Rejoice, Halo 4 Spartan Ops fans: 343 Industries has kicked off the second half of Season One with Episode 6, the first of five new weekly releases for the popular four-player co-operative mode (and yes, I tried to squeeze in as many numbers into that sentence as humanly possible). And it is immediately apparent that 343 has listened to fan’s criticisms, because it starts you in the middle of a frantic battle and never lets up.
Platforms: Xbox 360
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: 343 Industries
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Release Date: January 21, 2013
ESRB Rating: Mature
This is in contrast to the first five episodes, and that’s a good thing. Hot on the heels of the immensely popular Firefight “Horde” mode in Halo: Reach, Spartan Ops promised exciting co-op action while extending the story of the main campaign in a series of episodic releases. Anticipation was high, but the first few episodes were, quite frankly, a little dull and repetitive, as you repeatedly ran back and forth across the same maps, killing waves of bad guys. Oh, and all this running and killing kinda sorta maybe had something to do with an otherwise engaging story (which unfolded in those beautifully stunning cutscenes similar to the campaign). The action gradually picked up towards the end of the five-episode “season,” but it still felt like developer 343 Industries had dropped the ball a little.
Not anymore. Episode 6 starts right after Episode 5’s cliffhanger, with Crimson Squad captured by the Covenant. Within seconds, you escape your shackles, assassinate an Elite, steal his gun, and start blasting at enemies attacking from all sides. It’s a thrilling start that sets the tone for the other four chapters in the episode. The action has definitely been cranked up, with more enemy waves attacking sooner. This latter feature addresses an irritating pacing issue in the previous episodes: if you took out the current wave too quickly, you were often forced to wait and twiddle your thumbs (sometimes for a ridiculous amount of time) until the next wave spawned.
343 has done a better job of tying the action closer to the story, thanks to some first-person in-game cutscenes and better radio chatter. Still, it continues to feel as if what you’re doing is a bit inconsequential to the narrative. However, it’s still early in the new season, so we’ll see how things develop.
Each chapter takes place on a brand new map, which adds some much-needed variety to the mix. At least one map is directly lifted from the single player campaign (though it has a new paint job), but all are huge and offer plenty of room to fight and flank. Generally, the maps are well designed, but a few of them suffer from long, circuitous routes that quickly get annoying when you die, spawn far from the action, and have to run along these agonizingly winding paths to get back into the battle. Jetpacks and unlimited Sprint are definite must-haves in these maps.
There aren’t that many opportunities for vehicle combat, with only the occasional Ghost or Banshee available. However, future episodes promise to satisfy your vehicular bloodlust, so that’s definitely something to look forward too.
Despite the somewhat tepid beginning, Spartan Ops is growing into the exciting co-op multiplayer mode it promised to be. How much longer 343 will continue with new episodes is up for debate, since the rendered cutscenes and voice acting are no doubt quite expensive to produce. But in the meantime, things are looking up and I can’t wait for the rest of the season.
Review Disclosure: Halo 4: Spartan Ops Episode 6 is available as a free download for owners of Halo 4. A retail copy of Halo 4 was purchased by Warp Zoned for the purposes of this review.