For too many years, humanity was on the back foot—reacting to threats, rather than preventing them. The rest of the galaxy was bigger than us, stronger than us. We were mice, hiding in the shadows, hoping the giants wouldn’t see us. No more. Humanity is no longer on the defense. We are the giants now.
Each episode in Spartan Ops starts with a cinematic and is followed by five chapters. We’re unsurprisingly kicking off our recap with Episode 1, “Departure,” where the UNSC Infinity is embarking on a mission to return to Requiem.
Please keep in mind that since this is a recap, we’re going to be talking about the cinematics and the chapters. This means that there may be spoilers for the Halo 4 campaign and Spartan Ops from this point forward. We’ll try to keep the spoilers restricted to cinematic discussions, since that’s embedded after the cut and we’re expecting you to watch it before reading the text that follows it, but we make no promises about keeping the chapters spoiler-free.
Spartan Ops takes place six months after the end of Halo 4, which is referred to as the New Phoenix Incident. There are many characters introduced and things are quickly mentioned but aren’t explained. If you’re not familiar with the franchise’s extended universe, I’ll do my best to explain what everything means, as well as mention things I missed the first time I watched the cinematic.
Fireteam Majestic is en route to the UNSC Infinity after a bit of R&R, or maybe a mission, in Rio de Janeiro. There are Covenant seeking asylum there, and they’re all penned up. Hoya mentions they caught a “Sangheili freak” trying to detonate a Havoc nuke while in Rio de Janeiro; the Sangheili are the Elites, and a Havoc nuke is what the Master Chief used to destroy the Composer.
It’s a little confusing and requires having read the novels in the Kilo-Five series, written by Karen Traviss, for a bit of context. Events of from those novels are barely being referenced right now so it’s tolerable, but we’re going to be encountering characters and oblique references later. It’s a little frustrating that 343 Industries’ Spartan Ops is supposed to expand on the events of Halo 4 and yet it requires reading a novel that takes place before Halo 4 to have a sufficient background.
The man reading the info pad about New Phoenix is Thorne, but we won’t see his character develop until later. The other two guys are DeMarco and Madsen, who are self-professed ladies men. DeMarco says that Hoya was on the other side of town when the Elites were captured, implying that Hoya is a coward. The quiet woman is Tedra Grant, and catches on that Thorne knew people in New Phoenix and sympathizes with him. Five very distinct characters here, which just shows that 343 Industries is very capable of making things interesting.
After boarding the Infinity, Majestic is greeted by Roland, the ship’s AI. Sarah Palmer, Commander of the Spartan IV forces aboard the Infinity, approaches them. We see Madsen preparing to make a move and sweet talk Palmer, but DeMarco stops him saying, “I saw her first.” DeMarco is the type of guy who thinks he can call dibs on a woman, and then attempts to impress Palmer by stating he’s the team leader. Palmer is unimpressed.
After the Infinity jumps into slipspace, Palmer visits the Captain Lasky on the bridge. Palmer’s quip about interrupting naptime could go one of two ways: she’s teasing Lasky about the workload of the bridge crew, or she’s referencing an allergy Lasky has. In the case of the latter, slipspace jumps are typically accompanied with months of cryogenic sleep, with only the bare minimum crew being kept active. Before entering cryosleep, the crew is injected with a substance that prevents freezer burn; Lasky is allergic to that substance. In the case of the former, we might be seeing hints of a personal relationship between Palmer and Lasky.
Lasky shows Palmer the telemetry of the Storm Covenant fleet surrounding Requiem. It’s interesting to note that Roland simply calls them ‘Covenant’ and not ‘Storm Covenant,’ considering that there were asylum seekers in Rio. She says they could wait another 48 hours running the teams through the War Games—the competitive multiplayer mode that takes place on within a holodeck. Lasky tells Palmer that Navy disagrees with the Spartans. Despite the autonomy the Spartan IVs have, they still have to respect the chain of command.
The cinematic opens with Majestic in a full body suit with plugs on it. We see Palmer in this same under suit later. However, after the Spartans are told to get ready, we see them in a different under suit featuring minimal armor without plugs. This is likely to be the fabled gel layer, Halo’s version of plot armor; need your Spartan to survive against the odds? Gel layer locked up and saved them. It’s also interesting to note that this armored under layer looks similar to the nanosuit from Crysis 2, so it’s likely that this is the core of the Mjolnir armor system—the good part that turns the augmented soldier into a super soldier. The outer hardened armor is what turns them into a walking battle tank. As a long-time Halo fan, it’s really cool to see all of these layers and the process. I could see the next generation of Halo cosplay being inspired by this cinematic.
It’s important to realize that Commander Palmer thinks she is hot shit. Moving into the first chapter, “Land Grab,” we see further proof of this in the intro cutscene when she says, “To all Navy, Army, and Marine forces, you can relax. The Spartans are here.” She’s arrogant, but she cares about her Spartans. We’re also introduced to our handler, Spartan Miller.
I like Commander Palmer; she’s like a female version of Sergeant Johnson. Except unlike Johnson, Palmer wisely stays out of our way instead of being a wisecracking, hard-ass, liability. I bet Palmer wouldn’t allow herself to be captured by the Covenant, too.
