How are you doing? Have you been enjoying our recap series for Spartan Ops? That’s nice; it’s Friday so it’s time for another installment. This week we’re looking at Episode 5, “Memento Mori.” If you’re not familiar with Latin, it translates to ‘remember your mortality.’ Fitting in more ways than one, because this is our last entry of the recap series. However, we’re not done with Spartan Ops yet. Next week, we’ll be covering the new episodes as they come out. It’ll be great!
Since this is the last recap, we’re going to be doing something a little different. This week’s cinematic will be embedded behind the cut, same as always, but we’re not going to be discussing it. In fact, we’re not going to be discussing the episode very much at all this week.
I mentioned in our overview that I didn’t care for Spartan Ops so far. It has its moments, to be sure, but it’s still very lackluster. However, I never really expanded upon that thought because I knew we’d be doing a recap; my intent was that you would have seen me air my grievances with the content each week. I’ve certainly aired some grievances, but not all of them. The past five weeks have been leading up to this point, so I’m going to be driving that nail home.
Spartan Miller will comment throughout the episode that Palmer cannot be reached because her comms are off. He and Roland are running ops this week, although Roland assures us that Palmer is busy. Doing what? The last thing we see her doing in the cinematic is taking Halsey into custody. 343 Industries’ best work in Halo 4 is its characters. They showed us that Palmer is very proud of her Spartan-IVs. They showed us Halsey’s disapproval toward Palmer and her Spartan-IVs. They showed us everyone treating Halsey like some kind of war criminal boogeyman, and yet she still manages to end conversations by shutting them down. And here we see Palmer’s palpable disdain for Halsey . . . and that’s the last we see of Palmer. So what’s keeping Palmer so preoccupied that she can’t run ops this week? It’s very likely that Halsey is being interrogated, and Palmer is overseeing it, if not taking care of it personally.
Have you ever noticed that there’s a little video screen on the HUD? I see it from time to time, but I’ve never looked at it before. I assumed that these were just stock video clips and were barely synchronized with the voices. These are fully animated. The only reason I’m noticing it now is because we’re seeing Spartan Miller fill us in on what the missions are this episode instead of Palmer. Every other time I’ve played Spartan Ops, I just ran forward toward the action and became swept up in it. Any video communiqués that come in while there’s ongoing combat would naturally get missed too, because we’d have enemies to shoot. I have to wonder how many nuanced character interactions I’ve missed.
I’ve mentioned this in the past, but I really hate Watchers. I hate that they introduce an endless circle jerk of reviving and being revived by Knights. I hate that they can summon Crawlers faster than you can kill them. I hate that they’re so insistent on summoning cannons. But here’s what I adore about Spartan Ops: I picked up a sniper rifle at the start of the first chapter (“Spartan Miller”) and I saw a Watcher trying to summon a group of Crawlers. I shot the Watcher and destroyed it instantly. Then, I saw another Watcher come in to try it again, so I destroyed that one, too. I saw a third Watcher fly across the map to try it one last time, but I destroyed that one too. Destroying three Watchers to prevent five Crawlers from being summoned is a decent trade-off, but I’m more interested in what it revealed.
Every encounter in campaign and Spartan Ops is scripted. mhumbolt of Armchair Designing argues that even multiplayer is scripted, to a degree. I agree with that, but you should really read the article for yourself. Multiplayer aside, every mission must happen a certain way, and if you try to break the sequence, you’ll see the game find a way to compensate for that. For example, in the sixth mission in Campaign, the Master Chief enters a tower with a gondola in it. The gondola stops at two platforms along the way to a generator. However, players can use one of the Jetpacks that they’re given to skip the second platform and reach the generator early. The game doesn’t acknowledge this and forces the player to clear the second platform anyway.
In Spartan Ops, this is much more pronounced. In Episode 3’s “The VIP,” players find themselves in Quarry. I ran Active Camo for that chapter. Early in that chapter, the player will see a large open space with a large rock on the other side. Down the hill to the distant right are Covenant forces. I used my Active Camo to sneak across that open space to get behind the rock. There was no conceivable way that the Covenant could have seen me because I was moving slowly on the high ground, lest Active Camo flicker, while they were far away and not even looking in my direction. Once I was behind the rock and out of sight, my camo expired. As soon as it did, Spartan Miller announced “Snipers!” followed shortly by the sound of beam rifles firing at my location. Hunter-Killer Elites charged up the hill and around the rock right to where I was, even though my camo finished recharging and was reengaged.
Strategy is dying in Halo 4 in favor of a unified cinematic experience. I said in our overview of the mode that I wasn’t impressed. I made the comparison that Spartan Ops is like a television show, and it is. There is a script, 343i is the director, and you stick to the script and stop improvising. If you can’t follow direction, then you might just find yourself with your face suddenly stuffed inside of a Promethean’s ass—such was the case when I jumped over a railing to get to a lower level in the first chapter, instead of taking the long way and walking down. Keep in mind that this has happened in more than one chapter, I just needed to keep this tangent on topic.
Another reason why I don’t care for Spartan Ops becomes evident in this episode. In the first three chapters, the objectives of the mission shift around. Prometheans are attacking two pieces of equipment in “Spartan Miller” that are being used to study Requiem’s portal network. The Prometheans stop attacking once the study is complete. In “Nothing Can Go Wrong,” the resident science team has to be protected from the invading Prometheans. Once the scientists have been sufficiently protected, they are at no further risk; the mission doesn’t end there, because there are two more encounters that follow it. Lastly, for “Everything Has Gone Wrong,” we’re tasked with protecting Doctor Boyd, but he is quickly forgotten as soon as more Covenant start dropping in.
