Halo: Spartan Assault
Halo: Spartan Assault first made its debut last year on Windows 8 platforms before making its way over to Xbox One on December 23rd and 360 on January 31st. This addition to the Halo franchise finds itself between the events on Halo 3 and 4 and traces the actions of two members (named Palmer and Davis) of the SPARTAN-IV Program following the outbreak of a Covenant attack on the planet Draetheus-V.
In a twist reminiscent to the Halo Wars RTS, Spartan Assault takes a top-down third-person approach to the gameplay, with a focus on traditional action gameplay rather than strategy. Perhaps what surprised me most about Spartan Assault was how well it fits in to the Halo Universe, not so much in terms of its lore, but aesthetically, art-wise and design-wise. At first, the gameplay irked me as being particularly bland, I went in to the game with an open-mind, but instead I found myself going through phases of boredom and passive amusement as I was mainly playing to see where things would go in terms of story. This was my mistake and I’ll elaborate further in a moment as I do feel that there was a missed opportunity with the campaign’s story construction. I just felt like a small piece of the puzzle was missing as everything is set up competently enough, but when it came to the story it felt like I wasn’t playing for any specific purpose. The levels progress, there are short text-mission briefings before each level, “historical” quotes in the loading screens and illustrated cut scenes that are familiar to a lot of previous Halo concept design art. However, there is no connection between the player and the actual game itself.
The game introduces the player as a Spartan candidate reviewing historical records through the courtesy of an Artificial Intelligence named Roland as part of their training, thus permitting the player to review the events of the Covenant attack as either Palmer or Davis. However, apart from the initial address as a candidate, that’s really where the player involvement ends. It’s not as though much is required to really maintain this connection, in fact the elaboration of events after the completion of each “operation” from Roland would be a good opportunity to validate the player’s existence. It also would be a good chance to elaborate on the Spartan training process from an individual standpoint, which would be easy to do as a minimal tweak in the story would be all that’s necessary to affirm the player’s presence. Such an interaction would also be nostalgic of the “Forward Unto Dawn” movie. At this juncture I would like to deny the title of “fanboy” but, uh… Yeah. (It is suggested you click on the ‘Yeah’)
However, it was only after I started playing the co-op side of the game that I truly realized that I had been approaching the game with the wrong expectation. Spartan Assault isn’t exactly designed to be fun for people looking for a narrative experience, it’s designed for gamers with a competitive edge who want to rack up points and carve their handle into the leaderboard. I forgot to approach the game from an arcade-style perspective as I was looking to appreciate its construction, design and, style but as soon as I found myself talking to other players on Xbox Live and hearing them talk about stealing first place on the leaderboard my attitude changed completely. As soon as I started playing for gold stars and points I discovered my appreciation for Spartan Assault. It’s definitely something you have to be in sporty mood for, but it’s pretty fun when you get going as you find yourself more involved in each level and it certainly makes up for what is otherwise pretty ordinary gameplay. It’s just as soon as the context for playing the game changed, it became a different experience for me and I think that’s a trap a lot of gamers might accidentally fall into. Although admittedly, I do feel somewhat embarrassed that I somehow failed to play an arcade game as an arcade game. However I guess we’ll just keep that between you and me… And the several other people who might read this… Crap.
Aside from my qualms with the story, I think the main stumbling block with Spartan Assault is the lack of anything new in gameplay. The gameplay bears so much of a striking similarity between what’s available in it and the previous Halo games that it seems like they didn’t have enough time to explore and see what new aspects they could add to the franchise. Aside from that, Halo: Spartan Assault is a surprisingly solid arcade-style addition to the Halo series, despite its lack of story content.
- Fantastic aesthetics, visually fits in with the Halo Universe incredibly well
- Fun competitive gameplay.
- Strong replay ability.
- Kat isn’t driving.
- Very minimal story, not exactly rewarding for those outside of the arcade-crowd.
- Doesn’t present any new ideas of its own.
- Plasma grenades… They count, right?
Written by Sean Fox