Developers: 343 Industries, Vanguard Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release date: June 18th, 2013 (Original release), December 24th, 2013 (One), January 31st, 2014 (360)
Available on: Mobile, PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360
Reviewer’s note: I played the PC version of this game. There may be differences between versions. Also I did not consider the free DLC “Operation Hydra” in this review. That will get its own review.
The Halo series has always been one of the most popular first person shooters around. With the exception of the RTS spin-off Halo Wars, it hasn’t strayed from this formula. That changes with Halo: Spartan Assault, a top down twin-stick shooter made with the mobile platforms in mind. Can this new view point be a welcome change for the Halo series?
Taking place between the events of Halo 3 and 4, Halo: Spartan Assault puts you in the role of Sarah Palmer, a character that fans of Halo 4 should be familiar with. A group of Covenant, unhappy with the cease-fire reached between the main forces and the humans, breaks off and attempts to take over Draetheus V and its moon X50. Sarah, along with another Spartan named Edward Davis, leads a counter offensive against them. While it may be good for people who just can’t get enough of the Halo universe, or who want to see Sarah’s past, the majority won’t really get much out of this plot. It lacks the strong writing and interesting characters of the main Halo games, instead just kind of being there as an excuse to fight more. In fact, if you don’t read the mission briefings you won’t even know why you’re doing anything. By the end it also doesn’t really matter.
Halo: Spartan Assault was made with the mobile crowd in mind. As such, the game is composed of 5 operations which are then split into 5 missions each that are all about 2 – 4 minutes in length. Each one usually has you tackling objectives like defending areas or getting to the other side of the level. Despite being a twin stick shooter, Spartan Assault feels surprisingly like a Halo game. Part of this comes from the weapons. All your favorites are here: from the hilariously destructive spartan laser to the pinpoint accuracy focus rifle. They also have all the same little things as they did in the FPS games. Plasma pistols can still be charged up to disable shields and vehicles, while needlers with still cause an explosion if you stick enough into a single target. The assault rifle still allows for high accuracy and damage output, while the dual SMGs allow you to spray an absurd amount of bullets into a group of targets. Of course guns aren’t everything. Grenades come in handy, especially when taking on enemy vehicles and turrets, while armor abilities allow you to assign an extra ability to your character. The armor abilities are nice, but I’ll be honest I rarely needed them and if I ever grabbed the healing field I saw no reason to ever swap it out: It’s just simply too useful.
It’s not just the weapons that help recreate the Halo feeling in twin stick, but also the enemies. If you’ve played the FPS games then you’ve already got a good idea how each enemy is going to react. Grunts will still freak out and run away if you kill the higher ups, while Elites will go into a berserker like frenzy when you take their shields down. Not all the Halo stand-bys are here, Hunters are MIA for some reason, but the ones that are here have all be recreated faithfully. Likewise expect to see a couple vehicles around. Just like in the shooters you can hijack enemy vehicles by getting to their sides, something that’s made difficult because even so much as being tapped by a vehicle is an instant death. The vehicles themselves control fine, though I can’t help but be disappointed in the low selection of them. Some levels assign you a Scorpion at the start but unless that happens you’ll only ever be seeing two kinds in the field. Even the classic Warthog doesn’t show up, which is just a shame.
And while the base game sure is fun, there are some things that bugged me. The lack of checkpoints, while never setting you back more than a few minutes, still feels out of place on some of the longer missions. The game starts off on a really bad foot with the first few levels being really dull. Outside of one or two missions I also never really found myself challenged by the game in any way. If you’re looking to bump up the difficulty then you can assign up to two ‘skulls’ to the level which does things like removing the hud, to making Sarah Palmer die immediately if her shield drops. In yet another missed opportunity the humorous skulls like “I Would Have Been Your Daddy…” or “Grunt Birthday Party” are missing from the game. I’m also not a fan of XP, since when you choose to alter your weapons load out and spend the XP you’re only doing it for one level. If you want to make a level easier you’re going to have to grind earlier missions for more XP to do so.
Still, it’s tough to deny that there’s some fun in Halo: Spartan Assault. The crummy story and weird game design is overshadowed by tight controls and fun moments. For five bucks the twin-stick entry to the Halo series goes a long way. Just make sure you’re aware that this isn’t quite in the same league as the FPSes