Common Sense Media Says: Not for kids

Master Chief returns in sci-fi battle that's more violent.

What Parents need to know

Parents need to know that Halo 4 is a sci-fi-themed first-person shooter in which players take on the role of an enhanced super-soldier to kill hundreds of alien enemies in story mode and potentially thousands of human avatars in online matches. Unlike many other first-person shooters, there's no foul language or gore, but there is plenty of blood -- aliens bleed yellow and blue, humans bleed red -- plus new cinematic animations that make hand-to-hand combat kills appear more dramatic. This version of Halo ups the ante in terms of violence as players can now watch Master Chief violently beating his opponents to death. Parents should be aware, too, that this game supports open online communication with strangers.

Consumerism:This game is part of Microsoft's juggernaut Halo franchise, which spans books, comics, live-action films, and toys.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking:Not applicable

Language:Not applicable

Positive messages:This game glamorizes fantastical and futuristic violence by putting players in the boots of a space marine seemingly capable of wiping out entire alien armies by himself. Its intent is to entertain via images of spectacular sci-fi combat.

Ease of play:Halo 4 plays almost exactly like previous Halo games, so returning players -- and anyone used to modern first-person shooters in general -- should find themselves at home in minutes. Multiple difficulty modes allow both rookies and veterans to set a suitable level of challenge, though beginners could have a frustrating time online, where competition is steep.

Positive role models:The Master Chief is a relentless warrior who uses violence to solve virtually every problem he encounters. That said, he's clearly a good guy intent on saving his fellow humans as well as his home planet, Earth. He also exhibits some real human emotion, especially in his close friendship with the artificial intelligence Cortana.

Privacy & safety:Serious privacy and safety concerns. This game supports open voice communication, which means players may encounter bad language and inappropriate topics of discussion among other players.

Sex:The artificial intelligence Cortana projects a form that mimics the body of a real woman. Her "body" is composed of flashing, scrolling light and shows no detail, but the crisp lines of her body suggests she may be nude.

Violence:Players kill alien creatures using a vast arsenal of realistic and fantastical weapons, including rifles, pistols, grenades, energy swords, rockets, and vehicles. Enemies flail realistically when struck, screaming and spurting colorful blood that stains the environment. For the first time in this series, melee kills sometimes result in the camera pulling back to show a more cinematic shot of the Master Chief violently beating his opponent to death. Humans become the player's target in online multiplayer mode. They bleed red blood and grunt when killed.

What's the story?

HALO 4, the Master Chief's first new adventure in five years, picks up right where its predecessor left off, with a broken UNSC ship floating dead in space. The Chief rests inside in cryosleep, the artificial intelligence Cortana holding watch. It's not long, however, before the vessel falls under attack by Covenant forces, and the Chief soon finds himself crashing onto the surface of a strange alien world. The story that follows reveals new details about the Forerunners (the ancient aliens who designed the series' titular halos), exposes a new threat to humanity, and delves into the Chief's close friendship with Cortana, who is suffering a kind of digital mental breakdown. In addition to the six hour campaign, which shows off new weapons and vehicles (including alien rifles and a towering UNSC mech), players can look forward to more of Halo's trademark multiplayer action, including a serialized cooperative campaign composed of new episodes releasing on a weekly basis.

Is it any good?

The Master Chief's long-awaited return manages to live up to the series' daunting reputation, delivering an experience that feels very much like a classic Halo game while adding a few new elements to the formula. Missions are fast-paced and often spectacular, new enemies are smart and challenging, and online play is extremely habit-forming. Plus, players finally get to peer a little more deeply into the Master Chief's soul thanks to a narrative that sees him fighting through hordes of deadly enemies to save his ailing digital friend Cortana. (Turns out he's a bit of a softie when it comes to his long-time A.I. companion.)One wishes the campaign lasted a little longer, and that the co-op missions had more shape and a deeper narrative, but these are minor criticisms. Halo 4 is the sort of game that many players will keep in their consoles for weeks on end, making it a great value for the grownup gamers it's intended to entertain.