9 Hours. The culmination of years of curiosity, anticipation, excitement, and longing, all wrapped up in 9 Hours. I just played and completed Halo 4 on Heroic in almost exactly 9 Hours. And after playing it, I can say one thing for sure, everything important about Halo 4 is the Master Chief and Cortana. Let's face it, they are the reason we've all been so hyped for this game. Their story is why we've been hooked to this series. Their ongoing journey is why we keep coming back again and again.
As a fan of Halo, I divide Halo in to two forms, the gameplay and the fiction. We haven't had a lack of Halo Gameplay. ODST and Reach (no matter what anyone says), have given us a healthy dose of the classic Halo gameplay that makes these games so great; the encounters are great, the gunplay is great, and the sandbox is unparalleled. But what has been missing for over 5 years has been the story of the Master Chief and Cortana; their journey, their interactions, their effect on each other, and their effect on us as players. In that regard, Halo 4 delivers in spades and is probably everything you could've hoped for and more.
From the very start of the game, the emotional cues will hit you hard. It will be like coming back to old friends, reliving the best moments, and by the time you leave them again, you'll realize that these moments will resonate with you as much as any (if not more than) you've had before. The Chief and Cortana talk and interact with each other more than any previous Halo. At times it feels like Prince of Persia Sands of Time in the way the two stars interact with each other. The Chief doesn't go on rants, but he definitely talks more and says the things that he should be saying. Things that previously we as the player wanted to ask Cortana or other characters in the game are now done by the Chief himself.
Now that I've gotten that out of the way, let me talk a little more concretely about the game. The very first thing you will notice are the graphics. The opening CG will blow your mind. You will sit there, confused as to why they decided to incorporate live action scenes in to the game until you finally realize youíre looking at CG. It is phenomenal. This game itself is gorgeous in EVERY way, and it will consistently wow you. There is nothing else to be said about graphics. They are the cream of the crop and seeing Halo in all its glory is incredibly satisfying. There is not a single part of the game where I thought the game was lacking technically. The game is polished to perfection. Not a single instance of slowdown. The only time you'll ever hit a hitch is the classic "Loading ...Done", but that lasts only for a split second, and when transitioning to the next part of the level, so it's never in the middle of combat. No issues such as the Reach frame rate drops, no consistently low frame rate from CEA. Just buttery smooth.
Scenario wise this game throws at you every type of encounter you can think of. With every Halo game there is always a great appreciation of a game's highest highs, but always a slight (if not frustrating) disappointment at the inevitable lows. Halo 4 does not have lows. It's as if 343 looked at the past 5 Halo games, and took from them every exciting scenario, every combat setup and packaged it all into one campaign. No Library. No Sacred Icon. No Quarantine Zone. No Cortana. At worst you're seeing some slight and deliberate toned down moments, only to finding yourself grinning at the next big moment that 343 throws at you. Even with all that, it feels like 343 held back a little with Halo 4 due to its nature of being the start of a trilogy. If Halo 2 and Halo 3 are more "epic" in scope to Halo 1, then I can only imagine where 343 plans on taking the next games in this trilogy.
The Sandbox is where the new elements of Halo 4 get to shine. If Halo 4 is about meeting old friends, then a big part of the excitement is the new stories and new experiences they have to share. In this case, thatís the new enemies, guns and vehicles. The Promethean Knights have been very well examined in the Vidocs and they play as you can imagine. They are a great new addition to the Halo sandbox, but in this game at least, they are only that, an addition. While 343 are right when they say that the Covenant is no longer the main threat, they still have a large part to play in the game. Strictly game play wise, I would say that the Covenant and Forerunner Prometheans are divided 50/50. So keep that expectation in check. You'll be seeing both throughout the game pretty equally. This is why I mentioned before that it feels like 343 held back a little and Halo 4 shows it in its enemy variety. Just like Halo 1 established the Covenant, and then introduced more variations of enemies and newer foes in the next games (Wild Halo 2 Brutes, Halo 3 Brute packs, Brute Chieftains, Drones, grunts driving vehicles in Halo 2, suicide grunts, etc...), in that same way I think 343 has made a good start at establishing the Prometheans. But in the next games, there does need to be work put in to make a more comprehensive enemy sandbox for the Prometheans. Most of you already know everything you need to about the Promethean weapons. The dual firing mode is great and useful, and they weapons look and sound great. The only exception is the Promethean Suppressor. That gun sounds like a toy and plays like one too. Light Rifle and Scattershot are fantastic. The human shotgun is probably the best looking Halo gun ever. The Pistol, BR and DMR are all great and have their own place in the sandbox. Using them is so satisfying, but that is partly due to the fact that every grunt, jackal and crawler is 1-shot headshot. You cannot understand how much more enjoyable that makes this game. Thank you Halo overlords!
I wanted to quickly mention QTEís. Do not worry about them. QTEís are extremely rare. Thatís all.
For fans of exploration, you should be happy to hear that you will have to do some hunting for the Terminals. I played the game fairly thoroughly and I only found 2 terminals. For reference, I found all the terminals in CEA on the first play through. So, you do have something to look forward to, now that all the skulls are unlocked from the beginning.
By now all of you have heard the music of Halo 4. You will never understand that importance of a game's score until you've played Halo 4. I think 50% of the way that I felt while playing (and feel now that I'm sorting out my thoughts) has to do with the impression the music left on me. While there is a lot that makes it "just another Halo" for the casual observer, I guarantee you that every one of you will understand that this is a different trilogy; a new story and a new emotional journey. All of that is tied to the music. It is different and amazing. Different and amazing but also very appropriate. All that talk of the "tone" of this game being different, "the more personal story", all of that is conveyed through the music. This music is grandiose, and industrial, and bombastic, and sinister, and ethereal. Believe me, by the time the credits roll and you start reflecting on this game, the music will be a huge architect of shaping those thoughts. A small contingent of people will surely be disappointed that it isn't Marty's classic Halo score, (and even I hope that it makes a little more of an appearance in future games) but this score truly is a big part of what makes Halo 4 so unique and distinctly new.
So for anyone that's loved Halo before, you will love it now. For many others, there have been some barriers to Halo which 343 has put great effort in to breaking down. The graphics are breath taking. The story, especially due to the characters, is A LOT more engaging. The game's pacing is absolutely brilliant, with none of the crippling lows that previous games were hindered by. Of course, if you didn't like Halo's gameplay before then you won't like it now. If you didn't like the controls, or didn't like the sandbox then you won't like it now. But if you were ever interested in Halo before and believed that it had more potential than some of the games were doing justice, than you will be extremely pleased by Halo 4. Halo 4 is consistent in a way that no other Halo is. It has graphics like no other Halo. It has character interaction like no other Halo. It polishes the best of the past, and brings with it exciting and interesting new elements, and it's a wonderful promise for everything that is to come in this new trilogy. All of that wrapped in a heroic 9 Hours.
* I'm conveying my general feelings about this game, that's why I haven't dwelled in to many specifics. Of course like with any game, that are tiny things that you wish were a little bit different (legendary logo for example), but that those small quirks and nitpicks are what you all should discover for yourself. I'm not going to taint your image or your view of this game by overlaying what I think should be different or not be different.