Last year, when Spartan Assault came out on Windows 8 tablets, and not the Xbox 360, our first thought was "well done, everyone. You've put a twin-stick shooter onto a format that doesn't have twin-sticks. Now we can finally start working on that pocketless pool table."
That said, the virtual sticks of the tablet version performed admirably, and the bite-sized missions were ideally suited to ignoring your family as they watch TV. It just seemed like an odd decision, to snub the format most umbilically linked to the series, and the controller most naturally adapted to play it.
Now we find ourselves in the opposite position, and it's no less frustrating. It controls better, for sure. But with no greater resolution and no substantial game tweaks, the doubling in price is hard to justify. And that same bitty, commute-friendly mission structure makes the action ring a little hollow on the bigger screen.
Spartan Assault is a historical simulation, taking place on the same Infinity holodecks that brough Red vs Blue into the universe's lore. The battles are historically iconic, and designed to appeal to Halo devotees. But with that story relegated to a few lines of text before each mission, and a cutscene kicking off each of the handful of chapters, there's little insight or character here.
But that's fine - no-one lamented the lack of a backstory for Geometry Wars' black holes. Spartan Assault plays well, with a clever system of medals that encourage you to mix up your style. Maintaining a kill streak, for example, will cycle through a series of increasingly absurd medal names. Beyond that, you'll get points for scoring streaks with different weapons and styles, encouraging that classic Halo weapon-swapping.
That, along with grenades, vehicles, and Covenant energy weapons, brings the Halo feel to the fore. And there's no denying that the action provides some satisfying bursts. But moments of cynicism confound you - tapping A to skip past the briefing screens takes you into the "spend money!" upgrade area, not the next mission. A terminally suspicious man would say 343 were deliberately trying to remind you of all those purchasable real-money upgrades.
Sadly, even with the price hike, which makes the game questionable value for money, there's still that unforgiveably clumsy microtransaction system. XP is earned so slowly it feels precious, but the benefits of spending it are so brief as to leave you feeling short-changed. Doubly so, when it comes to the alternative - spending real money on short-lived, single-mission boosts.
If you played on tablet, your progress on Windows 8 devices will probably have been cloud-saved, without your knowledge. This will unlock the levels immediately for you in the console version - a feature that's not at all as welcome as you'd think. With 1000 unclaimed gamerpoints, you kind of want the option of a blank canvas. Instead, you've got a world of progress that simply doesn't count towards your Xbox Achievements, and obfuscates your actual progress. Well-meaning it might be - but useful, no.
This is the game I wanted while I was playing the tablet version. I feel like I've wasted a wish.
A decent twin-stick shooter that uses the touchstones of Halo combat effectively, but lacks the longevity or depth to warrant the price tag - and especially the microtransactions.
- Authentic Halo weaponry and tactics
- Competent twin-stick action, with sticks
- Good range of missions and vehicles
- Fragmented action suits handheld play
- Clumsy and alienating microtransactions
- Story is just a few brief history lessons