Assaulting the Covenant in the new top down Halo Shooter

The following review is for the XBOX360 edition of Halo Spartan Assault.

Title: Halo Spartan AssaultHalo_Spartan_Assault_HD_Cover
Developer: Vanguard Games and 343 Industries
Distributor: Microsoft
Cost: $20 on XBOX Live

Length: Between 4 and 6 hours

Rating (out of 10): 6

Pros:
-Nice graphics
-Frequent action
-The return of some sweet firepower
-Kick ass vehicles

Cons:
-Frustrating glitches
-Vehicles often handle like a double-decker bus
-No checkpoints

Who reading this remembers that McDonalds advert about a decade back with the slogan ‘things that make you go Mmmmm’? In the case of Halo Spartan Assault and the many glitches that can be associated with it, the slogan should most definitely be ‘things that make you go Arrrrrrrggggghhhh!’

Now, normally I begin a review by discussing the finer points I enjoyed about a title before moving onto the more irritable aspects, but with this particular Halo game, I simply cannot. When it comes to this gaming franchise, to say I am an adoring fan would be putting it mildly. So when another Halo game with 343 and Microsoft written all over it was released, I had expected to play something that was going to enthrall me for days on end.

Upon downloading this game from XBOX Live I knew there was trouble. The download kept freezing and shutting down, forcing me to restart, and after consulting a number of forums, I found I was not the only one who experienced this annoyance. However, the hits just kept on coming.

Spartan Assault is separated into six chapters, each containing five levels. For the first four chapters I was continuously followed around by a shroud of darkness that came in the shape of an error which caused the game to freeze, lock-up, and then automatically shut down. Any progress I had made in the level was irrefutably lost, and what made matters worse was the irritable fact that the problem happened to almost always occur whilst undertaking the final mission in a level.

From chapter five onwards the errors became less frequent, but lost none of their annoyance when they did occasionally happen. Other issues included the use of the left trigger, used to initiate a power up. Now, I did acknowledge that a cool down period was required after every use, but even after that had expired, I could press the button until my hair grew long and bushy and still see no affect. There was one moment where I lost my entire shield as I kept hitting the key, hoping for something to occur.

On a less than paramount note, there were additional issues with the sound and music, which could occasionally grow softer, and even drop out entirely for a short time period.

Moving on, as previously mentioned, the game itself is not terribly long, going for between 4 and 6 hours, however, if you include the hours in which you are pulling out your hair and shouting profanities at the screen, it might go for a little longer.

The graphics look pretty darn attractive, especially when you consider that this game was originally made only for a mobile device. Everything stands out in gorgeously vivid colour, which aids in bringing the environments and enemies to life, and if you’re anything like me, you may in fact be pleasantly surprised.

Furthermore, the controls for this title are fairly easy to master; the left stick is used for movement and the right controls the aim, and whatever direction you point in is where your firepower will be focused. The same goes for vehicles, however I noticed that these controls are especially touchy, and more so when using Covenant class vehicles, the Ghost moving a full 180 degrees with the tiniest of nudges.

Although this can be annoying, the vehicles have lost none of their firepower, however their strength and armor is considerably less that you may remember from other titles. New vehicles, including the Wolverines and a double barreled Scorpion though are incredibly impressive, and must be seen to be believed.

You will first notice when beginning the game the lack of any difficulty setting. Although the first couple levels basically play themselves, the game becomes exponentially challenging as your proceed, and the lack of checkpoints becomes almost painful in the later levels. Although every level is not exactly long, the sheer number of enemies you encounter further into the game, and their vehicular and turret allies, do not make this any easier. On a lighter note, the challenge does make it all the more enjoyable, and causes the relatively short experience to last just that little bit longer.

The challenge can be further beefed up by initiating skulls, much like in other Halo games, although the number available are very limiting. Spartan Assault does come equipped with two new additions, including Hollow, which allows players to have only a shield (when it drops, so too do you) and Pacifist, where every bullet you fire also depletes your shield. Two skulls can be active at any given time.

Over the course of the game you encounter a mass of Grunts, Jackals and Elites (including Commanders and Zealots), along with the occasional Brute and Chieftain (whose hammer works a lot like a nuclear bomb – there’s no survivors when it comes crashing down). There are however no Hunters, and perhaps the player should only be too glad for that, although funnily enough, on the front cover of the game, there is, you guessed it, a Hunter. False advertising much?

The human weapons include every kind found in the original Halo, with newer varieties including the Battle Rifle, Rail gun and SAW taking a day off, although dual SMG’s are occasionally available. Covenant weapons offer very little in variety, and include only the Plasma Pistol and the Needler, along with two weapons from Reach; the Plasma Rotator and Focus Rifle, a number of the weapons sounding exactly as they do in the Halo franchise.

Strangely enough there is no reload key, and the weapons will continue to fire until all ammo has been exhausted. On top of this, Covenant weapons which ran on a battery during the other Halo games can be rejuvenated of their ammo supply simply by walking over a dropped weapon – nifty!

Along with the weapons, players are able to use a power-up, including known favorites; sprint, active camouflage, auto-sentry, etc, along with a couple of new ones, such as the stun blast (which does as its name suggests), seeker drone (which chases after an enemy and blows up), over-shield (fans of slayer will know of this gorgeous thing) and rejuvenation (a bubble shield device).Moreover, there are the boosters, which can temporarily increase the health or damage implemented, or even increase the number of points received.

Yes, you read that right – points. In every level the player acquires points for everything they do, which is greatly increased from receiving awards (fans of Firefight will know of these). At the end of each level these are tallied, and you can receive one of three awards (bronze, silver, gold), which increase the number of points that you have for the next level. These you can use to buy items that will last only for the following level, and you can swap these out for credits to upgrade the general proficiency, however you need to be online to enact this ability.

Over the course of Spartan Assault, you play as both Sarah Palmer (from Halo 4) and Spartan Davis, as you attempt to thwart a new Covenant threat from a rogue faction that have ignored the Human-Covenant cease fire enacted after the events of Halo 3. The game predominately takes place on Draetheus V, and its moon, X-50, and is told from the point of view of Roland, the Infinity AI, who is providing this information as a guide to future Spartan soldiers to learn from, so, rather than happening in real time, the game is basically a history lesson that you experience inside a simulator.

More often than not you work alongside a group of both Spartan and human marines, although during the most difficult stages of the game you are almost always alone. Missions are occasionally repetitive, and range from killing or destroying specific targets; defending an area from attack; protecting particular individuals; or assaulting an enemy stronghold, to name a few.

There are a couple of occasions which are specifically unique to Spartan Assault. As an example, I personally had always thought that seeing an Elite wielding two energy swords would be pretty awesome. After having to fight an epic boss that utilised this particular skill, I can assure you, it surely is not!

However, even these few unique moments to this top down shooter are often overshadowed by the negative aspects of the game, and half the time when your heart is racing as you fight the fourth Wraith you encountered in a level, it is not because you are afraid of dying; it is because you are afraid the game is going to automatically shut down. Although this is a nice attempt at a new Halo experience, fans of the series do not want nice; they want amazing, and frankly, so do I. Halo has proven itself time and time again to be a franchise that will continue to live on, but this game here does little to strengthen this notion.

Image link: http://static2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20130812032133/halo/images/a/ac/Halo_Spartan_Assault_HD_Cover.jpg

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