Halo 4: Spartan Ops Season 1 for Xbox 360
Spartan Ops was something of an experiment, something which hasn’t really been done before, and is therefore a somewhat mixed experience. Included for free alongside the already generous Halo 4 package, Spartan Ops offers a lot of extra gameplay, which varies from as thrilling and exciting as any moment in the campaign to a deadening slog.
Spartan Ops picks up six months after the end of Halo 4, and follows the crew of the UNSC Infinity as they orbit Requiem. There’s no Master Chief here, as the members of the UNSC military scramble to deal with the ramifications of Halo 4. Whilst Spartan squads are scouring Requiem for remnant Covenant and Prometheans, they come across a mysterious Forerunner artifact and bring it upon Infinity. The artifact activates and sets in motion the events of Spartan Ops, which includes the return of the fascinating scientist Dr. Halsey, one of the most interesting characters of the Halo canon.
The first half of Spartan Ops has a lot of repetition in its maps, usually either poached multiplayer maps of little sections from the campaign. There are only so many ways that you can shoot your way through these maps, and I quickly got sick of these areas. Luckily, the second half of Spartan Ops is much better, taking place in maps built specifically for it. Whilst these maps are repeated throughout the 25 episodes that make up the second half of the Season, they are usually done so in interesting ways. You’ll never fight through a map the same way or with the same arsenal twice, which cannot be said for the first half.
I actually found the plot of Spartan Ops more compelling than that of the main campaign and I think I know why; no Master Chief. My favourite Halo plots are for Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach, games which don’t star Master Chief. Master Chief is fine as a protagonist, but he’s too lost in his own legend to be an interesting figure in his own right, and his presence sometimes undermines the personalities of the characters around him. Figures who seemed somewhat bland in the main campaign such as Captain Lasky and Commander Sarah Palmer really come into their own in Spartan Ops, as they are allowed to shine. The story is told primarily through beautifully animated episodes released with each batch of five missions, compellingly directed and voice acted. As excellent as these episodes are, there is an unfortunate disconnect between what you see in the episodes and what you then play in the five chapters. The episodes generally follow Spartan Fireteam Majestic, but the player is a member of the unseen Fireteam Crimson, a blank slate Spartan of the players own creation. As is generally the case in Spartan Ops, things improve significantly with Episode 6, with short in engine cutscenes making what we do feel more relevant to what we watch. The disconnect still exists though, and 343 didn’t quite succeed in their (laudable) ambition to create a co-operative experience which also contains a compelling narrative. All said though, I enjoyed the plot of Spartan Ops Season 1, and I hope that 343 take the lessons they clearly learnt between the first and second halves of the season, then build on them for the likely Season 2.
Spartan Ops is a series of missions designed to be played cooperatively, split across ten episodes, with each episode containing five chapters. These episodes were released weekly, but are now all available. These missions can also be played solo, as I did myself, not being a fan of online co-op. So, what do the Spartan Ops missions actually entail? Since Spartan Ops is a replacement for the Firefight mode from Halo: Reach, it does largely involve massacring your way through hordes of Covenant and Prometheans and…not much else, at least in the first half. By the second half we actually get some great set piece moments, moments which come close to rivalling the set pieces of the main campaign. At this point in the review it’s redundant to state how much better the missions in the second half play, but I’m going to do it anyway.
Spartan Ops is a flawed experience, but a free one, which certainly makes this more forgivable! The first five episodes, 25 missions overall, are a slog. The basic mechanics of Halo are fun enough that it isn’t unbearable to play or anything, but these missions are obnoxiously similar to each other and utterly mindless. Thankfully, the final 25 missions really make up for this, all wrapped up in a compelling plot which actually deals with relatable humans rather than remote killing machines. Spartan Ops requires a large time investment; I spent almost twice as long completing Spartan Ops as I did playing the campaign, but by and large I’d say that it’s a worthy way to spend your time.