It demonstrates how linear the mission structure is. It says, “hey, that’s enough fun defending the scientists, now it’s time for you to stop and return to the rote run-and-gun gameplay that makes Spartan Ops monotonous.” The thing is, Spartan Ops shines brilliantly when the routine is broken. In Episode 1, the break came in the form of the Cauldron, which has been the only map that has been consistently a pleasure to play on. In Episode 2, the heavy lifting comes from the lack of combat, eerie soundtrack, and dialogue all working together to create a mystery that must be solved. Episode 3 is the worst episode so far for being run-and-gun gameplay played straight. Episode 4 had a chapter that threw us into combat from the start, forcing us to react quickly.
There’s one last reason why I don’t like Spartan Ops that is highlighted in this episode. What happens on the ship is mostly irrelevant for Crimson. Crimson gets things done down on Requiem, but Majestic gets to be part of the action on the ship. Aside from partial references, like Palmer telling Thorne that Crimson retrieved the artifact in Episode 2, or the contest between Majestic and Crimson in Episode 1’s “The Challenge,” the cinematics and gameplay can each exist in a vacuum. That’s not to say that they should, or even do; sometimes the cinematics helps contextualize what we see in gameplay, such as when we see Palmer give a damn about the scientists in Episode 2. I’m just saying that the two don’t work together to create something greater than the sum of their parts.
Spartan Ops isn’t all bad, though. I’ve cited why it’s bad and why it’s good for each of the previous episodes. Episode 5 is good for three reasons that I haven’t touched on yet.
Last week, I said that the conversation between Thorne and Halsey is good storytelling; show, don’t tell. There’s more of that this week, but we see it in the chapters instead of the cinematic. As Spartan Miller and Roland guide Crimson through the ops, we learn more about them. Roland boasts that he can run these ops solo, but we see in practice that he cannot. He fails to keep Crimson informed and ordnance is a scarcity. Roland does not make a good handler, but he’s able to advise Spartan Miller the same way Spartan Miller advises Palmer.
For Spartan Miller, we learn that he respects the chain of command, even if he has to break it. In “Everything Has Gone Wrong,” he apologizes to Fireteam Shadow’s handler for going over his head in diverting them to taking care of a Covenant cruiser. We see that Spartan Miller is, himself, over his head for running ops. As an aside, I have to wonder if he’s running ops for every Fireteam, or if each handler is looking out for their own. Anyway, we also see Roland, in doing Spartan Miller’s job, show him how awkward he sounds when he announces enemy troops; Spartan Miller learns as much about himself as we learn about him and Roland.
Finally, what makes “Memento Mori” stand out as an episode is the last chapter, “Spartan Thorne.” The first time Crimson ever sets foot on Requiem is in the Quarry, and Episode 5 ends in the Quarry; 343i is getting their bookends all up in here! At the end of this chapter, we see a Pelican fly in to pick Crimson up. What follows next is the entirety of Spartan Ops up to this point summed up without a single word spoken, but I’m getting slightly ahead of myself. The Pelican gets shot down, and Crimson is quickly surrounded by Phantoms, Banshees, and cruisers. Crimson is so badass, Jul ‘Mdama sent what looks like everything he has to stop them.
But, despite the title of this episode, he’s not trying to kill them.
As the audience, we’re introduced to Jul ‘Mdama in “Catherine.” There, he arrives ahead of schedule and tells Gek that he’s here because Infinity is here. Jul ’Mdama has a history with the Infinity, but again, that’s covered in the Kilo-Five series. Then, he calls Dr. Glassman the “artifact’s gift.” Remember, the artifact was retrieved by Crimson at a Covenant archaeological site; Jul’ Mdama should be furious at this, but the way he refers to Glassman tells us that he knows what the artifact is.
We chase Jul ‘Mdama through the portals of Requiem in “Didact’s Hand,” and in his haste he drops another artifact, which he calls “the Didact’s Gift.” Both the Covenant and Prometheans attempt to recover it in the final chapter. However, in “Memento Mori,” Jul ‘Mdama says they’ve made enough of a show in trying to retrieve it.
In “Didact’s Hand,” we see allusions that Dr. Halsey is being contacted by Jul ‘Mdama. In “Memento Mori,” we see that he’s communicating to her through the artifact Crimson recovered in The Cauldron—rather, the first one that stole Glassman and Thorne away.
Jul ‘Mdama wanted Infinity to recover those artifacts. What’s his game?
We know that he’s willing to take prisoners, as he keeps Glassman alive. We also know that he’s working with Glassman conditionally; as soon as Glassman stops being useful, he’s dead. We see him communicating with Halsey and trying to get her to collaborate in accessing the Librarian AI. Thus, we can infer that he wants to replace Glassman with Halsey.
We can also infer, by way of Spartan Thorne’s recovered IFF tag, that Thorne is being used as bait to lure Crimson out. Jul ‘Mdama wants us alive, and has been stringing the UNSC along to satisfy his own ends. He knows that he needs human aid to access the Librarian, and he wants the UNSC’s heavy hitters to cooperate. Jul ‘Mdama is proving himself to be a cunning villain despite his introduction in the Kilo-Five series.
All of Spartan Ops has been leading up to that one singular moment when Crimson’s Pelican is shot down. That is the defining moment for this episode, if not the series so far. More impressively, it has me yearning for the next episode, which is a first.
All of the pieces are in play now. Come back next week and we’ll find out what happens next together.