Halo Spartan Assault popped up as an early Christmas present for Xbox One gamers. Originally due for Christmas Eve, it became available to download a day early, allowing One owners the world over the chance to experience the first Halo title on the next generation.
But it’s not your usual Halo shooter. Gone are the large areas to roam in it’s usual first person shooter style and in it’s place is a more family friendly top down twin stick shooter. So is it a decent addition to the Halo universe or has the change of direction just made it become the latest addition to the Halo cash cow?
Well, I’ve got to admit from the start that I’m not the worlds biggest Halo fan. I enjoyed the first one on the original Xbox and still remember the excitement to this day when Halo 2 dropped through the letterbox back in 2004 (my god that was a decade ago!!). Halo 3 was warmly received but after that, it all became a bit of a blur with Halo Wars, ODST, Reach and even Halo 4 not really registering an awful lot on my gaming radar. But with a new generation comes new hope and whilst it’s still too early to worry an awful lot about Halo 5 on Xbox One, the announcement that Halo Spartan Assault would fill a void was a welcome one. It was something that I personally was really looking forward to.
Set between the stories of Halo 3 and Halo 4, you find yourself controlling two Spartans, Davis and Palmer as they continue the war against the Covenant. As is the norm, we are greeted with a few pretty basic tutorial levels to kick things off and whilst there is the hint of a decent story running along in the background, you can quite happily get away with not taking a single word of it in. I’m sure the big Halo fans will want to know all the little bits and bobs but from my own personal point of view I was only worried about the game itself. The tutorials can be picked up again at any point in time but once you’ve run through the first few sections, everything else that comes your way is rather self explanatory.
So jumping into the campaign and things should start to get interesting. The graphics are what you would expect to see from a next gen game and whilst as a top down shooter it doesn’t necessarily need to focus all it’s efforts on the graphical side of things, what is there is very clear, crisp and easy on the eye. All vehicles and Covenant enemies are clearly defined and there’s a massive difference with how each enemy goes out to attack you. It wouldn’t be Halo if the Grunts weren’t present and I’m pleased to say they are still their usual cowardly selves, whilst the Hunters, Elites and numerous vehicles are also well represented.
There is a little too much precision needed with the shooting though and other games in the same genre seem to have the shooting aspect down to a tee whilst this is struggling to keep up. Frustration crops up occasionally when trying to aim with the right stick and you can quickly find yourself wasting many a bullet in an attempt to get your shot on target. I would have preferred unlimited bullets (or at least a lot more than what is given out), with the right stick shooting automatically when pointed in a direction. As it currently stands, it’s a little fiddly aiming the right stick and having to hold the right trigger down to fire, whilst things come to more of a head when trying to aim and throw a grenade with what seems like a 50/50 chance of getting things on target.
With that moan out of the way, the rest of the game is rather pleasing. Whilst there are only six missions, each split down into very short stages (think a couple of minutes to complete each stage and you’ll be pretty close to its length), repetition never becomes an issue as each level is fairly well designed with enough variety amongst them to keep each one fresh. That said, they are all very easy to complete and the difficulty level doesn’t ramp up enough until much nearer the end of the game. I think I completed the first 20 stages without losing a life and when there are only 30 levels throughout the entire game, it feels like things are nearly over before you have even got started.
If you do get fed up with running around by yourself there is also the option to play co-op over Xbox Live. Again, and I really don’t know what the issue is with co-op on Xbox One, but there is a glaring omission from the cooperative experience. Local couch play would have been an absolute blast in Halo Spartan Assault but for some reason it has been overlooked in favour of an online only option. This is fine when you have friends who also have the game, but trying to find a random to play with is a nightmare. Whilst it happens eventually, no one wants to sit around for ten minutes at a time waiting to be paired up with a partner (who usually isn’t the most vocal of chaps), but that is exactly what I found on numerous attempts at online play. There are also only five stages for online play. All totally separate from the single player campaign, these five levels run like Horde does in Gears of War with you needing to defend a base spot for five minutes or so. When you get yourself a game, it’s really good fun but just like the main campaign, there isn’t enough of it to keep you going back for long…..something local co-op may just have done!
Depending on how well you have fought the Covenant, bronze, silver and gold medals are awarded at the end of each stage as well as the usual scores based on time taken and kills made. It is around this point that you can decide on whether you wish to re attempt the mission or move on to the next or indeed whether you would like to purchase upgrades for your weapons either via in-game cash or that Xbox One luvvie, microtransactions! It’s still a shock to me when we see microtransactions displayed in such prominent parts of games but thankfully, due to it’s easy difficulty level, with Spartan Assault they can be completely ignored without too much worry.
Don’t get me wrong, Halo Spartan Assault isn’t a bad game, but then in the exact same breath, it’s not overly brilliant. What there is, is done well but with only five co-op missions lasting five minutes each and 30 single player stages, none of which last much longer than the coop ones there isn’t really a big enough gameplay experience here to warrant either the Halo name or the £12 or so it costs to download. Remember though, if you were one of those who picked it up on the Windows Phone platform previously, you’ll find you have to pay less than a fiver to ‘upgrade’. There are also a number of glitches present (one of which involves constant firing until your ammo is depleted), but I would hope these would be fixed pretty pronto as jumping out of a vehicle and seeing ALL your ammo disappear is rather shocking!
If you’re a massive Halo fan, pick this up as it will just about tide you over for a weekend. Otherwise it’s probably for the best that you leave this alone until we start seeing some Xbox One discounts up in the Xbox Games Store. You never know, we may see a patch drop by then as well!
It’s a cash cow yes, but whether it’s a decent addition to the Halo Universe is still up for debate.