Having all but ignored initial reviews for Halo: Spartan Assault when it first hit Windows 8 platforms last year, I was quite optimistic that I would thoroughly enjoy a top-down, twin-stick shooter set in Microsoft’s massively popular sci-fi setting. After all, Halo’s extended universe is generally of excellent quality and the company handling the franchise’s excursion into a new genre, Vanguard Games, proved they had the stuff to make an exhilarating run-and-gun shooter with Gatling Gears.
I should have read the reviews.
Halo: Spartan Assault (Xbox One)
Developer: 343 Industries / Vanguard Games
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Released: December 23, 2013
On the surface, Spartan Assault is a fully competent experience that collectively makes a solid video game. Unfortunately, that solidity comes from the solid waste of time -- void of anything special, aside from the Halo namesake -- the game turns out to be.
Originally designed to take advantage of Microsoft’s Windows 8 touch screen capabilities, and more importantly, on-the-go devices like the Surface, Spartan Assault’s design is best accustomed to short, five-minute bursts. This makes sense for the game’s original intended platform, but the transition to the Xbox One leads the game to feel extremely void of content -- even with the title’s added co-op levels.
In the switch to full controller support on Xbox One, Spartan Assault carries over the legacy of its first-person counterpart quite respectively. Aside from the ability to jump, Halo veterans will feel right at home blasting apart Covenant fodder from the new top-down perspective. Every button does what you’d expect: Triggers shoot and throw grenades; the right bumper melees; Y swaps weapons, and so on. For a complete breakdown of the single player offering, refer to our original review, since the game is essentially identical content wise.
What the game brings that’s new, in its migration to the couch, is the addition of online cooperative play. Five Flood-centric missions allow two players the opportunity to exterminate the infected annoyances from the original trilogy of games. Like the single player, there are mini objectives thrown about to keep things from complete monotony -- like destroying or protecting key items while massacring countless Flood -- but ultimately the mode boils down into a glorified survival mode.
Playing with a buddy online did make me forget about the woes of mediocrity the single player dishes out, especially in the brief moments that the game shows a glimmer of ingenuity in design with cooperative required tasks. But again, like the single player, these co-op diversions rarely do anything to help exceed the five minutes of action Spartan Assault seems so afraid of going past. I’m not saying the game needs to push the 30-60 minute mark per stage to be worth the time either, it’s just levels always conclude before anything ever gets interesting.
Additionally the exclusion of couch co-op feels like the biggest insult to the game’s newly added feature. The Xbox One is supposed to be the ultimate home entertainment device, but when its premier franchise -- one built on local cooperative play -- is missing a feature the series is known for, you can’t help but think this title was rushed to capitalize on the consoles first adopters starving for new content.
Microtransactions also rear their ugly heads in Spartan Assault, but it should be noted that they are merely most offensive for the fact that they exist in the game at all. Outside of buying one-time level access to specific weapons and a score booster -- which is helpful for obtaining gold status per stage -- everything purchasable can be unlocked through earned EXP from level completions.
Sadly, the amount of EXP earned per stage by default barely grants players the currency to afford any of these purchases. But seeing as each level has plenty of weapons to acquire, and these microtransactions -- good once per level -- are lost upon death, only the most masochistic achievement hunters will want to plow through each stage multiple times with varied armaments. Perhaps I would have been insulted more by the game’s broken economy had I actually enjoyed the lethargic experience Vanguard Games created.
Halo: Spartan Assault on the Xbox One could have been something amazing. It was a chance to right the misstepping of its initial debut and tailor the experience for a console crowd. Instead we ended up with a bare bones port looking to grab some cash on heritage alone. In fact if it wasn't for the Halo name, Spartan Assault would be one of the most forgettable experiences of all time. Actually, even with the Halo name it's still pretty forgettable.