Review: Halo: Spartan Assault

This review is based on the Xbox One version of Halo: Spartan Assault.

I love the Halo universe! I have played every retail game to completion (including the neglected but very enjoyable Halo Wars), watched the feature length films and allocate an unreasonably large swath of space to all of the collector’s edition for each 360 game around my gaming center. There is a sense of wonder and excitement that Halo creates that is rare not only in gaming but across all forms of entertainment, and the various entries in its legacy starting from Bungie and continuing into the future with 343 Industries are among the very best: the series has been described as the Star Wars of this generation, and there is a lot of merit to that comparison.

Unfortunately, Halo: Spartan Assault does not live up to the pedigree that its predecessors have established. To be fair, I have not played the original Windows 8 or Mobile version of the game which were likely designed with different screen sizes and input methods in mind, but a ported game is still responsible for providing a satisfying and enjoyable experience to the gamer. This leads directly to one of the biggest faults of the game, a twin joystick shooter that feels imprecise and sluggish in spite of (rather than because of) the really responsive and high quality Xbox One controller hardware. Aiming weapons is an exercise in frustration as the snap to target kicks in inconsistently, and feels even less important as enemies drift around or bunch together in illogical combat patterns. This de-emphasis on skill is compounded by the effectiveness of spamming weapons and abilities in the very small levels, from the ample array of fixed point turrets and unlimited ammunition vehicles to the variety of auto target and exploding drones that can be continually dropped off and left alone to clean out entire squads of foes. What should be a fun experience engaging in combat with well known and beloved weapons such as the assault rifle and rocket launcher becomes a muddled mess of spraying and praying, made worse by the expenditure of very low ammunition reserves for single use, credit purchased weapons that are often key to passing a harder level.

The plot is almost entirely neglected, presenting a sparse tie-in with the narrative involving Commander Sarah Palmer from the Spartan Ops mode in Halo 4. The mission briefings represented a real opportunity for the development team to add in extra content for Xbox One gamers with fully rendered videos, but it appears that Halo: Spartan Assault is a direct port with better textures and the aforementioned unsatisfying controller functionality. There are a few fun moments on selected singleplayer levels (boarding a Wraith is pretty neat), but they are too few and far between. It’s worth noting that I have not been able to hop onto a multiplayer game, but that would not fundamentally change the issues with the game.

Halo: Spartan Assault is frustrating for all the wrong reasons. The game presents and plays as an experience designed to funnel the user towards micro transactions to exchange real money for credits that can only be spent on single use items, an exploitative design that is unworthy of the Halo franchise.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

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