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Revisiting Spartan Ops Episode 7

revisit-spops7

Episode 7 brings us to the UNSC Infinity. It’s been a long time coming. When I first played this Episode back in January, I thought it was really cool to visit Infinity. However, I didn’t really think about what I played. The After Show didn’t really demand that; it was a stream of consciousness guised as dialogue for flavor. But now that I’ve gone back, played through the episode, and given it some serious thought?

I don’t like this episode. It has some major issues. It’s probably the worst episode since Episode 3, and Episode 3 was pure filler. It’s bad.

Only one way to get through this: feet first into hell. See you after the cut!

I won’t be talking about the cinematic this week. We’ll catch up on what Halsey and Lasky are doing next week. It’s not sexy stuff, which is weird because Palmer gets really mad anyway in the Episode 8 cinematic.

Backup starts with tasking you to shut down Covenant portals. You can shut them down at any time, even after the order to fall back to Infinity. That’s unusual because what should happen, on account of SpOps never trying anything new, is that the portal controls should be locked down when the objectives change. Where the first mission gets stupid, though, is when we return to the Apex map in Episode 8 for Unfinished Business.

In Unfinished Business, we’re tasked with shutting down Covenant portals yet again. The thing is, even though we can find all three portals on Backup, we can only shut down two of them. The one we can’t shut down is the first one we come across on Unfinished Business. However, the game doesn’t keep track of which portals we shut down. You can shut down all the portals on Backup, but have to shut them down again on Unfinished Business.

This aggravates me because there’s more to the Unfinished Business than shutting down portals. You have to overload barriers using technobabble and a console. The barriers exist for the express purpose of gating your access to the portals. You can only move so quickly through the mission, and you can’t move forward until every Covenant bastard is dead anyway. If progress were saved between the two Episodes, then we’d still have to kill Covenant before moving forward. Justify it as them trying to reactivate those portals. When all the portals are shut down, we still have to mark two landing locations, clear out more Covenant, and neutralize a Wraith. The portals are largely inconsequential to the overall flow of the mission. There is no reason the game shouldn’t track the closed portals.

Let’s talk about the mess on Infinity.

Murphy brings the Phantom in on a starboard vector. Remember this.

There are a lot of Covenant in the hangar bay. I don’t know about you, and maybe it’s just because I suck at playing Halo, but aiming is a pain in the ass in Halo 4. The level of aim assist is ridiculous. I’ll be aiming a Jackal’s foot, to make it flinch forward so its head isn’t behind the shield, and if it moves the aim assist draws my reticule toward the center of the shield. THAT IS NOT WHERE I AM AIMING. Another problem I keep noticing is that Covenant are running around like rabbits hopped up on cocaine. They’re just running everywhere, sometimes in front of each other. I can’t tell you the number of times I had a headshot lined up, my finger pulling the trigger, and an Elite runs across the front of my target and the aim assist pulls my reticule toward the Elite. It seriously pisses me off. I like having control over my aiming. 343i needs to tone this down for Halo 5.

I don’t do much better with grenades. I like plasma grenades. I like that they stick to the target and explode for an instant kill. In previous Halo games—except for maybe Halo: Reach because I didn’t play the campaign as obsessively as the others—I had no problems sticking Covenant, not even on Legendary difficulty. I could throw a plasma grenade across the battlefield and have it stick my target because Covenant moved predictably. I occasionally missed, which is to be expected because I was playing on Legendary. For Halo 4, though, I can’t reliably stick an Elite at close range unless it’s in shotgun range. They never roll to the side or dive out of the way like in previous games. Instead, they just step a little to the side. I don’t know if plasma grenades were stickier in previous games or not, but it’s very frustrating to see every single grenade miss if the target isn’t in your face.

Right, so the Infinity. Y’know, the ship was suddenly attacked. Weren’t there people at work? They should have dropped what they were doing and bugged out. The ship is too clean, as if everyone put their junk away and evacuated in a calm and orderly fashion. And what’s the deal with everything being brightly lit? There should be alert beacons to signal to everyone that there is ongoing danger. It looks like the Covenant is attacking an uninhabited section of the ship. And why aren’t any bulkheads sealed or blast doors closed? There are some serious security issues on Infinity. Remember when Halsey was being brought onto Infinity in Episode 3? She was already disembarking before Lasky gave the transport ship clearance to board. The size of the Infinity is proportional to the ineptitude of the people who operate it.

Here’s something that grates me about the hangar. I have a jetpack in my default loadout. You’re supposed to hit a button to raise a lift. The lift creates a bridge that lets you reach a platform with a door. If you have a jetpack, then you don’t need the lift raised. You can just hop right up to the platform. What’s dumb is that the door remains locked unless you hit the lift. I don’t understand this. More enemies aren’t spawned (on the other side) until the door actually begins to open, and it only opens on proximity. The lift is just a stupid speed bump.

Remember how Crimson finds stolen Havok nukes in Episode 6? Let’s talk about those. They’re used now. The Covenant want to detonate them in the engine room. Roland says some of them have timers on them, but that’s a lie. The nukes never detonate and you can take your sweet time getting to each one. So much for urgency, but that’s modern gaming for you.

