It’s Friday, so that means it’s time for another recap of Halo 4’s Spartan Ops! This week we’re covering Episode 3, “Catherine.” As usual, the episode cinematic is embedded after the jump, and there will be a bit of commentary following it. However, this week we’re doing something a little different.
Our format so far has been to embed the cinematic, talk about it, and then quickly cover the chapters. To mix things up, instead of covering the cinematic beat by beat, I’m just going to discuss two scenes. This episode doesn’t warrant much more discussion than that. Also, spoilers: this episode is bad. Double spoilers: if you haven’t played the campaign, you may be slightly more spoiled.
Right off the bat: the transport ship is already inside the UNSC Infinity when Roland informs Captain Lasky of the boarding request. And then, the transport door starts opening before Lasky grants permission. I don’t know if this is actually standard procedure in the navy, but it just seems so stupid. Why isn’t the Infinity clearing the transport for landing while it’s still on approach? That way, if there are problems, then the shuttle can be damaged or destroyed before it can present a threat. It might be a problem where the director for this cinematic couldn’t make an interesting scene out of the transport approaching Infinity or Lasky being on the bridge.
One thing I have to question is how long has the artifact been aboard the Infinity at this point? I’m under the impression that the Infinity is the fastest ship in the fleet because it’s equipped with Forerunner engines. I don’t think a lowly prisoner transport ship would have such an advantage. There’s nothing in-game to indicate where Requiem is in relation to Earth, either. To put it simply, I’m not sure the transport ship could have arrived with anything closely resembling urgency at all. And, considering Glassman’s disappearance last episode, I would say that this is a very urgent matter.
Once again, Lasky calls Palmer by her first name, instead of by rank or even surname. These two have some sort of personal relationship with each other. Are they close friends? Maybe they are lovers. Perhaps they were lovers, but something—possibly even the Spartan-IV program—got between them?
Surprise! The prisoner is Doctor Catherine Halsey. You might remember seeing her in the prologue of the main campaign. You might also recall the Master Chief and Cortana talking about Dr. Halsey to each other. You might even recall that aside from those two scenarios, Halsey is never mentioned again during the whole campaign, even though getting to her is supposed to be the Chief’s goal. In fact, the closest the Chief ever gets to hearing anything about her comes from one of her audio logs found on Ivanoff Station.
I think it’s really cool that there is a high-speed tram inside the Infinity; the ship is three miles long from bow to stern. Dr. Halsey delivers the best line of the episode on the tram, too. A bit of setup is required for this: Madsen is filling DeMarco (and the audience) in on who Halsey is, about how the Spartan-II program abducted children. DeMarco asks “what would an old lady like her do with kids?” They are boors.
With her incisive gaze upon DeMarco, she responds, “First we taught them how to be silent. . .” She then directs her gaze to Palmer, who is sitting across from her, “. . . then we taught them how to be Spartans.”
This is what I love about Halsey. It’s a measured barb. She knows just what to say to shut Majestic down—DeMarco and Madsen are lacking in discipline, and she spells it out nice and clearly for them. Palmer’s Spartans are just a bunch of jarheads playing war in their power armor—and she takes pride in leading her Spartans. Halsey’s Spartans were the Spartans, and her words rub Palmer the wrong way. You can see it in the way Palmer changes her posture, you can see it on her face. It’s so good.
This episode doesn’t have the strongest opening and the chapters really don’t fare much better. The chapters in Episode 1 were boring firefights that took Crimson around the environments as they killed everything. Things started to turn around at the end in “Core” when Crimson visited the Cauldron and retrieved the Artifact. Chapters in Episode 2 delivered a good mix of story and gameplay, playing well off the good vibes left from “Core.” Things were on an upward trend, so Episode 3 should logically be following through.
The first chapter this week is “The VIP,” and Crimson returns to the Quarry. Here’s the first thing Palmer tells Crimson in the opening cutscene: “Crimson, we’ve got a line on Parg Vol, a Sangheili terrorist, and a known associate of Jul ‘Mdama.”
Sangheili terrorist. That translates roughly to: “an Elite that causes mayhem.” Except, you know, this brand of mayhem is way worse than how the Covenant glassed entire planets for 28 years before the Great Schism in Halo 2. These terrorist must have been wiping out entire systems by unleashing black holes. Or maybe they’re using ‘terrorist’ hyperbolically, and ‘Mdama and Vol are graffiti artists? Like one time, the UNSC caught them spraying a ‘UNSC sux’ tag, but because they’re Elites they sprayed the ‘S’ backwards.
I briefly mentioned how Spartan Ops requires that players have read the incomplete Kilo-Five trilogy by Karen Traviss to understand everything fully. Majestic briefly discusses the state of the Covenant on Earth in the Episode 1 cinematic, but it’s such a fleeting reference. It sound more like gossip than anything more important, however.
This is where the Kilo-Five trilogy becomes required reading. If you haven’t read the two novels that have been published, then you won’t know who Jul ‘Mdama is. Going by what Halo 4 offers you, you’ll know that he’s a baddie because Palmer says so. Sure, the cinematic shows him talking about doing the Didact’s work, so we can infer that he’s a baddie, but really isn’t much better—the Didact is a baddie whose motivations are explained solely in the Forerunner Saga written by Greg Bear, so in-game he comes across as a one-dimensional jerk. That’s a problem because now we have a daisy chain where Jul ‘Mdama is evil because he is associated with the Didact who is evil because he is evil. It’s cartoon villainy.
I told you before the jump that this episode is bad, and this is why. Without the required reading material, the narrative elements break down into dumb town. However, that’s not all. Every chapter this episode is an exercise in tedium. “The VIP” opens by putting Crimson in the Quarry—a large map designed to be traversed with vehicles—without a vehicle. There is a lot of running on foot and not a lot to do between the encounters. There is too much down time where players are literally just running to the next encounter.
The next chapter does no better. “Galileo” is set at Galileo Base, which is the recycled name for the multiplayer map, Complex. I personally hate Complex because it’s too large for a 4v4 matchup, making every match be nothing more than huge lulls of each team trying to find the other, broken up with quick bursts of combat. “Galileo” subverts that somewhat by having the Covenant stay in one place (and having handy markers over their heads to inform players where to go next). However, the map is still too big, even when populated for Spartan Ops.
“Spartan Mountain” follows up that catastrophe with something refreshing: Two Giants, which is called Ragnarok in multiplayer. Ragnarok is something of a small map, especially by Halo 4 standards. Players are able to get around very quickly, even on foot. In “Spartan Mountain,” players can get around so quickly that the chapter will be over just when things should be starting to get interesting. When I first played this chapter, I finished it in less than nine minutes and was left wanting, and I had spent a minute or so just screwing around.
To be left wanting is a bad reaction, because what follows is “Shootout in Valhalla,” which is a terrible name through and through. I expect a shootout to be relatively quick, and this chapter is anything but that. It’s also not Valhalla, because there are several differences separating Ragnarok from Valhalla. It’s a bad name. This chapter opens by giving Crimson a pair of Mantises fairly quickly. However, that turns into something awful as waves of goons and banshees are sent in. Piloting a Mantis should be a fun, empowering time. Sending waves of enemies at the player for half an hour without requiring them to move does not fit that description at all.
Episode 3 is a great episode if you like being strung along to kill things with a dearth of narrative, because that’s all you’ll be doing. There aren’t any interesting character interactions. There aren’t any nuggets of exposition scattered throughout to keep you engaged with the story. This episode is pure filler.
Join us next week as we look at Episode 4.