Halo 4 marks the reinvention of one of the most beloved franchises on the XBox 360 platform. The game has been receiving glowing reviews from every corner of the game journalism world, and this praise is rightly earned, because from a gameplay standpoint Halo 4 is excellent. But unfortunately, excellence in gameplay and execution do not mean a game is accessible.
But what is really unfortunate is that the barriers in Halo 4 are not the result of developers choosing to include features that are inaccessible. In fact, most of the barriers within this game come simply from the fact that it is a Halo game and follows in the footsteps of its predecessors.
Players with visual disabilities may have mixed success with this game, since it does feature an incredibly distinctive art style that makes it hard for important elements (such as enemies) to blend into the background. The game also features a nicely implemented radar system in which the enemies show up as large symbols. But because everything in the heads-up display is written in pale blue, even players who do not have visual disabilities may have a hard time perceiving such vital information as the amount of ammo left in each gun, or whether or not the player has crossed a checkpoint—especially when Master Chief is in a level with either a blue sky or an overabundance of blue architecture (which seems to permeate several levels).
Players with fine motor disabilities who have played Halo before will be happy to know that this game seems to be just as accessible as its predecessors. It offer several different customization options for both the stick and button layout. But it is disappointing that there is no layout that sets the fire button to either the left or right bumper on the XBox controller.
Finally, players with auditory disabilities should know that Halo 4 features a set of subtitles that is mostly comprehensive. However, there are some moments (especially early on) where the ambient dialogue is not subtitled at all. This has little effect on the game, except that it will exclude players with hearing disabilities from the full context of what is going on.
No doubt if you were to stop reading now, you would think that Halo 4 is reasonably accessible, because it only has a couple of things that affect each disability individually. But this is not accurate. There are two issues that are so large that they will affect all areas of physical disability when playing this game. The first and most important is that, true to form, Halo 4 is very much a twitch-based game which requires players to have quick reflexes to play the game effectively. For example, players will need to be able to switch rapidly between targets when they are firing on a Promethean Knight that they thought was unprotected but in fact has a Sentinel overhead ready to shield it when its health gets low. This kind of rapid adjustment may be hard for some players with more severe disabilities. Furthermore, twitch-based gameplay also requires a player to have both their eyes and ears unobstructed so that they can adjust to the situation on the battlefield as it unfolds. This issue by itself might give pause to many disabled gamers. But when you couple that with Halo 4’s only real design flaw, these barriers might just become insurmountable.
This game’s only basic flaw is that there are too few checkpoints. As a result, players will end up being sent back a long ways when they die. This means that even though a player may be able to make it through a single hard sequence with lots of enemies, making it through a chain of sequences like this just to reach the next checkpoint will turn Halo 4 from an enjoyable science fiction shoot-‘em-up into a task laden slog as the player is forced to repeat the battles they just completed because the next group of Prometheans was too fast to handle.
This is one of the games that I really wish I could give a higher rating—especially because it is not poor design elements that give Halo 4 its barriers—it’s just the fact that it is a Halo game. But any disabled player who purchases Halo should be sure to have a firm idea of what their physical limitations are so that they avoid the disappointment when they begin playing.
Please feel free to leave comments below the article that address your particular accessibility challenges with this game. If you feel there is a major omission in this review, please feel free to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with the word “revision” in the subject line. Please include specific details regarding anything we may have missed. If necessary, we will update our review based on your feedback.
Overall Rating: Partially Accessible
Visual Rating: Partially Accessible
Fine-Motor Rating: Partially Accessible
Auditory Rating: Partially Accessible
Released For: XBox 360
ESRB Rating: M
GameInformer Score: 9.25