Spartan Ops is Episodic Gaming Done Right

Saturday, February 16, 2013
This Monday, 343 industries will unveil the tenth and final episode in season one of Spartan Ops. The series premiered with the release of Halo 4 on November 6th and has been the high point of multiplayer for me. Each episode in the season opens with a brief (5 minutes or so) cinematic, followed by five playable chapters. Each episode continues the story of the UNSC Infinity and it's crew, picking up sixmonths after the events of Halo 4's campaign.

You play as Fireteam Crimson, one of many fireteams stationed onboard Infinity as it's science teams work to unearth the secrets of Requiem. It isn't long before things go south and Crimson is sent on increasingly dangerous missions, attempting to thwart the plans of Jul M'dama, a rogue elite and leader of a revived Covenant.

Besides being enormously fun, Spartan Ops has done something very important. By offering episodic content, it becomes a show you can play. We've already seen other series take advantage of this dynamic in one way or another; Telltale has been the undisputed king of Episodic content since it revived Sam and Max, and more recently with the Walking Dead.

Telltale's episodic games were released months apart from one another, and each particular episode contained hours of gameplay. By releasing new episodes each week- minus the brief hiatus through January- Spartan Ops has tied itself to familiar feelings of watching our favorite shows on prime time. Recognizing that Halo is undoubtedly the largest franchise to use episodic, we can begin to put the pieces together. 

This new method of releasing weekly episodes at no cost more effectively sets this apart from the tropes and prejudices that regular planned DLC faces today. This isn't just important to gamings future, but could have implications for broadcast TV as it suffers from no worry of ratings. It is playing to an established fanbase and will keep them playing and watching until the next major release in the Halo franchise. 

Spartan Ops may be groundbreaking, but none of that matters at all if the gameplay isn't compelling. Luckily, the story is well crafted and written, giving the characters encountered briefly as the Chief more depth and range. Lasky emerges as a capable and caring captain, Halsey shows her unpredictable side, even ship's AI  Roland gets a bit more personality throughout the first season. 

The firefights in each chapter are nothing to sneeze at. Often outnumbered 20 to one or more, shootouts are tense and sometimes quite lengthy. Death at some point in each chapter is inevitable, but worry not, you;ll soon respawn safely and without having to worry about being plopped down at the last checkpoint. Spartan Ops quickly establishes itself as the logical successor to ODST and Reach's Firefight mode. 

While Monday's episode will mark the end of the first season, no mention has been made about the release date or even existence of a second season. That's unfortunate for Spartan Ops numerous fans, left to ponder when they'll be able to suit up as Crimson again. Let's hope it's soon.

I'm Scared

Friday, February 1, 2013
So, while this is a touch late for Halloween (only slightly), I got a little behind on work and therefore my game playing.  I wanted to list some of the things I have found myself shrieking like my 5 year old self that my badass 15 year old self would probably be roflcoptering at.

First off, we'll go along with the realm of imagination and tabletop roleplaying.  Let me just say, I DO NOT like Attic Whisperers.  Children in themselves are kinda scary to me, but when you have a dead one that just wants a friend to play with but will kill you if you do is just all the more horrifying.  Not because of the idea in itself, but because it makes you realize what kind of person you really are.  In my case, the party said "NOPE!", turned around and locked the door.  However, then you realize that you either by some miracle could have aided the child, died trying to be a good person, or in fleeing save yourself but turn your back on neglect.  Proof in itself the scariest monster is indeed, humankind, and in this case, yourself.

Up next, I finally got around to playing Slender (incredible that I didn't before).  This definitely feeds upon the fear of the unknown, and the simplicity of the "gotchya!" factor.  Sometimes, the simplest ghost stories are the best.  Take the gruesome tale of Pillow Pants and Lister Fiend for example:
The look of horror on Randal's face is probably what mine looked like the entire time I played Slender.  Although here's a comic that might be the real story, thinking about it makes the game even scarier, mostly for the reason above as mentioned with the Attic Whisperer.  The most horrifying part of this game besides the increasingly scary ambience and reduction in teleportation radius for the Slenderman, is the fact that he's yet another monster that forces you to look deep inside yourself.  Also, I found this to be really amusing, I'd probably have the same reaction.

And then, I finally got around to playing through some Amnesia, right before its sequel Machine for Pigs is about to be released.  My friends who have played through before warned me I miiight want to pick up some adult diapers, I'm beginning to suspect they may be right.  This game is survival horror at it's psychological finest.  I believe the creator studied other games to make a brain paranoia inducer about as potent as sulfuric acid.  The worst part is that when the creatures chase you isn't the scariest part, it's when they hang out from a distance and stare in your general direction, like so (Skip to 11:00)
I think my critter hung out for about 5 minutes, seeing those white empty orbs for eyes from a distance was even unsettling in real life.  The worst part, the creatures might be real, or hallucinations, you never know.  I remember also taking about 10 minutes to steady myself near the chemistry set in the laboratory, the reason?  I had recently played through Silent Hill 3, bad things happen when you turn valves in that game!  Regardless, this is a game where you don't get desensitized to the horror, like Slender, it simply builds upon itself.  I'll play more once I overcome my paranoia of clicking the executable, and have purchased some Depends ;).

Lastly, I've been on a Silent Hill kick lately since I finally got my hands on Downpour and the second movie Revelation came out.  I love Silent Hill 2, I love how the psyche plays upon itself and it allows for speculation on several different symbols, critters, and manifestations of the psyche.  I had played it several years ago and never finished it, coming back and finishing the game was entirely worth it.  Now, the games with a central focus on the cult of Silent Hill (1 & 3), those are truly horrifying, more horrifying than the voice acting in any given game of the series.  The first was pureblooded horror, lots of fast critters with a bad control schema, but great puzzles and storyline pull it together, I've jumped more than once.  Moving to 3, for a woman particularly, this game is terrifying, particularly for the creatures' symbolism, like Attic Whisperers, Numb Bodies disturb me
Seriously, it's a walking cervix with harlequin ichtyosis, get back inside where you belong!  >.<  The noises they make, they either mumble, or when left on the ground alive, begin screaming like a baby, scary I tell ya!  But the redemption is that this game is extremely tongue-in-cheek with its unlockables, so, despite having to see these types of baddies (all associated for the most part with things that can go wrong during pregnancy), I find myself playing it again and again.  While tedious, I enjoyed Homecoming for its storyline and creature design, and Downpour, while lacking on creature design did have a rather interesting story pulling it along, but I do wonder why the final boss is after you despite knowing the truth of the situation, perhaps it's another Silent Hill psyche trick.

Overall, I recommend each of these games, despite my dated reviews, very highly!