The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Halo 4: Spartan Ops, A Reflection On Part Two

“Spartans, looks like there’s one more quick job before you get to come home.” –Sarah Palmer

After being captured by Jul’Mdama’s forces, Fireteam Crimson manages to escape and seize a Phantom, using it to infiltrate Covenant operations and search for another Spartan team, encountering a Harvester machine. Crimson quickly discovers that the Covenant managed to acquire UNSC HAVOK missiles and begin launching an assault on the UNSC Infinity. After clearing the lower decks of Covenant, the AI Roland reboots the Infinity’s systems and secure the engine room, deactivating the nuclear warheads in the process. Dr. Halsey is captured, and Crimson is first sent to close the portal system. Crimson learn that Jul’Mdama’s forces managed to salvage a Pelican and had been using it to listen in on UNSC communications. After the Pelican is destroyed, the UNSC test their ability to read a Forerunner map with an operation, and prepare an operation to recover Halsey before the Covenant can learn anything of value. However, despite being unable to locate Halsey, Crimson determine that the Covenant have been using another Forerunner artifact to anchor the Infinity to Requiem; Jul’Mdama orders Requiem’s self-destruct to activate, but once the UNSC determine that the artifact is controlled by several anchors, they destroy this, allowing the Infinity to leave Requiem moments before Requiem’s collision with its star causes a supernova. Halsey, meanwhile, agrees to help Jul’Mdama’s Covenant. This is where Spartan Ops‘ second part ends, and the story is continued in Halo: Escalation, which covers the events between Halo 4 and Halo 5. Spartan Ops ultimately ends up being a loosely-written campaign that bridges the gap between the two Halo games, expanding the lore of Halo while simultaneously providing more for players to do outside of the campaign and multiplayer. On the whole, Spartan Ops is a reasonably enjoyable, if time-consuming experience.

More so than the first half, Spartan Ops‘ second half strikes a wonderful balance between gameplay and humour: firefights are punctuated by the hilarious exchanges between Spartan Miller and the UNSC’s internal AI, Roland. Halo had remained very serious and focused throughout its campaign, and humour has never really been what I’ve known Halo for. However, with Roland’s wit and enjoyment to show off his capabilities, his dialogue with Spartan Miller adds a considerable amount of light-hearted banter into otherwise serious communications chatter. This gives the Halo universe a new dimensionality; marking the first time that players can openly laugh about something while fighting off Covenant and Promethean forces, the humour in the second partof Spartan Ops was meant to show that humanity has now reached a point where there are things to laugh at again. While the Covenant and Forerunner forces remain a threat, that humour is present suggests that humanity is capable of holding their own, and that dealing with superior forces has become enough of a routine such that we can laugh at unrelated things during combat with said forces. The end result is that the second half of Spartan Ops, while ending with a much grimmer outcome, comes across as being very similar to Portal 2 in style, striking that balance between light-hearted comedy and events that have a much larger implication on events in future games, creating intrigue for what was to come. Of course, Halo 5 proved to be a disappointment in its story, but having what was essentially a second campaign in Halo 4 to set the stage did represent a bold new idea at the time.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • For the second half of Spartan Ops, I largely ran with dexterity and shielding, plus the jet pack: suicide plasma grunts are always a challenge to deal with, but the bonus shielding conferred by this setup meant that I was able to often survive such suicide attacks with still ten percent of my shields remaining, allowing me to remain in the fight longer. Of course, being stuck by a plasma grenade is still instant death, but I found that overall, improved survivability made a great deal of difference in many solo firefights. The jet pack simply makes it easier to get places more quickly, and I find it an indispensable armour ability that made missions much easier.

  • In the absence of a Spartan Laser, rocket launcher, Incineration Cannon or Fuel Rod Gun, Hunters can be a nightmare to take out. Spartan Ops does not provide dedicated heavy weapons when Hunters are encountered in pairs, and my usual strategy is to get close and attack its unarmoured back until it goes down. I’ve found that the energy sword can actually work well against Hunters; a single lunge will bring one down very quickly. Similarly, using the Scattershot on a Hunter is also quite effective if one can hit the exposed orange areas.

