19 April, 2015

Review - Halo: Spartan Strike Is A Monument To Someone's Sins

The Halo train rolls back onto the PC and mobile platforms, but once again, slinks its way past the Xboxes. They thought we had forgotten, they thought we wouldn’t notice its stealthy release, they thought wrong…

Halo: Spartan Strike

Halo: Spartan Strike feels like a swift blow to the genitals of the Halo fan, who of course is still incapacitated from the previous two years of uninspired and broken titles. Spartan Strike is the sequel, though not in a narrative sense, to 2013’s dual-stick shooter Halo: Spartan Assault.

Spartan Strike manages introduce some gameplay improvements into the Spartan Assault formula, but let’s not get carried away, these changes would be better suited to a patch than a full-on sequel. Firstly, when using a gamepad there is an indicator on the ground for both movement direction and aim. I played the Steam PC version, on the mouse and keyboard there is the movement indicator and aim is with the mouse. This is a notable improvement over Halo: Spartan Assault, in which you had to either guess where you were aiming, or waste ammunition by shooting, when using a gamepad. I originally played Spartan Assault on the Xbox One, but purchased the Steam version in order to cross reference the changes for this review. Much like Spartan Assault, the Steam version has no micro transactions, but the credit system for buying temporary ‘consumable’ weapons and boosts remains. In fact, all of the menus are the same only green rather than blue, there are leaderboards and Assualt Ops (challenges). Spartan Strike also sees the overheating mechanic removed from the turrets…  So that’s nice.

Halo Spartan Strike Prometheans

Spartan Strike features the Forerunner Promethean enemies, who were debuted in Halo 4. You’ll face off against a number of different types of Knights, all appear to have lost all semblance of tactical proficiency, Crawlers of both the Suppressor and Binary Rifle variety, and Watchers. The Watchers, the flying critters, are the only enemy type that adds anything to the combat; they can catch and return grenades, as well as project shields on their allies, just like in Halo 4. Knights can teleport, but the nature of the game is one of flatness; there is no verticality for the Knights to exploit, nor do you fight at significantly varying ranges.  So it doesn’t matter where they teleport to the gameplay doesn’t really change, you turn and shoot, they’re no more threatening than Crawlers, they just take a few more rounds. The game also introduces a new UNSC vehicle; the Kestral. This cannon wielding VTOL is quite literally a human version of the Covenant Ghost, it serves the same function, but lacks the garish purple paintjob.

Halo Spartan Strike

As was the case with the PC version of Spartan Assault, Spartan Strike does not feature co-operative multiplayer. The co-operative missions of Spartan Assault on the Xbox systems were, I feel, the most interesting ones, because they involved some small elements of teamwork and coordination. And naturally, having someone suffer alongside you is always preferable to suffering alone in silence.

While Spartan Assault could be ignored as a pointless spinoff that offers nothing to the Halo series, it at least brought some amount of fiction and backstory to Spartan Sarah Palmer, introduced in Halo 4. Spartan Strike, is again set within the construct of a simulation, introduced by Roland (that yellow A.I. from Halo 4), only now you assume the role of some nameless orange Spartan. You visit some known locales from the Halo lore; Gamma Halo, New Mobasa, and New Phoenix. The environments are pretty enough, but they lack the visually variety of Spartan Assault’s. You begin replaying a mission that was originally undertaken by a group of ODSTs during the events of Halo 2, to acquire the Forerunner ‘Conduit’ on Earth. It then jumps five years on and you’re still hunting the Conduit, which can now teleport itself, as well as Prometheans on a whim. I’m not sure if this portion of the story is also a simulation or if it is actually meant to be the nameless Spartan fighting for real. Regardless, what takes place is bizarre and doesn’t fit naturally with the events of Halo 4, its place in the timeline isn’t clear, which is possibly for the best. It’s easier to forget about that way.

The missions, and the objectives held within are rote; if you’re not actively pressing a button or defending someone doing so, you are in all likelihood travelling to a different area to do just that. The reasons for doing so are often as messy as the narrative of the game itself. In one set of missions you first defend a team of researchers as they enter and then lock-down an Oni base. I was able to complete the final stage of the first mission - to survive - by standing in the corner of the map and waiting for the timer to count down. Occasionally picking off the odd target that wandered too close. In the next mission, which appears to start off immediately after the first, you drive around the base destroying security doors, that are presumably keeping the enemy out. Lo and behold, in the third mission the enemies – all of which teleport into battle – have breached the base, so the next objective is to wipe security consoles so you can get in too. There’s then an odd mission involving three buttons you seem to activate multiple times, aided by researchers who can die sometimes, but not others (I call this out only because it is dumb, not difficult). It’s a mess, and an uninventive one at that.
Halo Spartan Strike New Pheonix
The Kestral ripping up our defences.
As if to further validate ones boredom, Lieutenant Kwon somehow manages to sound more disinterested in the whole affair than me. She’s on the radio each mission, spelling out the same couple of objectives and trying to contextualise the messy premise of each mission. I don’t mean to come off as being offensive towards the voice actor – she merely read the lines she was given. But honestly if the characters in the game – simulation or not – aren’t able to muster any enthusiasm, why should I, the player bother?

While Halo: Spartan Strike has successfully improved on the gameplay of Halo: Spartan Assault, in just a few exceptionally minor ways, it somehow manages to come off worse. From the moment Roland opens his holographic mouth (in a cutscene that could have well been recycled), the game screams irrelevance. More so than Spartan Assault, that at least fleshed out a character. Spartan Strike serves only to muddy the waters of Halo lore. If the gameplay and mission design can be said to accomplish anything, it is only that somehow it is less inspired than that of its predecessor, highlighted clearly by the often irrational and illogical mission objectives. Halo: Spartan Strike is greatest offense to the series yet. 

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