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I was a latecomer to Halo and my introduction to the universe was an outlier, Halo 3: ODST, which still remains the game I have logged the most hours and longest sessions on. I began to play the core games in the wrong order whilst reading the books, desperately trying to make sense of the plot. Halo has many things that make it difficult for me to play, but it had me hooked from the start. I may be a latecomer to an established franchise, but I am an enthusiastic participant nonetheless.
Halo 4 is the first in the franchise created by 343 Industries, Microsoft Studios’ internal-build team established to create new Halo content. Bungie has left some immense footsteps to follow and I was not entirely convinced that Halo 4 could match the passion, design and flawless execution that has been a hallmark of the Halo series for over a decade.
The story begins four years after the ending of Halo 3:
“After thirty years of war with the Covenant, humanity finally found victory. The Master Chief, a Spartan super-soldier, and Cortana, an AI construct of unmatched technical sophistication, put an end to the Covenant, the Flood, and the threat of the Halo array on a remote installation known as the Ark. Now, in the wake of the conflict, the Chief and Cortana drift through space aboard the remains of Forward Unto Dawn, slowly approaching a mysterious artificial world they will soon come to call Requiem.”1
Reasons to play it
Cortana has always been one of the defining characters of Halo and she is absolutely terrific in Halo 4. Cortana is an artificial construct, an artificial intelligence with no physical form constructed from the cloned brain of Dr Catherine Halsey, the creator of the Spartan project. She is classified as a “smart” AI who can learn, adapt and expand, but at the cost of a short lifespan of 7 years, at which point ‘rampancy’, a condition similar to Alzheimer’s, sets in. Cortana provides the heart and soul for Halo 4 and rescues it from an otherwise pedestrian plot.
Well presented familiarity
Halo 4 carries on the Halo tradition. It is visually appealing with a selection of iconic lush environments, the music is even better than that of its predecessors and its technically near perfect with amazing image quality for this console generation with consistently good frame rates and excellent performance with no obvious bugs, crashes or errors.
Room for Improvement
Halo 3 ends with Forward unto Dawn drifting in space very far away from everyone and everything and that provides Halo 4 a clean slate to fill from the start. Unfortunately, it fills the slate with more of the same with a few twists here and there, like the Prometheans. The Promethean weapons are a new edition and expansion of the Halo arsenal, but they are very similar, except they are bright orange. It makes them quick to master as it is easy to recognize he sniper rifle, the shotgun, the pistol etc, but it also makes them less interesting. The Promethean enemies are also a spin on the Covenant, just shinier and the parallels drawn quickly steal the sense of anything new.
Great but not incredible
Halo 4 is a lot like Halo 3 and I was hoping for it to be more like ODST or Reach. The Halo series is lovely, but Reach and ODST in particular, were spectacular. If only the new enemies were more different than the same, if only it had a decent story, if only its makers had made been a bit more adventurous and if only Nathan Fillion had a voice acting part, it could have been incredibly spectacular.
No fire fight
Fire fight was and always will be one of my favourite Halo features. I still hound my friends to go back to ODST for just one more fire fight. Halo 4 does not have fire fight. Instead, it has episodic co-op called Spartan Ops. I really would have loved more fire fight maps.
Photophobia (Light Sensitivity)
Halo 4 is not accessible if you have photophobia, a common symptom of migraine, autistic spectrum disorders, cataracts, colour blindness, dyslexia or traumatic brain injury. It has extremely bright visual effects throughout, including orange beam effects for the new Promethean weapons. There is an alternative for the player – I quickly picked up my trusted DMR, but enemies and any co-op partners that you play with use bright weapons that cannot be avoided. The Halo series has always been flashy and Halo 4 is carries the same bright visual style.
It is moderately accessible if you suffer from simulation sickness, motion sickness induced by video games. There are some triggers, like simulated driving and flying, that cannot be avoided. It is a first person perspective, but I found that as long as I focused on enemies and objects in the distance, that this did not bother me nearly as much as it usually does in first person shooters. It is definitely worth recruiting a co-op partner to help out with the driving and flying sequences.
Low Vision and Visual Field Defects
Halo 4 is moderately accessible if you have blurred vision, visual distortion, tunnel vision (peripheral field loss) or blind spots in your visual field. The menu system and user interface (UI) is well designed and uses standard text usually against a high contrast background as well as icons. In-game elements are easy to discern on default settings, it has decent audio cues and the reticule is usually quite large and changes colour from blue to red when targeting enemies.
Colour Blindness (Colour Vision Deficiency)
It is very accessible if playing with a colour vision deficiency and there is little reliance on colour alone. The reticule does change colour from blue to red, but even with complete colour blindness, the colour change is a small help. Enemies are easily recognizable by their race, weapons and demeanor.