  • The episode to clear Covenant off the UNSC Infinity was easily my absolute favourite of the Spartan Ops assignments, feeling like a mix between Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2‘s first missions. Fighting through the hangars and corridors of the Infinity, backed by UNSC marines and soldiers was great, and UNSC weapons were always plentiful. For Spartan Ops, I run what’s called the “n00b combo”: the battle rifle is my primary weapon, and I equip the plasma pistol as my secondary. Most enemies can be felled by a three-round burst, while Elites and Knights die after hitting them with the plasma pistol’s overcharge and then following up with a headshot.

  • The plasma pistol is probably the most valuable of the sidearms in Halo 4: while the weapon is the weakest weapon in the game on a per-shot basis, the fact that its overcharge can completely strip away shields and even stop vehicles briefly makes it incredibly valuable. In a pinch, the battle rifle-plasma pistol is enough to get one through almost any situation in Halo. In a standout episode, the most exceptional chapter comes when Fireteam Crimson must sweep the engine room for nukes: while the Covenant are using cloaking devices to conceal them, once Roland figures things out, they’re conveniently marked on one’s HUD for deactivation.

  • The cavernous space is very conducive towards sniping, and there’s a rack of sniper rifles close to the Infinity’s central reactor. In practise, while the sniper rifles are excellent weapons, there’s hardly any chance to snipe in Spartan Ops, so having the space and positioning to do so here was a welcome experience. The UNSC sniper rifle remains my favourite of the sniper rifles: it has the greatest capacity of the long range weapons and allows for making follow-up shots. The Binary Rifle, the Promethean equivalent, hits the hardest per shot and vapourises enemies on a kill, but is balanced by a low capacity and rate of fire.

  • Ever since Halo 3 brought back the single Needler, being able to pump enemies full of needles for that super-combine explosion is once again a reality. The Needler has limited homing capability and is surprisingly effective against Elites: the needles seem to ignore shielding. To offset its power, Needlers wielded by enemy forces can also super-combine: rushing carelessly into a firefight and being hit with seven needles will be enough to instantly kill players. While quite unrelated, here, I note that today marks the one year anniversary to the day that Toukairin was banned from AnimeSuki – his political commentary ventured into the realm of extremism and drowned out more moderate perspectives. I took no joy in orchestrating his ban; it was an unfortunate but necessary action, and if given a choice, I wouldn’t do it again.

  • The consolation was that after Toukairin was banned, political discussions became more civil and less frequent, less likely to agree with radical standpoints; the AnimeSuki community has become better for this, which is a win in my books. Back in Spartan Ops, after bringing the Infinity’s guns back online, players can watch as a Covenant cruiser explodes from sustained fire: it’s great to see that the UNSC can now fight Covenant ships head-on, and this was something about Halo 4 I’ve long been fond of – when Halo began its journey, humanity had been on the back-foot. Lore told a one-sided story where humanity often needed to fall upon exotic strategies or employ an entire fleet’s resources to beat back a single Covenant cruiser, and even then, at a heavy cost to themselves. By the events of Halo 4, however, considerable advances have allowed humanity to put up a considerable fight in fleet combat.

  • I continued pushing the fight against the Covenant: having run dry on my battle rifle, I’ve swapped over to the Covenant Carbine, which, while lacking the same damage per shot as the DMR, makes up for it by being exceptionally accurate. I generally prefer the battle rifle for ranges where the Carbine is effective, though: despite being quite accurate, I’ve found that the three-round burst on the BR is generally more consistent. Of course, these are merely my preferences, and different players find success with different setups.

