In preparing for this article, I reread my review of Halo 4. And it is encouraging to see that some of the issues from the previous installment in the Halo franchise have been alleviated due to more accessible design choices on the part of 343 Industries. Halo 5: Guardians is the first new Halo game to be released on the Xbox One platform. It is a marvel of cinematic storytelling and polished FPS game play and from the standpoint of accessibility, it does a few things better than its predecessor.
From the standpoint of visual accessibility, like its predecessor, Halo 5 represents a mixed bag for disabled gamers. Very little in the game seems to rely on color and the subtitles are executed in high contrast text that makes them easy to read in the surrounding environment. But the lingering problem remains, the heads-up display can sometimes get lost in the action. The opening mission of Halo 5: Guardians tasks the Osiris team with locating and rescuing a UNSC scientist who is being held by the fanatical covenant. This mission takes place in an arctic environment and even though I don’t have any visual disabilities, I found myself on more than one occasion unable to see what I was aiming at because the targeting reticle had blended into the color scheme of the level. This barrier affects more than just targeting. The fact that the HUD is written in light blue means that in certain environments vital information will be obscured, such the amount of ammo left in a weapon. This one barrier has enough of an impact to make any gamers with limited sight hesitant about the accessibility of Halo 5: Guardians. But gamers with other types of visual disability should expect to be able to enjoy this game to its fullest.
From the standpoint of fine motor disabilities, Halo 5 is still a Halo game. It is much more twitch-based than other FPS games on the market. In order to play effectively, gamers will need quick and accurate reflexes. Thankfully, the deaths brought on by this barrier are greatly mitigated with the new squad-based mechanic in the Guardians campaign. Now, when Master Chief or Spartan Locke goes down, the game initiates a bleed-out timer at the end of which, players are reset at the previous checkpoint. But before this happens, the AI members of Blue and Osiris team will attempt to revive the player , thereby preventing the player from having to replay large sections of the game. This is major improvement because the biggest complaint for fine motor impaired players of Halo 4 was that the checkpoints were too few and far between. This new system allows players to recover from their mistakes much faster, thereby making the game more accessible not only for those with fine motor impairments but also gamers with any type of disability. Combine this new feature with the return of Halo’s extensive library of control layouts and one can see a marked improvement of the fine motor accessibility between Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians.
Finally, players with auditory disabilities will be happy to know that they will not be missing any of the cinematic moments in the Guardians storyline. This is due to a comprehensive set of cinematic subtitles that are both well-executed and easy to read. However, the ambient dialogue is still not subtitled and it is more of a problem in this version of Halo and than in previous ones. For example, in one of the early missions, Master Chief and his squad are maneuvering through the coolant pipes of a reactor and every once in a while a covenant grunt will run up and explode on contact with the team. Players with the ability to hear will be able to perceive these suicide attackers before they see them thanks to characteristic sound effects that are not subtitled.
On the whole, Halo 5: Guardians is not perfect but it does represent a significant improvement in physical accessibility when compared to earlier Halo games.
Overall Rating: Thoroughly Accessible
Visual Rating: Thoroughly Accessible
Fine-Motor Rating: Thoroughly Accessible
Auditory Rating: Thoroughly Accessible
Released For: Xbox One
ESRB Rating: M
GameInformer Score: 8.75