch. I know its early days, but the game’s difficulty already seems a bit of a concern, especially as there are only 5 episodic hubs.
The part that really impressed me, however, was the vehicular control. In many games, vehicle handling is difficult at the best of times, but taking charge of a Wraith for the first time felt fantastic. Before long, I was blasting through barricades and splattering grunts. It works perfectly and made for a very enjoyable mission. Wonderful!
By the end of Episode A, i’d experienced every stereotypical mission type for the genre. From escort missions, to a Last Stand, ‘time is running out’ mission, Spartan Assault clearly likes to work toward comfortable goals. And that’s fine, I’m not expecting a reinvention of the wheel here, but just don’t come into this expecting any major surprises from the game type.
Needle me this, needle me that…
Oh, my. I’m having far more fun with the Needler than I probably should. Just unloading those crystal shards into foes is genuinely satisfying. Again, due credit for getting the weapon handling so precisely balanced and perfect. Though, the amount of ammo these things are sporting is perhaps slightly above the average i’d expect.
The missions are quickly growing very familiar and samey, and already, it feels as if the creative juices and energy that had initially gone into the product, have been lost. The difficulty has also ramped up considerably, for better and worse, and just that quickly, my enthusiasm for the release is waning. It’s still a great game and still very entertaining, it’s just a shame that i’m already waiting for missions to be over so I can progress to the next one, hoping it will give me a vehicle or offer me something a bit different. I’d relish some sky-based warfare, Halo style, right about now.
How about that co-op?
It took me a good half hour to finally get into a game. With a combination of finding a player to buddy up with (which should happen quite quickly seeing as you’re only looking for one person) and the mission crashing me back to the home screen just as it was about to start, it was all a bit of a shambles.
Once in the game, however, the experience was pretty seamless. There’s no lag interruptions or discrepancies and the fast, frantic fun you’ve been enjoying locally translates almost perfectly. It’s you and a buddy taking on the Flood (which is always a challenge) – The first two missions see you try to stand your ground against them for five minutes without being overrun. Future missions require you to run to an objective, fighting your way through the seemingly endless number of parasites.
Throughout, the importance of teamwork is paramount and you’ll have to communicate and work together effectively in order to survive. Co-op works really well, but I still don’t see why this couldn’t have been achieved locally.
My best advice would be to find a friend who has the game and play it together. Don’t rely on the game finding someone for you. Or set skulls to random and be open to playing any mission. You should find someone eventually..
Areas for improvement
- Loading up some co-op missions immediately kicks me to the Xbox dash. Online element can be very unstable and is need of fixing. That’s when you’re not struggling to find a player to match up with.
- Add local co-op. Really, it’d be great! And make it up to four players. Four Spartans at once on some of these missions (even online) would be awesome! Difficulty would obviously need to be increased, but we can handle that!
- Consider the need for the microtransaction system and if it needs to be in the game at all, especially considering the £12 pricetag people would have already paid. On the whole, it feels tacked on and unnecessary.
- Create some sandbox areas and make them available to players so they can go vehicular crazy
- Add a Forge mode so players can make their own levels and share them with each other.
- Even some form of team deathmatch would add a lot more replayability.
- Some occasional environmental sticking, means vehicles are caught on edges of the environment, creating difficulty in movement.
- AI sometimes relies on player to make first move before doing anything aggressive, making it far too easy to telegraph their movements and blow them to kingdom come.
Despite the lengthy list of areas for improvement, Spartan Assault is an unexpected pleasure. There are plenty of DLC considerations to be made here and I really hope the game continues to expand and grow.
The online co-op works well when you’re in a game and the singleplayer campaign is fairly entertaining throughout, though mission fatigue definitely starts to set in around the third episode.
Halo Spartan Assault probably shouldn’t work as well as it does. But not only is its excellent translation to consoles befitting of the high quality development the Windows Phone 8 game initially received, it’s one of the better digital releases currently on the Xbox One marketplace.
The microtransaction model is irking, considering the game costs £12 and is arguably a bit overpriced, but its not at all integral to your progress in the game. Although, be prepared to grind to achieve gold stars on every mission without it.
Still, Halo Spartan Assault is a pleasurable romp and makes the wait for Halo 5 just that little bit less painful.