  • Here, I managed to board a Wraith: Wraiths are occasionally seen in Spartan Ops, and while it appears that they can only be destroyed (boarding to kill the pilot causes the entire thing to explode and be rendered unusable), it turns out that the best way to commandeer one is to immoblise it using a plasma pistol, and then kill the gunner. This causes the driver to get out, leaving the Wraith free for players. In possession of a Wraith and its plasma mortar, everything up to and including other Wraiths can be easily destroyed. During co-op, things get even better, as one player can operate the plasma turret while the other drives: when my friend and I figured this out, we likened it to stealing a Gundam, turning the Wraith’s firepower against the Covenant to great effect.

  • While I’ve devised a strategy against Watchers since starting Spartan Ops, this doesn’t make them any less bothersome to deal with. Spartan Ops spawns entire flocks of them, and while individually weak, Watchers are able to move in erratic ways that allow them to dodge gunfire. They’re surprisingly durable and take a few bursts from the battle rifle to silence, as well: coupled with the fact they can fly off to regenerate, and even a group of five Watchers becomes a serious threat. I found that getting up close and personal with automatic weapons tended to work best.

  • On my own, having a Scorpion Tank meant being able to use the 90 mm cannon to devastate enemy forces. With a friend playing alongside me, it means either being able to have a gunner in an anti-personnel role or fulfill this role myself. However, when Spartan Ops gives us two tanks to work with, it means being able to absolutely demolish whatever challenges stood in our path: sustained fire from Scorpions is enough to bring down the Phantoms, and speaking to how long I’ve been around Halo for, I remember a time when Phantoms were simply vehicles that showed up during scripted events.

  • If it were not apparent, the co-op aspect of Spartan Ops was one I enjoyed greatly. My friend and I are rocking older computers without microphones, but even without voice communications, we were perfectly in sync: his DMR and assault rifle loadout complemented my battle rifle and plasma pistol loadout, and we generally had no trouble clearing out areas that had individually taken us longer. Having said this, that Spartan Ops can be completed solo attests to the fact that Halo 4 allows players to play in the manner of their choosing.

  • This, coupled with the loadouts and armour customisation options available in Halo 4, makes the game a textbook example of what video games in general should be like. Many games today place an undue emphasis on lootboxes at the expense of gameplay, hoping to make a quick buck, but back in the Halo days, Bungie placed a particular emphasis on world-building and immersion. I’ve always held the belief that if a game developer needed microtransactions to sustain themselves, then their games were never worth playing to begin with: a good game will compel players to successfully recommend that their friends pick the game up for themselves, and this is what Halo did.

  • Having spent most of my youth playing Halo with friends at LAN party, it speaks volumes to the series’ staying power that I picked up The Master Chief Collection as soon as it became available. To be honest, The Master Chief is easily worth 160 CAD, and the fact we got all six Halo titles for a mere 50 CAD is nothing short of excellent value. Beyond having some of the most consistent and balanced gameplay mechanics, The Master Chief Collection also properly demonstrates how to handle cosmetics in a video game.

  • For instance, here, I’m rocking a golden assault rifle, and for good measure, I’ve also got the gold skins for my magnum, battle rifle, DMR, plasma pistol, the Storm Rifle, Covenant Carbine, Light Rifle, Boltshot and Suppressor. These skins are unlocked simply by playing the game and completing weekly assignments, which yield experience points and season points that are used to unlock various cosmetics, from weapon skins to armour variations. All of this stuff is earned without any trouble, and never impacts gameplay: players rocking the basic recruit armour and weapon skins are just as effective as the blinged-out players with a Mjolnir helmet that resembles the RX-0 Unicorn’s head.

  • I’ve been running a golden gun in my games simply for the cool factor, and here, fight my way to the top of Lockout in order to unlock a map for analysis. A combination of Covenant Elites and Promethean Knights were my enemy, but since there was a stockpile of Scattershots here, I capitalised on their presence to great effect, vapourising Elites and Knights alike while waiting for the map to fully activate. The lighting in Halo 4 is interesting, and there have been cases where the bloom has been overwhelming, especially with the golden gun skins.

  • Liches make a return in Spartan Ops, but unlike their fearsome reputation in lore, can easily be destroyed by boarding and destroying or removing their power supply. The final set of missions in Spartan Ops involves calling out a Lich and stealing its power supply for the derelict Harvester, which had been disabled a few episodes earlier. The verdant vegetation and azure skies of Apex made it one of my favourite of the maps in Spartan Ops‘ second half.

