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Mad scientist Dr. Halsey steals the show as Halo 4’s Spartan Ops nears the home stretch

Mad scientist Dr. Halsey steals the show as Halo 4’s Spartan Ops nears the home stretch

Halo 4‘s Spartan Ops took a short hiatus over the holiday season, returning with a revitalized structure and explosive story that renewed our excitement for the episodic series. The spiritual successor to Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach‘s Firefight mode is still much improved over its first half, and is getting oh-so close to something truly spectacular.

Oh, the places you won’t go

The Infinity comes under attack from Covenant and Promethean forces in episode seven. This means your fire team – Crimson – is pulled back to help repel the invasion. The first mission starts off well, having you spawn in right in the middle of a previous mission which was interrupted by Infinity’s distress call.

You and your team have to fall back and make your way to a landing zone, holding it against an onslaught of both Covenant and Promethean ground troops, as well as a Phantom. It’s extremely tense and while previous Spartan Ops missions had little to no penalties, this mission can be failed. If your ride takes too much damage before you clear out the enemies, game over.

The risk of failure feels real. The mission can be very, very hard to pull off if you’re not coordinated, but that sense of danger makes your victory feel earned.

Once you’re on Infinity however, things begin to turn sour. You have to clear out invading Covenant forces from the hangar, then the server room, and back to the hangar in mission 2. In mission 3, you go from hangar to server room to engine room. You spend the entirety of mission 4 within the engine room or its wings. Mission 5 has you backtrack through the entire ship, from engine room wing to server room, to hangar.

To put it short: we went from having five new maps – four of which were unique to Spartan Ops – in episode 6, to two maps in episode 7, one of which was re-used four times. It makes a kind of logical sense that you’d have to sweep through the ship in such a way, but it also feels like padding. Episode 8 doesn’t fare much better, as only one of its missions takes place on a different map than episode 6.

Spartan Ops likely hasn’t had the time, team, or budget to create unique maps for every set of missions, but it’s still disheartening to see this much repetition.

Don’t trust the super-soldier-making scientist

Thankfully, Spartan Ops has nailed its narrative. The CG intros to each episode are more and more engaging, with significant plot twists and character revelations.

Episode 7 begins with Dr. Catherine Halsey breaking out of her cell using her wits and manipulation. She tricks Roland, the Infinity’s AI, into saying an override phrase, which she then uses to gain access to Infinity’s communication system. She strikes up a conversation with Jul’Mdama, leader of the Covenant forces on Requiem, before she’s interrupted by Captain Lasky.

Lasky has armed guards escort her out of comms, threatens that he’s “underestimated her long enough,” and is going to place her in cryo. Halsey slaps him. She is a bold, proud figure, and it’s still just as difficult as ever to pin her motives down. Halsey steals the show when she’s allowed to developer as a character.

The rest of the cast is being suitably developed as well; Lasky is given some troubling orders in episode 8, and Fire Team Majestic has an entertaining back-and-forth when they loot an enemy Elite. Even Sarah Palmer has stopped saying “egg heads,” thank god.

Spartan Ops is still interesting, if a bit repetitive, in its missions, largely thanks to the vastly improved map design which allows for vehicles and more moments of sandbox play. The plot has picked up to the point where players should be anticipating the finale, which is key for an episodic series. Things are looking up.