Designed and originally released for phones and tablets, Halo: Spartan Assault has been ported to PC and Xbox, allowing diehard fans to get their Halo fix on far larger screens.
This top-down action-shooter packs in lots of recognizable stuff—including 30 different deep space, save-humanity Spartan missions and many of the Covenant bad guys we've come to know and hate. But it backs away from the franchise's typical M rating, and that can make a big difference when measuring the depth of the blood pools.
Not Quite 5; More Like 3.5
As far as the story timeline is concerned, Spartan Assault takes place somewhere between the action of Halo 3 and Halo 4. The United Nations Space Command (UNSC) has negotiated a ceasefire with the Covenant marauders. And everybody is supposed to be living in outer space harmony.
So how long do you think that lasts?
Well. A rogue Covenant group discovers a Forerunner planet-busting weapon just floating around in space like an innocent-looking moon. And the baddies decide that this is their opportunity to destroy the planet Draetheus V and grab the universe-dominating upper hand. The UNSC isn't just sleeping, of course. So commanders quickly throw their troops and a couple of the super-soldier Spartans into action to save the day.
Instead of playing out the battling in a chronological storyline, however, the game is set up as a series of simulated training exercises. The war has actually already been won, you see, and UNSC cadet gamers growing up in its wake are assigned the task of jumping from mission to mission, playing as one of two Spartans, and strategically laying out a plan of attack with which to lead their handful of virtual soldiers toward that victorious reality.
Paying the Price for War
In each mission, various objectives are laid out: Escort some engineers, rescue a group of civilians, eliminate hordes of insurgents, help a small group of soldiers hold out until rescue arrives, etc. And it's up to you to figure out the best way to solve each military puzzle. Sometimes it requires crawling up into a UNSC battle tank, other times hijacking a Covenant hovering attack vehicle or taking control of an alien battery for some extra blasting power. You can also discover upgraded personal shield devices that are regenerative, camouflaging or decoy-launching.
No matter what accessories or vehicles you pick up, however, the action will always involve some form of alien-blasting. Spartans are assigned a mission-beginning pair of weapons and can drop those to pick up others on the battlefield. That potential arsenal generally consists of grenades, assault rifles, shotguns, needle lasers, rocket launchers, sniper rifles and dual-wield SMGs.
If you don't get the firepower or protection you want, you can also purchase the gun and/or shield combo you crave with real cash on Xbox Live (a microtransaction feature that's carried over from the cellphone original). These extra expenditures aren't required, of course, but it's hard not to feel as though a potentially expensive carrot is being dangled to tempt kids into parting with just a little more of their allowance.
A Gentler Kind of Calamity?
Halo: Spartan Assault might be a bit greedy for greenbacks, but it does go easier on young players in other areas. For all of the running and gunning going on, gamers shoot only monster-like aliens, and there's no look-down-the-sights aiming or exploding-foe gore to deal with.
The game's bird's-eye perspective allows you to only adjust the direction your Spartan is firing in. And while that less-than-pinpoint aiming mechanism can be a little frustrating at times, when tiny enemies fall, a small purple splash is the worst of the visuals. And unlike other games in the series, there's not so much foul language in the dialogue (a printed use of "d‑‑n" was the only thing I saw while playing), nor is there discussion of the Covenant's theocratic religious roots.
So it's all military-briefing-room crisp and plot-your-strategy challenging. Which still amounts to a Halo war, yes, but a scaled-down and cleaned-up version of it.