The nukes are hidden with a cloaking device. An Elite commander nearby has the cloaking device; killing him decloaks the nuke. It’s a great way to stagger the objectives. It’s just implemented so poorly. Who is carrying the remote? Probably the single Elite who is dressed in ornate gold armor with the fancy headpiece. Just a hunch.

I don’t like it because there’s no guessing game, no fail state. Just kill everything and the nuke will reveal itself. The Elites should run away, and we should have to hunt them down. I don’t like it because you can be looking at where a nuke will appear and not see anything. You can’t bump into it, you can’t see the shimmering active camo effect. It’s just not there. When the Elite dies, the nuke is spawned into existence. I don’t know about you, but just seeing a cloaked nuke wouldn’t be enough to get me to try to deactivate it. I can’t see it; I don’t know what I’m doing. As far as I know, I could be setting it off when I try to defuse it.

When Roland can’t figure out what’s happening, it just makes things worse. If the player could see the cloaked nuke, then we’d know what’s going on. “They cloaked their bombs,” we’d think to ourselves. We’d have figured out why Roland, the ship’s AI, couldn’t figure out from the multitude of scanners and cameras throughout the ship. We’d have a moment where we know something before one of the developer’s mouthpieces tells us what’s going on.

Let’s talk about the layout of Infinity for a moment. I have a diagram to help explain this, too.

infinity

This is to scale. Many Spartans died to bring you this map.

Remember how I said Murphy comes in on the starboard side? Well, that’s a problem. See, that little opening cutscene was rendered in the game engine. That means the model for Infinity has its starboard side facing Requiem. This poses a problem because the orientation of the Infinity model does not match up with the layout of Infinity itself! Infinity’s engines are at the back of the ship, but the way the missions are laid out, the engine room we visit is toward the front of the ship. We’re going the wrong way. As we saw in the Episode 1 cinematic, the giant launch tubes that contain Infinity’s accompaniment of frigates is aft of the hangar bays. Therefore, when we go to the engine rooms, we should really be heading into those launching tubes.

The funny thing is that this isn’t a miscommunication between Axis, who made the cinematics for SpOps, and 343i’s mission designers. It’s a miscommunication within 343i itself. I don’t mind when they change the design of the UNSC’s frigates, even if it meant the Forward Unto Dawn in Halo 4 is a completely different ship from what we saw in Halo 3. That’s artistic license! The Infinity’s layout isn’t consistent with itself in a single game. I haven’t even considered how this version of Infinity works out when we look at the campaign missions. The lack of logic here amuses me.

Furthermore, we don’t even get to see very much of the Infinity. We start in the hangar, visit the server room, defend the engine room, and round things out by visiting a weapons battery. These are all important sections of the ship (yes, even the server room) but since they’re so close together it makes the ship feel really small. The ship is supposed to be over three miles in length from bow to stern.

Compare that to the Pillar of Autumn from Halo: Combat Evolved. We start in the cryo bay. We work our way through the ship, visit the bridge, the cafeteria, and make it to life pods. We visit two armories and the ship’s engineering later. Everything is spread out with many corridors between it. The Pillar of Autumn feels so much bigger as a result, even though it’s 97% smaller than the Infinity! Granted, 90% of the Autumn’s corridors are filler, but at least you didn’t have to hit multiple buttons to move through them.

Let’s compare the Infinity play space to something better: In the Halo 4 campaign, we visit Ivanoff Station. It’s a big place. We don’t see much of the station, but we see enough of it. We don’t just go through corridors to get from the hangar to the Composer and all the places in between. We use elevators and go through maintenance access ways. That makes the station feel bigger because we’re going into the nooks and crannies.

As it stands, Infinity was designed to be flexible, like Refuge, Apex, and Lockup are. Considering that Episode 7 is the only time we ever set foot on the Infinity, the mission designers should have known exactly what they wanted from this location. The hangar is a defense scenario without any defensible structuring. Catwalks, multiple levels, gantries, vehicles, and supply corridors would go a long way to making the hangar look like a hangar, while also giving the player the space and tools to make combat interesting. The engine room is large, but it’s not really built with any sort of goal in mind; it’s empty space for the sake of empty space, because this is the Infinity and the Infinity is (supposedly) massive! The weapon batteries should be reworked to look like a place where munitions are stored and fired; Cairo Station in Halo 2 was really good about this. The way Infinity is set up, it’s just a series of large, empty rooms connected by long, empty corridors.

Infinity is a fucking mess. Everything about it, from the micro to the macro, is just bad. I love it. The Infinity is being attacked, but it doesn’t drive the plot forward in any way. All we do this episode is piss away time while we wait for Halsey to be abducted and we get to go back to Requiem. Structurally, this has to be the worst episode since the filler that was Episode 3.

Next week will be something special. Episodes 8 and 9 rolled into a single write-up! And that’s on top of the Episode 7 cinematic discussion. I can’t wait.

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