Halo: Spartan Assault Try Before You Buy Review

Although we’d all hoped that there would be a new Halo title to guide the infant Xbox One through these tentative early days, few would have expected a five-month-old, Chieffree, topdown spin-off to take centre stage. But that’s what we’ve got and a rather tasty side dish it is, too, though one that’s sadly lacking in both content and character.

Released for PCs and Windows 8 Phones last July, Halo: Spartan Assault places you in the boots of a couple of young Spartan soldiers (one being the future Commander Palmer) in events that link the stories between Halo 3 and Halo 4. Only you’re not actually fighting in those battles, just replaying a training simulation of events – and from the moment that an AI hologram explains this, all sense of immersion and interest in anything resembling a story is lost. There’s some paper-thin background info for Halo enthusiasts to ponder, but otherwise Spartan Assault is devoid of narrative and personality throughout.

The gameplay itself is much more interesting, though, combining classic Halo elements with a similar isometric camera to that seen in Halo Wars and the likes of Lara Croft spin-off Guardian of Light. The weapons on offer are your standard assortment of battle rifles, dual SMGs, pistols and grenades, and you’ll mostly be fighting a familiar horde of grunts, elites and brutes – only this time using a twin-stick system where the right stick gives you 360-degree shooting control. It’s a simple and pretty slick system, which makes Spartan Assault easy enough to get to grips with, and there’s a solid scoring system beating at its heart to make things a little more interesting, with bonus points for kill streaks, weapon-specific kills and so on. It’s needed, too, because the game is disappointingly short on content, with 30 missions taking an average of maybe five minutes apiece to complete.

With no checkpoints and a couple of bastard levels throwing in one-hit kills, you will need to restart a few missions to complete them, but the game’s only real replay value comes from nailing a big score, and thereby earning yourself a gold star award and a place above your friends on the Leaderboards.

The missions are largely good fun, with plenty of trigger-clenching shootouts as the number of enemies gradually rises and there’s often a sweet satisfaction of basically feeling like you’re a sentry gun from Aliens ploughing through yet another Covenant horde. That said, the missions themselves show little imagination, with a pretty standard selection of attack and defend objectives (usually against a clock) offering no creativity or surprises. You do get to pilot the odd Scorpion or Grizzly Tank, and you can jump into Ghosts and perhaps even a Wraith if you’re lucky, but despite being only a few hours long at best Spartan Assault still gets rather repetitive pretty quickly.

It’s probably a game best enjoyed in small doses, then, with the levels split into six handy scenarios, each played through in five quickfire stages. One time you might be forced to hold a position until reinforcements arrive, the next you’ll have to battle through a largely linear environment (though it’s far from a corridor shooter) within a set time, before destroying a number of key targets scattered around the map. Its simplicity could be seen as a positive, enabling casual gamers to dip in and out of the action without having to keep tabs on a complex storyline or a string of open-ended objectives. However, at the same time it also strips the game of the kind of personality and standout moments that have so defined the franchise in the past.

In writing this review, we’re really struggling to recall any key events from the battles depicted within the training simulation. Equally, very few of the missions spring to mind and precious few specifics of the levels are all that memorable, beyond blasting through a few sections in a tank, or a mini-boss fight with COD-like levels of grenade spamming and a one-hit kill that didn’t actually make any contact with our young Spartan.

Sure, the new perspective may not lend itself to cinematic splendour, but we’d still expect a little more creative flair from any Halo title. Even Halo Wars managed to bring a little life to its strategic foundations, but Spartan Assault is clearly no more than a game for mobile phones, given a quick lick of paint. The cut-scenes introducing each of the six groups of missions aren’t bad, but there’s nothing in terms of characterisation and the two Spartans merely get name checked a few times, with a brief glimpse of Commander Palmer reflecting on her previous actions.

