Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft, Lightstorm Entertainment, 20th Century Fox Games
Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC (reviewed on Xbox 360)
If you haven’t heard of James Cameron’s Avatar by now then chances are you’ve been living under a rock somewhere as at the time of writing the movie is already at cinema’s blowing people away with its outstanding visuals. With a movie this big there is always the inevitable release of a game and we all know how those usually turn out, don’t we?! Despite that though, we thought we would see for ourselves if the game could live up to the high standards of the movie. Does it tread usual movie tie-in ground or does it surprisingly impress? What are you waiting for?! Hit the jump and find out what we think of James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game.
STORY: The story for James Cameron’s Avatar takes place two years before the movie and revolves around RDA Signals specialist “Able” Rider. Although you are never officially told what the characters first name is, somewhere along in the games main narrative the name “Able” is given to you. So after you have decided whether you would like to play a male or female by choosing one of the random generic models available, you are sent on a 5 year space ride to the planet Pandora to serve as Signal Specialist for the RDA military outfit.
Upon getting there you are given a few menial tasks to get you accustomed to the mechanics of the game, such as defending an RDA base. Soon enough you’re informed you are one of the few to possess a genetic match (imagine that, what luck!) that qualifies you to take part in the Avatar program, where by your consciousness will be implanted within a Na’vi Avatar to make “co-operating” with the Na’vi themselves run more smoothly. Naturally things don’t go smoothly at all as you are sent out to help your fellow Avatars and are informed by them that the RDA have no intention of helping the Na’vi but instead wish to get rid of them to serve their own purposes. Of course this doesn’t sit right with the RDA and you are eventually tasked with eliminating the “mole”. This leads to you having to make a decision (of course, like we didn’t see that coming) that pretty much decides what type of experience you will be getting. As it turns out Avatar isn’t just one game but two! On one hand you have an action adventure game and on the other hand you have a third person shooter but more on that later. Inevitably you end up choosing whether to execute the Avatar traitor or your fellow RDA soldiers. Make no mistake though, this is about as interesting as it gets in terms of storyline and will most likely be the last time you care about any of the plot “developments” that occur over the course of this game.
The rest of the story serves as motivation for the player to advance through the game as both factions struggle over the rare mineral that is only found on the planet of Pandora, Unobtainium (I see much thought went into that name). As it turns out, whoever controls this precious rock essentially gains control over the planet of Pandora.
The story on the whole is a little disappointing considering the source but it serves its purpose in giving reason to the activities taking place within the world of Pandora. It won’t leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth nor will it blow you away. It is a shame that the only time it becomes even slightly interesting is when it questions the morality of the player early on in the game.
SOUND: As with much of Avatar’s design the audio present is adequate but never out of this world. The sound effects do their job and don’t feel out of place. The soundtrack remains ambient for the most part but kicks it up a notch during battle and set pieces most notably towards the end of the campaigns where the orchestral pieces become more enjoyable. The voice acting in the game manages to remain consistent and never out of place. Never in the campaign did I feel the need to cringe at the delivery of dialogue or the attempt at a foreign accent.
GRAPHICS: The graphics present in Avatar are a bit more sporadic in that certain areas of the game manage to look stunning while others don’t hold up so well. So we might as well start with good or in this case the quite gorgeous. Naturally I’m talking about the landscape present in Pandora. Whether you are looking at a lush, flowing, tropical jungle or the aftermath of human destruction as they tear down an ancient civilisation you can’t help but appreciate the work that went into creating such a view. The addition of stereoscopic 3D only serves to heighten the experience as a new layer of depth is added to an already surreal setting. With it you almost feel the need to reach out and touch a leaf as you strafe past the greenery or duck out the way of an incoming ledge while you’re piloting one of the various aerial vehicles present in the game. Never fear though as even without the addition of 3D graphics the modified Far Cry 2 Engine still manages to churn out some very pleasing visuals.
