From the first time I played Halo: Spartan Assault last year, it just felt like it was meant to be played on a physical controller. Although, when the game first released for Windows 8 and Windows Phone, it did not feature support for Xbox controllers. Was I going to let that stop me? Of ‘course not. I ran an HDMI cord from my Surface Pro to my TV and plugged a wired 360 controller into the USB port. Then, with a little help from a program called Xpadder, I was playing Spartan Assault in a way that felt much more natural.
Fast forward to December 2013, and Halo: Spartan Assault has now been ported over to Xbox One (with a release on Xbox 360 coming soon). The price is a little steep at $15, but if you have already purchased the game on Windows 8 or a Windows Phone, you will receive a significant discount. The Xbox One version is a mere $5 for those who picked it up on PC or mobile. Just for clarification, the Windows 8 and Windows Phone versions of the game retail for $7.
The timeline of Spartan Assault takes place between Halo 3 and Halo 4. Soon after the events of Halo 3, the UNSC and the Covenant signed a ceasefire. Players will take on the role of Spartans Palmer and Davis on Draetheus V, defending it against a group of rouge Covenant who have ignored this agreement. Soon, the Covenant leadership discovers that Draetheus V is actually a Forerunner weapon, and an all-out war for control follows.
There are two main modes available in Spartan Assault; Campaign & Co-Op. The single player campaign is broken up into six chapters, with each chapter featuring five short missions. That’s 30 missions in total, with somewhere between four and five hours of gameplay. Not too shabby for a bite sized Halo experience. Co-Op on the other hand, is a different story. There are only five missions currently available in Co-Op, with each one taking 10-20 minutes to complete. There is also a tutorial, which can be accessed from the main menu.
No matter what mode you choose to play, your Spartan has a custom loadout, which can be changed before each mission. This includes primary and secondary weapons, as well as your armor ability and an optional booster that can be equipped with XP you have earned. The weapon selection varies from mission to mission, with a set of default weapons already selected. You can change out your default weapons in favor of a more powerful arsenal, but this will also require spending XP you have acquired. Armor abilities can likewise be changed out.
The campaign is definitely the main attraction here. At first glance, Spartan Assault looks like a simple top-down shooter with a Halo theme. Start playing, however, and you will realize that Spartan Assault has a surprising amount of depth. For the most part, everything you can do in a traditional Halo game can be done here. Beyond simply eliminating the Covenant, you will be tasked with objectives in each mission. These include leading snipers to lookout positions, defending engineers, extracting civilians, and escorting large vehicles like Wolverines. Many vehicles can be boarded too, allowing you to jack Ghosts and Wraiths from the Covenant or take control of a friendly Scorpion tank. Missions are short, but fast paced and a joy to play.
If you have played a Halo game before, then you should also feel at home with the controls. The left thumbstick moves your Spartan, while the right is for aiming. The right trigger fires your weapon, while the left will throw the grenade you currently have equipped. You can hold two weapons and two types of grenades at a time, using the “Y” and “B” buttons to switch between them. The “X” button is the action button, allowing you to board vehicles, mount turrets, or pickup weapons and armor abilities. Finally, the left bumper activates your armor ability, while the right is used for melee attacks. It’s worth noting that auto-aim for the right thumbstick could have used a little tweaking, as I often found myself wasting bullets as I tried to make contact with some enemies. Thankfully, the amount of weapons and ammo you will find throughout each mission are fairly generous.
Co-Op feels similar to the campaign, but brings a few new mechanics to the table that encourage teamwork. Sections of certain levels will have barriers blocking the path forward. This requires one player to stand on a pressure point, bringing down the barrier while player two moves through to a pressure point on the opposite side. There are also light bridges, which can only be activated by both players standing on adjacent activation pads, fighting off Covenant until the bridge is fully charged. One level in particular has a number of generators that must be destroyed. Teamwork is required here too, with one player blasting at the generator while the other holds off incoming enemies. It’s a ton of fun and makes you wish the entire campaign had been a co-op experience. Unfortunately, there are only five co-op levels. 343 and Vanguard definitely need to add many more of these missions to co-op, as the small selection of levels get old pretty quickly.
The only real complaint I have with Spartan Assault is the micro-transactions featured in the game. You can customize your loadout, but at the expense of a tremendous amount of XP. Single player missions will net you an average of 300-500XP, yet simply trading out your assault rifle for a sniper rifle will cost you 1,000XP. Also, changing out a weapon is only good for a single mission, forcing you to play through past missions a few times before getting a better weapon for the next level. I feel like the game was designed this way, solely for the purpose of encouraging players to spend real money on fake money. Who wants to spend real money on an upgrade that will only last for one mission? No one. That’s who.
Overall, Halo: Spartan Assault is a short, but fun experience that stays true to the Halo franchise in every way possible. Campaign is a good length and fun to play. Co-Op is a ton of fun too, but short lived, due to the lack of missions available. It could have used a little graphical upgrade over the mobile version, if only to justify the jump to Xbox One. If you aren’t a fan of Halo, I can’t really recommend the game one way or the other. It is a fun game for sure, but the story won’t mean anything to someone who isn’t a fan of the franchise. It’s also hard to justify the $15 price tag. However, if you are a fan of Halo, then Spartan Assault is a definite purchase. The story of Palmer and Davis is well told, and Halo fans will enjoy further closing the timeline gap between Halo 3 and Halo 4. It’s also available at the great price of only $5 if you have previously purchased the game on Windows 8 or Windows Phone.