As mentioned, we’d almost given up interest in the storyline by the start of the first mission and there’s nothing throughout the rest of the game to motivate you to care – although we’re sure avid fans of the franchise will be able to find a few minor points of interest. Again, its Windows origins are to blame, but it’s still galling that we’re being asked to pay £12 for something you can get on a PC for a fiver, and there’s only a slightly shinier veneer and a half-baked co-op mode (more in the ‘Brothers in Arms’ boxout) to justify the extra expense. Much like that Windows version there are plenty of nice Halo-based features to mix things up a little and, tied in with the familiar weapons, enemies, visual features and music, Spartan Assault does at least match some of the criteria of a Halo game. You can add Skulls to the mix to amplify both the difficulty and rewards, with a choice of up to two from a possible six (including such daunting challenges as your shield and ammo depleting when you fire) potentially increasing your XP by 150%.

There’s also a variety of Armor Abilities offering temporary boosts via the left bumper, such as a health regeneration field and an extra shield charge, and additional Booster slots for pumping up your shields, damage or pointscoring abilities. You can choose from a few of each during each mission’s loadout screen – as well as changing your two weapon slots – but changes to the prescribed loadout come at the cost of either XP or paid-for credits (more on those in the ‘Credit Crunch’ boxout). XP is earned at the end of each mission and through a variety of updated weekly and mission-specific ‘Assault Ops’ challenges.

Challenges are typically based around killing a certain number of enemies, using a specific weapon or other similar combinations – again adding to the potential replay value if you’re a sucker for pursuing such tasks, and there are some decent XP rewards if you do. You’ll probably still need to grind through plenty of replayed levels to get a decent amount, though, and it’s only worth spending once you know what you’re doing and are chasing a top score. This does combine to offer Spartan Assault some decent replay value, though that may depend on the type of gamer you are. We quite enjoyed going back through levels, plotting the most efficient path to its conclusion and balancing out the right combination of weapons and boosters to help maximise our score. The Achievements and Assault Ops challenges also offer some incentive to replay levels using certain combinations of equipment or in a particular style, which might appeal to some. But, as mentioned earlier, besides a slight increase in your Gamerscore and a bundle of XP, the only real reward is the satisfaction of bagging that gold star or besting your mates on the Leaderboards – and that’s not going to be enough for some, leaving Spartan Assault as an enjoyable, but all-too-brief experience.

Clearly a straight port of the original plus its later DLC (five extra missions – woohoo!), there are few chances for Spartan Assault to flex any next-gen muscles beyond some decent cutscenes, but ultimately this is a 360 Arcade title with a rather lofty price tag. Split into three or four play sessions and perhaps a few late nights chasing high scores, there’s just about enough to warrant a recommendation – but the lack of content and personality means that while it may look a little like a Halo game, it certainly doesn’t feel like it.

Perhaps we were being a little naïve when we hoped that Microsoft would see fit to make Spartan Assault a real showcase for digital content on the new console, but this is far from being that game. We’ve seen and played better Arcade titles on the 360 – and most definitely games that deliver far more bangs for your buck.

We would complain about it being a lazy cash-in, but the bottom line is that we still put in a good couple of days playing Spartan Assault and for the most part enjoyed it. And the chances are that we’ll probably go back to it from time to time, perhaps inspired by a few new DLC missions or a boosted co-op mode.

So while we’re happy to recommend it if you’re tempted to check it out, just don’t go getting your hopes up too high and be prepared for the fun and excitement to fade quicker than an expensive firework.


Spartan Assault is certainly a welcome spin-off and we had a fair amount of fun blasting through its levels. However, it’s all over in a few hours and the isolated co-op mode, consisting of just five missions and only available over Xbox Live, is equally fun and disappointingly sparse. Perhaps there’s some DLC in the pipeline but, though we happily replayed levels to nearperfection, there’s just not enough content or polish to justify the price tag for everyone. Given the shortage of digital titles on the Xbox One it might be more appealing than its 360 counterpart, but you may want to try before you buy.

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