Quarry, the set location for chapter 1, was taken out of campaign. Quarry is essentially two giant circular arenas joined by a wide, but short, corridor. This lends itself well to vehicular combat, which is exactly what this mission is all about. It’s very boring and uneventful. The objective is to blow up the Covenant’s power generators to interrupt their operations. Fireteams Ivy, Castle, Majestic, and Domino are also clearing out Covenant encampments nearby, but Crimson—the player’s fireteam— is the first to finish, impressing Palmer.
Chapter 2, “Sniper Alley,” takes place on a map of the same name. Like Quarry, Sniper Alley is taken from campaign. In fact, it’s taken from the same mission, Reclaimer. Crimson is tasked with shutting down outlying power nodes and disabling the Covenant’s ability to siphon power from the planet. Naturally, we do this by blowing everything up instead of capturing the device and letting scientists study it. It’s not like the UNSC built the Infinity by reverse-engineering Covenant and Forerunner technology or anything.
“Sniper Alley” introduces Phantoms and Hunter-Killers. Phantoms are Elites that employ active camo and rush the player with an energy sword, while Hunter-Killers are Elites who just rush the player. This is strange because it’s set up to be a sniper mission, except we’re not given a sniper rifle at the onset—unless you notice a small cache of Beam Rifles tucked under a support column. Sniping might cause use to be caught unaware by these Elites, but since we can’t snipe, the rush tactic isn’t as dangerous as it could be.
The first sniper weapon you’re likely to find is a Beam Rifle you pick up off one of the Jackal snipers, but that won’t be until the second half of the mission. Your trusty Battle Rifle or DMR is going to be doing most of the heavy lifting here. In addition, I don’t know if this is a memory issue or just a poor despawn timer, but you can’t scavenge the battlefield for dropped supplies easily; if you don’t grab a Beam Rifle from the dead Jackals as soon as possible, then you’re not going to be sniping on “Sniper Alley.”
Moving away from the desert environment, we find ourselves in the snowy Fortress, another location taken from campaign. The third chapter is “The Challenge,” and it’s Crimson versus Majestic to see who can clear their base of Prometheans first. DeMarco asks what the prize is, to which Palmer quips, “the respect of your peers. That should be an exciting new experience for you, DeMarco.”
You shouldn’t have called dibs, DeMarco. You’re the punching bag now.
The Crawlers and Watchers on this mission are unusually aggressive. “The Challenge” is the first mission where I have ever died on Easy. Fitting, but annoying. The pathing is set up to be a single open area, allowing the Crawlers to swarm from all over the map. There are no clearly defined encounter spaces until moving into the center structure, meaning the player is never going to be safe until then.
DeMarco is trying to reach Crimson or Palmer but isn’t receiving any responses, so Thorne says, “maybe everyone’s ignoring you.” This is supposed to be funny because we can’t respond. Of course we’re going to be silent, DeMarco! Anyway, Crimson wins the challenge (of course we do) and DeMarco says no fair. Palmer, who can see everything from Spartan Ops, tells him that we had more Prometheans to deal with.
Breaking the tradition of repurposing campaign locations, “Sacred” brings us to The Refuge, a location inspired by the jungle of Requiem. Palmer needs a Fireteam she can depend on, and that’s going to be Crimson. It’s always going to be Crimson because we’re the big damn heroes, so don’t be too surprised when things go our way.
The Infinity science team wants this location scouted out, but Palmer insists on letting us move in to secure it first. This chapter is the first time I was disappointed in Palmer. She routinely calls scientists eggheads, as if she’s some sort of jock. She implies that the scientists have a short attention span and will “go poking every shiny object they can find.”
I don’t like this development because it changes Palmer’s character. Before, she was a wisecracking, down-to-earth commander, and it was endearing. That’s not the case anymore because she’s just a jock. I was something of an outcast growing up because I played video games. The jock-clique picked on me and other outcasts like me. The idea of playing a video game where my virtual boss acts this way does not sit well with me.
Anyway, this is the mission that introduces Knights to Spartan Ops. They will spawn Watchers, just like campaign. The Knights are still not fun to fight. The environment looks good, though. The encounter spaces are clearly divided. “Sacred” uses The Refuge well, but is not the best example. Crimson retrieves data from a star map before clearing out the Prometheans.
Let’s move on to the last chapter. “Core” brings us to The Cauldron, which is one of Spartan Ops’ few sets that is always a joy to play on. The data from the star map found in the jungle ties in with previous data on Covenant archeological teams. The Covenant are looking for something, which means Crimson is looking for something.
What makes The Cauldron good is how the environment is designed. It features several open areas but is reined in by a very linear design. Despite the open nature of the environment, the encounter spaces are compartmentalized and spread out. Everything is decently sized and comes together in a very satisfying way.
The only problem with this chapter is at the end, when we can see a pair of Watchers in the distance. We don’t have a weapon capable of killing them from an unfair range, so any shots fired will cause them to flee behind a column. We have to move up to engage them, and they summon innumerable Crawlers when we start getting close. It feels cheap because we can see them but are unable to do anything about it until it’s too late.
The chapter ends with us securing the artifact the Covenant were looking for, and it’s brought aboard Infinity for study. “Core” is a solid end to an otherwise awful episode. “Excellent,” you’ll think, “the previous chapters were just warm-ups and this was our first ‘real’ mission! Everything is looking up from here.”
I say you’re a naïve fool. Tune in next week to find out what happens to the artifact.