Halo: Spartan Assault is a top-down, dual-stick shooter (think Robotron/Super Smash TV). Taking place between the events of Halo 3 and 4, there are still plenty of Flood and Covenant leftovers that Master Chief must have missed that you need to clear out. Originally released on Windows 8, this is the first console version of Spartan Assault ever released. As we are patiently waiting for Halo 5 on the Xbox One, we're just itching for an excuse to have a DMR in our hands. Luckily, Spartan Assault's jump to the Xbox One proves that even though you're not playing as Master Chief, you can still be a Spartan.
While Master Chief is drifting through space in cryosleep aboard the Forward Unto Dawn frigate, Spartans Sarah Palmer and Davis are overseeing the security of planet Draetheus V. And out of nowhere (haven't we established that these attacks are always out of nowhere?), an armada of renegade Covenant attack the planet's human settlements, ignoring the ceasefire that was established by the end of Halo 3. The two Spartans' war to retake Draetheus V is basically your excuse for killing thousands of enemy types that we have been picking off since 2001. And while this is obviously a diminished version of the Halo experience, there's more than just nostalgia here driving you to go to war with the Covenant.
It's no major secret that Spartan Assault was originally intended to be an mobile version of Halo for people to play on their handheld devices. Given that handheld first-person shooters have a rather high tendency of not being good, 343 Industries and Netherlands-based developer Vanguard Entertainment have decided that the on-the-go Halo experience should change from a first-person shooter to a top-down, run and gun. The zoomed-out, overhead perspective of Spartan Assault works well when compared to the well-received 2009 RTS hit, Halo Wars. And like Halo Wars, Spartan Assault plays completely different than any other Master Chief title. But Spartan Assault contains the same distinct Halo feel that its predecessors have. And much of this can be attributed to Assault's fantastic use of sound.
Spartan Assault's change of perspective was successful mainly due to the lessons 343 learned from Halo Wars. Even though the controls and mechanics are extremely different, both the small and large-scale details seem like they were directly taken from Cortana's universe. All of your guns have the same attributes and sounds we have come to know and love. You'll be using your pistol to pick off enemies from far away and firing your shotgun or assault rifle to mow through enemies in your path. Whether it's a Covenant Plasma Rifle or the wailing roars of a Warthog's engine, if you shut your eyes, most people would think that you're playing Halo 4 - the sound is that good. While the action is zoomed out above the battlefield, every infamous gunshot, laser or explosion noise is present with vibrant, high-quality reverberations accompanying each one. The music is filled your traditional militant/heroic/bland melodies of war, but the nostalgic visuals and sound effects of everything on screen are what would keep you tuned in.
The visuals of Spartan Assault are really nothing to brag about. Spartan Assault was originally designed for for the Windows 8 cellphone, and this was quite obvious when you look at everything in hindsight. We're not a fan of having visible bullet trails all over the screen, and Spartan Assault made this a necessity. The chaotic warfare reminded me of the top-down parts from Contra 3: The Alien Wars. The enemy models are bare bones and cookie cutter-like in their Lemming attack formations. One of the major saving graces for Spartan Assault's graphics are within its vehicles. The bright, streaking lights of Covenant Wraiths, accompanied by their appropriate sound effects result in capturing the moment perfectly. Toss in hundreds of Assault Rifle gunshots, and Spartan Assault almost has us overlooking the fact that this is not the Halo we have come to know and love.
The major fallacies of Spartan Assault can be found in its controls. We're fairly sure that having two analog sticks (left for moving, right for aiming), are tighter controls than the original version of Assault. But the Xbox One's controller sticks felt quite oversensitive -- there were many times when we would miss enemies in our close-to-mid range that should have been extremely easy to target. Furthermore, we encountered a glitch that would cause Palmer to continuously fire her weapon after exiting a vehicle or turret. Since you move slower while aiming, and even slower while firing, diving out of a flaming Scorpion tank just to be stuck next to the explosion due to unintended autofire (only if you were holding the right trigger while exiting the vehicle), was rather annoying. This turned out to be a constant, reoccurring issue with vehicles and turrets which we hope will eventually be patched and fixed.
As Master Chief and Cortana were waking up on the Forerunner installation, we were just finishing up our UNSC adventure on Draetheus V. Spartan Assault effectively captures the soul of Halo while establishing itself as a decent game on its own. Unfortunately, there are not enough incentives to keep you coming back aside from gaining EXP and using it to unlock bonuses for you to use on the same two dozen, five minute long levels. The amount of experience points needed to unlock these items require multiple level play throughs, and the bonuses/guns you unlock only have a one time/one level use. You can spend real money to bypass the experience points, but that just seems like a cheap cash grab brought on by the developers. When you play Halo, you don't want to pay extra money just to play a single campaign level with a sniper rifle instead of a handgun. We expect these sort of cheap actions in free-to-play iOS titles, not Halo.
The inclusion of the level-altering skulls of previous Halo games was a nice try for you to go back and perfect your game, but there's not much else to do after you finish the campaign. Luckily, the experience you gain transfers over to your online character in Halo 4. But we are only recommending this short Spartan to the most dedicated of Halo fans. It's nice to see the Flood back in action since Halo 3, but it still wasn't enough for us to overlook one very important aspect. Besides its impressive sound effects, everything about Spartan Assault felt like a rushed-over port and does not offer any type of depth or impressions to warrant its release as an Xbox One downloadable title. Nevertheless, it still felt like Halo, which means a lot to would-be buyers.
Halo: Spartan Assault was reviewed on a digital copy purchased for the Xbox One.