Deaf Game Review – Starlink: Battle for Atlas

Deaf Game Review – Starlink: Battle for Atlas

Can I Play That?5 minute read

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Starlink: Battle for Atlas Deaf Accessibility

Individual scores

  • Visual Representation of Dialogue - 4.2
  • Visual Representation of Sound - 0
  • Visual Cues - 8.3
  • Controller Vibration - 10
Above scores were automatically converted from 0-6 scale to a 0-10 scale.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas is a new venture in the toys-to-life genre from Ubisoft and it takes a novel (and welcome) approach to it. Simply put, you don’t need 8000 toys laying around your house for your kid to be able to play and enjoy the full game. You can play entirely digitally, paying for the digital versions of the physical toys. Thank God.

Now, to understand how and why we’ve rated the game as we did, we first need to talk about deafness and reading comprehension/ability. The simple fact is deaf people often have a lower reading comprehension level than our hearing peers. I’m not going to get into why, you can research that if you’re interested, but understand that it’s a fact. So when you throw kids into the mix, who are still learning how to be deaf in a hearing world, you’re faced with even bigger problems and, when it comes to games, a completely different approach to accessibility needs to be taken.

There are the accepted standards for subtitles in games but generally, those are designed with adults in mind. Things like no more than three lines of text on the screen, reasonable line breaks, suitable font size, etc., these are all important for deaf accessibility but the bare minimum must change when considering deaf kids. Unfortunately Ubisoft didn’t take that into consideration when making Starlink and the game falls far short of being enjoyable for them.

I had my hearing son (age 9) and my deaf nephew (age 10) play this game to help me do the review. I asked my nephew after he spent some time with it and his answer was even more disappointing than I expected. He said, “The flying was fun I guess and the shooting stuff was cool, but I couldn’t read the subtitles, they’re too fast and too long, and there’s too much stuff on the screen for me to know what I should look at. He (my son) kept laughing when he was playing and I don’t know what he’s laughing at because I can’t read that fast. That’s why I don’t like games like you guys do. They just make me feel dumb.”

So with that, let’s dive into the review from his perspective.

Cutscene with two characters talking over video channel

During the cinematic scenes, there are subtitles but no speaker labels and far too often the speaker is either off screen or there’s a group of people and no way to tell who is speaking.

Map screen with tutorial dialogue explaining different icons

This explanation of the map and how to use it is a perfect example of his playthrough being hindered because there’s too much text on the screen for too short of a time. He missed the last 1/3 of the instructions because it disappeared before he’d finished reading.

Cutscene of character near a door with no captioning displayed.

There’s no environmental captioning so scenes that could have told him a great deal about what was happening didn’t, and he quickly lost interest.

In-game flying a ship with minimap, subtitle text, portrait of who is speaking, and mission info
In-game flying a ship with minimap, subtitle text, portrait of who is speaking, button press instructions, and mission info

His complaint that there was too much on the screen to even know where he should be looking is clearly indicated here. You’ve got two portraits, one of your character, one of the person speaking (though not near the subtitles so it’s not exactly helpful) plus the on screen instructions for movement. What do you look at first? What requires your attention immediately? By the time you’ve decided, the subtitles are gone.

Ship fighting in space with icons indicating location of all enemy ships.
Ship fighting in space with icons indicating location of all enemy ships.

He thought the visual cues for things like enemy presence, and the visuals for damage and such were well done and helpful, though again, he felt there was too much on the screen.

Creature scanning screen

What he thought was the most well done was the creature scanning system. There was a clear visual indicator that showed the progress of the scan, along with the percentage complete in the top left.

When starting a new game (and at any time during the game in the pause menu) you have the option to turn off subtitles (they’re on my default) and choose from 3 sizes, as well as adjust the subtitle background opacity. You also can adjust individually different aspects of volume, for things like speech, environmental noise, music, etc.

While I appreciate the effort they put into including these accessibility options, they forgot that this was a kid’s game and that what’s industry standard isn’t standard for kids, making for a difficult or even unwelcoming experience for deaf and hoh kids.

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