Halo has long been the trump card for Microsoft. It has been its bi-annual banker – a title that will sell by the bucketload and a series that Microsoft has done its best to protect and to maintain. Whereas Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed and many other titles switched to yearly releases, Halo games simply arrive when they are ready, and as such there isn’t an atmosphere that these titles have been churned out. Whether you like the series or not, Halo is a strong property.
This is why a game like Spartan Assault is so surprising. Immediately, the game feels familiar through a set of shared characteristics between this game and regular entries into the series, but it also feels like the poor relation. Yes, you get to play as Spartans, fighting the Covenant across battlefields that may be somewhat recognisable to series stalwarts, but the game shares little else with the core series. The game began as a Windows 8 and Windows Mobile game, and you can clearly see this as you play through it.
You will take control of two Spartan Officers, the idea being that you are a new trainee who must play through a series of famous battles in a combat simulator, re-living the past in order to prove your worth as a soldier. As such, the story never really matters to players, this virtual battlefield has already removed any real feeling of consequence or intrigue from proceedings. There are short explanations between each mission that stress the importance of each historical battle – but this does nothing to build excitement for the level ahead.
Spartan Assault is a top-down twin-stick shooter, and a fairly basic one at that. Stages are kept short and sweet to – in theory – create the idea of fast, furious skirmishes. What this amounts to however, is a series of five-minute stages across which there is very little variety and in which you still have time to become irritated by the gameplay, even in such a short space of time. There is a short tutorial mode, but this is unlikely to teach you anything that couldn’t be picked up after ten seconds playing the game. Objectives are all fairly basic, such as destroy a certain number of turrets, destroy enough enemies in a set time – there is very little variety in the title and almost every stage is a simple run and gun.
This takes Spartan Assault even further from the core series, as at least in the full Halo games there is a feeling of choice, whereby you can use a stealthier strategy if you prefer, or take cover as you advance. In this game, you will rarely ever consider how you approach a mission, and simply charging in all guns blazing will rarely let you down. There is a selection of optional objectives to accomplish in order to rack up XP faster, in turn allowing you to unlock new weapons or upgrades. All of these are faithful to the series, but XP takes so long to build up that it is almost impossible to buy all of the items you want.
I say almost impossible, because this is where the game shows more of its mobile roots – you can choose to buy extra XP with real-world money if you need it. Essentially, in-app purchases allow gamers to buy all of the upgrades they would like – but really none of it is necessary, as no part of the game is so challenging or exciting that you would want to spend extra money on it.
Indeed, Spartan Assault not only betrays its roots through monetised play, but also through the technology. This game should never had been a next-generation title. Ok, it is a downloadable Arcade release, but even so – it is so graphically and technologically lacking that an Xbox 360 release would have been wiser – if anything. No use is made of the extra grunt of the Xbox One and you could easily be mistaken for thinking this was an older title, even if a glossy high-definition sheen has been buffed over the visuals.
The only real difference between this console version and its original release is the added multiplayer mode. This is an online co-operative challenge, where up to four players can join forces online (no local support, strangely), and fight waves of infected Flood across several stages. This would be no better than the story mode, were it not for a few added co-op elements. For instance, there is a section where the players must work together to open doors for each other in order to proceed, or a gun turret that can only be used if powered up by another player standing on a platform switch. Features such as this do manage to elevate multiplayer a little, but in the end the same repetitive and basic gameplay is at the heart of the title.
VERDICT: Spartan Assault takes all the aspects that made the Halo series popular – expansive levels, an epic storyline, cutting edge visuals and inventive gunplay – and throws them all away. It could have easily begun its life as an unbranded shooter, only for the Halo license to have been slapped on as an afterthought. The gameplay itself isn’t even a good example of a twin-stick shooter. Even though the type of game is basic, there are some great examples of titles that are exciting and a lot of fun – Spartan Assault is neither. This game does nothing for the reputation of a series that was already shaken after the departure of Bungie – it would serve Microsoft well to re-focus the Halo franchise purely on what it does best.
POOR. Games tagged 4/10 will be playable, perhaps even enjoyable, but will be let down by a slew of negative elements that undermine their quality and value. Best avoided by any but hardcore genre fans.
Review code provided by publisher.