Playing any Halo game on Xbox Live quickly reveals the hordes of children and teens enjoying this Mature-rated series.
But the M rating, just like its Restricted movie counterpart, is pretty broad in scope and may not be extremely helpful for parents trying to decide whether or not to allow their children to play a particular game. For example, a wide gulf separates the content of the films The Matrix and Hostel, though both films sport an R rating.
As Microsoft’s biggest exclusive series, each Halo title makes a big cultural splash, and gamer kids are bound to beg when Halo 4 is released November 6th.
But as a parent, Halo’s sci-fi shooting may not be familiar, or you may not know how its content has evolved since you system linked the 2001 original at your local LAN party.
Counting a 2011 remake of Halo, Halo 4 is the 7th first-person shooter in the Halo series and the direct sequel to 2007’s Halo 3. All have been rated Mature and included predictable levels of violence, sex and drugs.
The epic plot and hero appeals to all ages, and parents who approve can enjoy Halo 4 with their kids because every facet includes cooperative play.
We’ve pulled together a quick synopsis of the game’s potentially questionable content to help parents make a more informed decision about whether to pick it up for their kids.
Here’s what content Halo games do have:
Blood: Aliens bleed all colors and human allies bleed red, as do others in multiplayer.
Gore: In past games, the Flood reanimated corpses and piled dead biomass into ghoulish graves. The concepts are typically more graphic than the depiction, and though the Flood (hopefully!) is out, other mild body horror may emerge.
Death: Not just the anonymous enemy waves meet their end—genocide occurs and established characters often check out in heroic fashion.
Language: During campaign missions, the scripts include scattered uses of damn, hell, bastard, asshole and shit—but the words were saltiest in 2009’s Halo 3: ODST, when the action focused on a group of shock troops. In 2010, Halo: Reach actually toned things down with its squad of Spartans.
But as with all games, once Xbox Live is involved, enabling voice chat opens the door to every obscene phrase imaginable.
Sexually suggestive imagery: The original protagonist, Master Chief, returns for Halo 4 and with him is Cortana, his Artificial Intelligence companion. Portrayed as a woman rendered in blue circuitry, her curves are on display throughout the game’s campaign but anatomical details are absent. Halo: Reach and ODST sidestepped this issue because Cortana wasn’t a main character, but she returns in Halo 4 with—like everything else—greater graphical fidelity.
As for the real women, they’re typically covered head-to-toe in armor, and removing a helmet usually doesn’t go well.
Here’s what content Halo games do not have:
Graphic violence: There isn’t any dismemberment or gratuitous violence a la Mortal Kombat. Assassinations from behind keep their splashy animations from Halo: Reach and vary for each weapon or item, but the brutality is more visceral than bloody.
The f-word: Many shooters throw this in once an M rating is already assured. But unlike, say, Rainbow Six: Vegas, Halo’s cannon fodder doesn’t swear incessantly, though who knows what’s being said in their alien tongues.
Sexuality: Halo steers clear from any sexual relationships or risque innuendo outside of rare taunts like Sergeant Johnson’s classic line, “I would have been your daddy, but the dog beat me over the fence.”
Drug use: Outside of an adult enjoying a cigar or whiskey, Halo just says no.
The bottom line is that the Halo franchise aims for sci-fi heroics amidst competitive play and dramatic storytelling. The violence is flavored with visceral flourishes and responsive gun play, but the developers have made a series that’s appropriate for many kids without being childish or juvenile. As with anything, parents should exercise their own judgment on what is suitable for their children.