- Screen Brightness 1 – 10
- Restore Original Settings
Subtitles & Closed captioning
All dialogue has subtitles. Subtitles are turned off as default, but can be turned on in the Options menu. For those with tinnitus or a mild to moderate hearing impairment, audio is quite easy to follow with no excessive background noise during cut scenes or pivotal conversations.
Multiplayer modes/games: Voice chat is optional for multiplayer matches and is used by many players. There is no text-based alternative to voice chat.
Reliance on auditory cues
Audio cues are helpful, but usually accompanied by a visual counterpart. It is easy to tell the location of enemies even without access to the audio cues thanks to the damage indicator that points an arrow to the source of whatever is shooting at and hitting you. Halo 4 can be played without sound and although it is a little harder without the audio cues, it is very accessible to deaf and hard of hearing players.
- Mute Voice Chat on/off
- Control Voice Chat: All players or Team and Party
- Subtitles: Automatic/On/Off
- Restore Original Settings
Halo 4 is well designed for players with physical impairments. There are many difficulty levels and on Easy and Normal mode to some extent, there is no need to duck and cover and players can remain in the open, take their time to find and eliminate their target. There are no Quick Time Events, but there are two driving/flying sequences that do require quick reactions, even on Easy mode and they are unavoidable. If you find these impossible, you can recruit a friend in co-op to boost you through these sections.
Precision (Manual Dexterity)
A moderate level of precision is needed to complete Halo 4. Support options are available and include aim assist and view point centering. Different weapons allow for flexibility and some require much less precision to use than others. Using these features, Halo 4 becomes much more accessible for anyone who lacks precise muscular control, often a result of partial paralysis, tremors, spasms or other involuntary movement.
Halo 4 offers a short 5-6 hour campaign as well as endless enjoyment through multiplayer modes. The campaign is most enjoyable when played in 30-45 minute sessions long enough to complete each small chapter. For those with chronic fatigue or pain conditions who need frequent or unplanned breaks, the option to pause any time is very useful and natural breaks created by each chapter encourage players to pause rather than enticing them to continue playing.
The game has check point saves only, but these are frequent enough not to be annoying.
Complexity of Controls
The controls employed by Halo 4 is quite complex. It can only be played with an Xbox 360 controller or adapted Xbox 360 compatible specialist equipment. There is no button mapping, but there is a good selection of layouts available to try. It will be very difficult to play with one hand without your own hardware. There is no auto run key and players have to hold down “W” to move forwards.
- Button Layout: Default, Southpaw, Boxer, Green Thumb, Bumper Jumper, Recon, Fishstick
- Stick Layout: Default, Southpaw, Legacy, Legacy Southpaw
- Look Inversion: Not inverted, Inverted
- Look Sensitivity: 1 – 10
- Autolook Centering: Disabled / Enabled (Enabled: your view is automatically centered when you move forward)
- Crouch Behavior: Toggle Crouch, Hold to Crouch
- Clench Protection: Disabled/Enabled (Enabled: you are protected against accidental stick presses)
- Flight Inversion: Not Inverted/Inverted (Inverted: Moving the look stick forward makes flying vehicles dive)
- Theater Camera
- Restore Original Settings
The language used is quite complex with some jargon, but is provided as both audio and text. Text is in a standard format, but dialogue is on a timed display that follows the plot. Writing is not required at any point.
There is no great reliance on memory and there is no quest log, inventory, currency or complex navigation.
Calculations and Currency
Halo 4 benefits from understanding basic math. Players have to manage their ammo, but this is only relevant when playing tactically and as weapons are scattered when enemies are killed, it is easy to just pick up a new weapon when empty rather than keeping track.
Complexity and Support
The game menu, mechanics, plot and game controls are relatively easy to master and in-game support is available to make it easier. Little navigational skills is needed to get around as the areas are quite small and linear.
It is a single player campaign with no player determined interaction with NPCs. In addition, there is a 2-4 player co-op option and online multiplayer.
Halo 4 lives up to the Halo reputation and in some ways, like the music score, excels beyond . The story is a bit drab and the new developers erring on the side of caution has resulted in a game that does everything fans would expected. Halo 4, like other Halo titles before, have very bright lighting effects limiting access to anyone sensitive to bright light. It also has driving and flight sequences, like other Halo games and combined with a first person perspective, is less than ideal for those suffering simulation sickness. It requires some precision and will be very difficult to play with one hand, but it also has some incredible accessibility features that level the playing field for many. The view point centering, clench protection and aim assist is particularly useful.
Halo 4 is shiny, bright and traditionally Halo and if you haven’t played it yet, I would highly recommend it.
[stars rating=”4″ type=”Game”]
Product: Halo 4 | Developer: 343 Industries | Publisher: Microsoft Works | Platform: Xbox 360 (exclusive) | Genre: First Person Shooter | Players: 1-4 | Version: Europe | Release Date: October 2012 | Content Rating: PEGI 18 ESRB M