When Microsoft announced they were creating a twin stick shooter set in the Halo franchise, the old school arcade gamer in me jumped for joy. I’m a huge fan of the Halo series as well as a huge fan of shoot em' up arcade style games like Geometry Wars and Smash T.V. My excitement was quickly tamed though when it was revealed the game would be a Windows Phone 8 exclusive. After launch Halo: Spartan Assault was ported to Windows 8 for desktop computers and now, Halo: Spartan Assault is available on the Xbox One (with an Xbox 360 version launching soon).
For the most part these version are all identical, with the exception being console versions have an exclusive online co-op mode for two players. Having this grand multiplatform game does have some advantages. For one, when I fired the game up on my Xbox One all of my level progress was already unlocked for me. It kept my XP too. Another bonus for folks that picked the game up on Windows 8 - you’ll only pay $5 for the full version on Xbox One instead of $14.99.
Halo: Spartan Assault is a prequel to the story of Halo 4, putting you into the backstory of the Spartan Ops program and the human vs Covenant battle. You’ll play as Commander Sarah Palmer or Spartan Davis in simulation training aboard the UNSC Infinity. All of the goodness of Halo’s combat is here including weapons like the Battle Rifle, Needler, and Rocket Launcher. The vehicles are here too with missions dropping you into the pilot seat of Scorpion Tanks, stealing Covenant Ghosts, and numerous other opportunities to lose your USNC issued drivers license.
It’s clear the missions in Spartan Assault were designed for mobile play. What does that mean? It means quick get in and get out type scenarios. Most missions last less than 5 minutes, and while there are over 30 missions available, it won’t take long to blast through the entire game. The missions themselves aren’t difficult by any means, instead the replayability and challenge comes in the form of scoring - trying to gold star missions.
The core gameplay revolves around multipliers much like Halo’s competitive multiplayer, with consecutive and stylish kills yielding higher scores. On top of this is a free to play like system where you spend XP (or cash) to buy boosters, equip more powerful weapons, and generally change how a mission is approached. While each mission gives you two default loadouts to choose from, you can customize it further and bring a sniper rifle, rocket launcher or other favorite weapon for a price. Perhaps the overshield isn’t the Spartan Ability you’d like to use, you can swap it. Again this is pulled from your XP which you earn simply by playing missions, but if you run out, you’ll have to use real money if you want any further customization.
The missions are a lot of fun and there’s a good variety of objectives. In some you’ll have to guard engineers while they power down shields for access to a Covenant base. Others are simple vehicle missions, get in a Scorpion tank and roll through the enemy. There are strategic ways to accomplish goals too, while running and gunning is always an option, you can go stealth too. In one missions I equipped invisibility and stole a wraith tank rolling through enemies instead of blowing up the tank.
All that said the short mission style does harm the immersion factor a bit, almost making the game feel monotonous at times. I never found myself playing for more than 15 or 20 minutes at a time simply because of the back and forth hassle in and out of missions. And really if you aren't a fan of twin stick style action games, you may get bored quickly.
While the main game has you only facing off against Covenant forces like grunts, jackals, brutes, and elites - the co-op mode pits you against the most annoying enemy in Halo lore - the Flood. It’s unfortunate that 343 decided to make the Flood the only enemy you’ll face in the game’s five co-op missions because you rarely get a chance to enjoy some of the more interesting aspects of Spartan Assault like the vehicle levels and the more strategy oriented gameplay of taking down bigger Covenant enemies.
And while three of the five missions in co-op essentially boil down to a timed survival mission, there are some pretty unique co-op elements. For one, Spartan Assault introduces laser defenses which are powered by an external pad. This means one player must hold down a trigger while the other actually utilizes the turret and fires on the oncoming flood of...uh...Flood. In another mission the two Spartans must work through and disable shield generators. To do this you essentially need to “hold open doors” for each other, allowing you to progress through the level and blocking Flood behind. Further yet, there's a special yellow Flood parasite that latches on to players and the only way to get it off is to have your co-op partner shoot it. All in all, the five co-op missions are an intense and chaotic ride.
Once a level is complete you’ll see how both players contributed to the overall score and how you did globally on leaderboards. Once again the replayability comes in the form of trying to better your score and get gold stars on all the levels.
Halo: Spartan Assault, while fun, never quite escapes the groundwork that was laid out for it by the mobile original. The game never eschews anything more than a fun distraction. At $15 it’s a tough sell too, especially considering it’s loaded with free to play style microtransactions. The co-op mode is fun to work through, but missed what makes Spartan Assault fun to begin with. If you're a Halo fan and / or a twin stick shooter fan, you probably won't be disappointed with what Spartan Assault has to offer; but it's definitely not a top tier addition to either series or genre.
The Co-Optimus review of Halo: Spartan Assault is based on the Xbox One version of the game. A code for the game was provided by the publisher for evaluation purposes.