James Cameron's Avatar: The GameESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Category: Action Games
Avatar seems to be seen everywhere, be it in the news, movie trailers, billboards, toys, and anywhere you may think. It is surely one of the most hyped movies of this past year, so we should not be surprised that there is a video game tie-in that has recently hit store shelves. Ubisoft has been working closely with director James Cameron and Lightstorm Entertainment to bring us Avatar: The Game. On all fronts we have been led to believe that this is more than just another licensed movie game, and that this is a game that can stand on its own as a quality product. So, were we duped by the director's appearance at E3 or has Ubisoft created a game to live up to the film's hype?
Right off the hop you can tell that Avatar looks pretty damn good. The jungles of Pandora are lush and vibrant and are quite impressive when compared to any current game on the market. I thought the game's visuals also looked quite good and quite comparable to some of the clips and trailers that I have seen that are from the movie. Colors tend to pop off the screen at every turn and the huge landscapes of Pandora look quite amazing when you stop for a moment to check them out. Characters are animated well enough, with the electric blue of the Na’vi really standing out nicely. I thought some of the bigger indigenous wildlife did not look as convincing, but this is merely a minor gripe.
Technically speaking the game runs at a fairly decent framerate, even online, although I did notice dips during a few heavy battle scenes. I also noted some clipping issues especially when flying some of the various flying crafts. I think that this may have been a result of the sometimes wonky third person perspective camera, but overall it was manageable.
The new Avatar movie has been created in 3D, and the game also has the option to choose this feature if you have the ability to do so. To be honest I’m not sold on the 3D effect as of yet but it would be really unfair for me to comment on this as I did not have the appropriate hardware to test this out. That being said, I can see how this option could be very popular in the future after more development time.
I was a little disappointed at first with the games voice work. Sigourney Weaver, one of the movie's star characters, is credited with being in the game, but her appearance is quite brief. Unfortunately she disappears once you have left for the planet and onto your missions. As for the rest of the cast, they are pretty good, but not great. The dialogue and script are at times quite underwhelming and it can come across as too sterile at times. The game runs in Dolby Digital so the sound effects are decent but nothing really spectacular. Environmental sounds are lifelike, and the weapons and explosions are pretty cool, but overall it just didn't have that oomph that I was really looking for. The game's music is also pretty good with a handful of tracks that are quite memorable. That being said, the soundtrack as a whole felt a bit unfinished, and sparse. Overall I would have to say that a little more attention to the "nitty gritty" details would have made the sound even better then it is.
The game's story kicks off with you arriving on Pandora as a Resources Development Administration (RDA) signal specialist. Upon arriving you are informed there is a traitor in the RDA who is giving away military secrets to the Na’vi, and you are responsible for tracking them down. About half-an-hour in you will be faced with an interesting twist as (*spoiler alert*) as the time does come where you find the traitor but at this juncture you are given the choice to take them out and continue working for the RDA or to defect to the Na’vi and fight against the corporate machine. I chose to play as the RDA during my first go around. Here your mission is to acquire fragments of Unobtanium, as strange as it sounds this is what the valuable mineral resource of Pandora is called. You will need the unobtanium to find a secret location on Pandora that will give the RDA control of the planet. Should you go down the other gameplay path, and decide to spare the triator's life,and play through as the Na’vi, you will find that you have to defend the planet’s natural resources from the vile military machine of the RDA at any cost.
Unfortunately I found the story not as engaging as I hoped or particularly well written. The human characters are bland stereotypes and quite sterile feeling at times with their stiff dialogue. The Na’vi dialogue is not any better, which results in a "lets get this over with already" train of thought. Regardless of which side you choose the single-player missions always turn into long winding quests that eventually culminate in boss fights. It is not that bad at the onset, but when every single new mission is the same as the last, with the only difference being the amount of minor tasks you will have to complete along the way before the completing the major task at hand, it can get monotonous. For example, every RDA mission has you collecting three shards of unobtanium before reporting back to your commanding officer after which you will get new co-ordinates for three more shards of unobtanium. As the game progresses, you will have to do more and more yeomen’s work and menial tasks before you’re allowed to go after the unobtanium. This on a whole would not be so bad if those tasks held any weight. Honestly, the mini-missions feel tacked on as if they’ve been put in the game to extend the length of play.
Many of the missions and objectives are placed as far apart on each level’s map as possible, but getting around is easy. We can thank the healthy supply of vehicles and mountable animals for the choice of transportation options. For the most part all the RDA vehicles control fairly well, but the physics sometimes get a bit wonky when hitting rocks or other various objects on the terrain you encounter. Flying around can also pretty fun, although I did find it a bit difficult to gauge how close you are to the floating landmasses. The mountable animals on the other hand are not as nearly enjoyable to use, but it is better than walking long distances.
I found Avatar to have a pretty decent combat system as long as you’re playing on the RDA side. You will play predominately in a third-person view, with the shooting mechanics being well implemented. There can be a few hang-ups with targeting now and then but it is not too frustrating to ruin the overall gameplay experience. While playing I did find it difficult to see the smaller enemies on the screen at times as all the vegetation could make obscure my view of them. Some of the larger animals can be difficult to combat as well due to their ability to close in distances extremely fast. The rouge Na’vi is eliminated quite easily thanks to the range and power of the RDA weapons, especially later in the game. You also have access to some futuristic bonuses, like the ability to heal yourself in battle and a time limited super-speed among others.
Controlling the Na’vi on the other hand is a different story all together. The only ranged weapon they have is a bow and arrow which is pretty much useless against the more advanced humans. Most of their combat relies on up close melee attacks, and they do have some very cool moves that pack a punch (pun intended). Of course most of the humans on foot have weapons that can mow down anything in their way easily and quite effectively. Should you be lucky and get up close you will have to make use of your staff and/or blade weapons or you will be doomed. This combined with the handful of magical attacks, like instant healing and short-range teleporting, make playing as the Na’vi more of a challenge, but it sometimes can feel more rewarding than the RDA side.
Avatar implements a somewhat redundant levelling up system for abilities, armour, and weapons. Everything upgrades based on experience garnered from the tasks you are able to accomplish, so if you don’t finish the tasks you get zero points. Playing as the Na’vi is almost pointless as it is infinitely more difficult to collect such upgrades effectively, and this can cause any gamer a high level of frustration.
The game's multiplayer modes are best summed up in two words: frustrating and annoying. There are a handful of game modes to choose from like Team Death match, King of the Hill, and Attack and Defend, but none of them are all that memorable. While most developers have found a way to combat multiplayer issues like the dreaded spawn camping, Avatar actually pays no mind to advances like random spawn locations. This results in online players who are all too ready to capitalize on the ability to mow you down as soon as you spawn. Thanks, but no thanks to that! The lack of balance between the RDA and the Na’vi characters is even more obvious in multiplayer. Any gamer worth their salt will be able to cut you down from across any level with the endless range of the RDA weapons. It may be really rewarding to learn how to master the Na’vi melee combat system, but jumping into a game and getting stuck on the alien team almost always results in a lopsided loss. Up to sixteen people can play, but if you’re lucky you’ll find yourself in a match with very few people. It seems as though no one wants to play Avatar online. I am sure this is due to fact that there are so many other better multiplayer games out right now, particularly one unnamed beast out there that goes by the initials CoD: MW2.
Continue to Page 2