REDUX: Spartan Ops is Episodic Gaming Done Right

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Recently, some execs from 343 Studios commented that all future Halo games will feature Split-Screen co-op, calling it "a hard lesson." There is another feature that I would love to see return, though it wasn't nearly as popular. The Spartan Ops from Halo 4 were, in my opinion, one of the best additions to the series. This from the guy who lists ODST as his favorite game in the franchise. I doubt Spartan Ops will ever return, but here's a reminder of why I really loved it.

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.