Sadly it’s not all sunshine and daisies for Avatar’s graphics as the more you progress through the game and the more gorgeous environments that are shown to you, you soon realise that something looks out of place. The character models in Avatar look significantly outdated compared to the rest of the world. The most notable offenders are the humans. It might be a testament to how good the environments in Avatar truly are but that would just be wishful thinking as the character models don’t live up to today’s standards. That being said the Xbox 360 was not designed for stereoscopic gaming and this could just be one of the drawbacks along with the inconsistent frame rate when running the game in 3D but the overall feel is one of beauty.
GAMEPLAY: As previously mentioned Avatar plays out slightly differently depending on an early choice you make, the outcome of this decides whether you play the game as part of the RDA or take it back to basics with the Na’vi. Each faction has its advantages and disadvantages or so the game would like us to believe. In reality it can be rather one sided as the RDA get all the “nifty” gadgets while the Na’vi pretty much rely on close range combat. This isn’t really helped by the finicky combat system available to the Na’vi. In most cases you are reduced to charging at your enemy repeatedly taping the right trigger which can become quickly tedious. This is not helped by the games camera which seizes every opportunity to interrupt combat where possible making it frequently impossible to view your surroundings. Variety is introduced into combat in the form of abilities such as cloaking, increased running speed, increased fire power and so on, but there is very little difference between the abilities of the RDA and Na’vi other than naming conventions. For example as the RDA you eventually get access to the “Elite Training” ability increasing speed while the Na’vi gets an almost identical ability under the name “Kinetic Dash”. These copy and paste abilities leave very little reason to pick the Na’vi over the RDA. In contrast RDA gameplay is more akin to your typical third person shooter and is where the game manages to slightly redeem itself. With the combination of abilities and solid gunplay the RDA campaign manages to churn out a decent shooter that keeps you entertained for the most part.
Both factions also have the ability to upgrade their weapons and it is this reward system that keeps you motivated to play, as is often the case in this type of game. The upgrades come about from “levelling up”, which is done by doing various tasks for the inhabitants of Pandora and gaining XP or killing your enemies. Unfortunately the upgrades you acquire make very little difference in the grand scheme of things as about 60% of the conflicts that occur in the game are completely avoidable by simply running away.
This brings me to your main means of levelling up, the “quests” themselves. You soon come to realise that your missions, no matter which faction you are a part of, are very linear and repetitive. For the most part you will be sent from destination to destination to pick up generic items to use at another destination. While on the odd occasion you might be asked to defend a “strategic” position on the map. About half way through your chosen campaign you will be given the same monotonous mission repeatedly regardless of your chosen fraction, to obtain the unobtainium shards (look I made a funny…ahem, moving on). It’s this lack of variety which pretty much stops Avatar from being a good game and resigns it to being just a playable one.
On top of the main story Avatar allows you to play a mini-game using the XP you have acquired throughout the game. It is essentially a game of risk that rewards you with character enhancements for your chosen faction tied with some light turn based strategy elements. The premise is for you to take territories on one of Pandora’s moons by investing XP in “units” that you use to invade said territories. It also allows you to construct a few building for defence and unit production outside of your main territory. You never really get to see any of this take place and instead are presented with a globe representation where stats and units are shown. This does little more than serve as a slight distraction from the main campaign but can be relatively fun in short intervals.
LONGEVITY: If you are planning to storm your way through Avatar’s main storyline and want to complete both sides of the story it can take you around ten hours. That being said if you plan on visiting the conquest mode and clearing all the sector challenges for each faction (God knows why you would want to) then you can add two or three hours on top of that.
VERDICT: James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game manages to churn out a decent third person action game despite its very obvious shortcomings. If you’re looking for a chance to show off your newly purchased stereoscopic 3D set-up and get a playable action game while doing so then this will suffice. Otherwise it is just a decent one time playthrough, nothing more and nothing less.
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