  • Having a Mantis against the Prometheans turned an annoying enemy into something that was completely fun to play: as soon as one boards the Mantis, hordes of Watchers and Prowlers swarm the player, but armed with the Mantis and its high RPM cannon, Watchers are swatted out of the sky without effort. It was an excellent choice on 343 Industries’ part, to give players a chance to finally take it out on the Watchers. The goal here is to destroy several power supplies, which force the doors to the next area to open, and one of the things I did notice in Spartan Ops‘ second half was that sometimes, the waypoints for these generators did not line up exactly, making them hard to find. Fortunately, they’re visually distinct, so for scenarios where following waypoints didn’t work, it was a matter of finding these floating spheres.

  • The last mission in Spartan Ops involves reactivating the Covenant Harvester to punch a hole into a cavern where a Forerunner artifact is held. Countless Prometheans are here, but now, experience allowed me to make short work of them, and in the process, I found that the Promethean Scattershot is actually a superbly enjoyable weapon to use in very specific scenarios (at extreme close range, when all of the beams connect): if one can get behind a Hunter and hit the vulnerable areas with all of the beams, the Hunter will be vapourised. After deactivating the Forerunner artifact, it’s time to beat a hasty exit, fight through a group of elites, and wrap up this last mission. With this done, I’ve totally finished Spartan Ops: I’ll also be looking to write about my experiences as a Blood Elf warlock in World of Warcraft and a solid mod for Left 4 Dead 2 that made things even more amusing than I’d thought possible.

  • Beyond this, I am looking to venture back into Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in the very near future to pick up a journey I’d put on hold since 2013. I’m also considering picking up Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered. My decision to do so will be determined largely by how much progress I make through Skyrim Finally, with most of my winter anime done, the only series I have left to write about is World Witches Take Off!. I’m still finalising the list of anime I’ll be watching over the spring season. Yakunara Mug Cup Mo and Super Cub are high on my list, and Hige wo Soru. Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru Churutto! and Soshite Joshikousei wo Hirou are also of note, so I’ll be checking those out to see where they go. This list is subject to changing, but three series and one short seems pretty reasonable for my current schedule.

With full-fledged cut-scenes and visuals, plus unique voice acting, Spartan Ops ultimately proved to be a tricky thing for 343 Industries to continue implementing: Spartan Ops had been a full-fledged campaign in its own right, and 343 Industries only ever released one full season, choosing to instead focus development on Halo 5 rather than expanding these side-stories further. However, even though only one season was produced, it added nearly ten extra hours of content to Halo 4‘s single player and co-op experience, and this was furthered by the fact that I did go through the Spartan Ops missions twice: once on my own, and once with a friend. In the latter, missions that had given me some trouble became much easier to handle. Between the two of us, we could carry different weapons for handling combat at different ranges, and we could cover one another. Having an extra player meant being able to fill the gunner seat of a vehicle, allowing vehicles to provide anti-personnel functions more effectively. Altogether, while Spartan Ops has its limitations (most notably, overwhelming enemy numbers and segments that require waiting, both of which pad out game time), the overall gameplay never grew stale, and there was always a fun opportunity to fight both Covenant and Promethean enemies across a wide range of locales. While Requiem’s rocky deserts were recycled, other locations (Lockup, Apex and Warrens) proved immensely fun to fight through: some maps may have been adapted from multiplayer maps, but many were purpose-made for Spartan Ops, possessing vivid details and rich skyboxes that make them distinct, unique locations. This experience was greatly augmented by the fact that I was able to co-op with a friend, and some of the biggest highlights include using a pair of Mantises to crush Covenant forces, rolling on enemy positions with twice the firepower thanks to having two Scorpions, saving one another from certain doom during firefights, and my personal favourite, hijacking Wraiths from the Covenant to grant ourselves additional firepower on missions that called for it.

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