James Cameron once again shoots into the spotlight with his latest blockbuster film, Avatar. Latching onto a mammoth hype machine, the adventure comes home to consoles and PC as well. We jump into the Wii version – MotionPlus and all – and write back with our full report.
Avatar puts you in control of a warrior Na’vi whose homeland (Pandora) has been invaded by plundering humans. In the film, it’s easy to see an allegory having to do with natives that are exploited for the precious resources of their land; however, none of the powerful themes of the movie have been effectively translated over to the video game. There’s a bit of dialogue here and there, as well as the occasional cutscene, but the presentation, for the most part, is quite frugal. Text between missions does most of the storytelling, and overall, the adventure feels generic and uninspired.
For all intents and purposes, Avatar is a stealth action game, much in the vein of the Tenchu series. The combat here, however, is much more fluid, making enemies generally more manageable when out in the open. It is, on occasion, easier to simply waltz into a human encampment and engage enemies head-on, but stealth will be absolutely crucial in most other areas of the game.
Play requires both the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, with options to incorporate use of the Wii MotionPlus and/or Wii Balance Board. In the case of MotionPlus, it’s a sort of double-edge sword that can cause issues with gameplay without actually enhancing the experience all that much.
Movement of your character is controlled with the analog stick; you attack by making swiping gestures with the Wii Remote. With the MotionPlus attached to your controller, attacks are rarely misread, but the reticule – which you will make regular use of – falls easily out of alignment, often making aiming with your bow a clumsy process. Both the A and B buttons are used for multiple purposes, which cause all sorts of additional problems with the controls.
When the controls work, they work fine and often feel fairly satisfying. Though you’re doing little more than waggling your Wii Remote to attack, the controller feedback is decent, and again, gestures are read accurately.
When the controls don’t work – and that’s a good portion of the time – gameplay can be quite frustrating. Your character will automatically enter stealth mode (crouching and lurking slowly) any time an enemy is nearby. It’s kind of a neat mechanic, since it both warns you of an enemy’s presence, as well as streamlines what has, in other, similar games, required players to fiddle with several buttons simultaneously in order to stay hidden. However, often when you’ve been discovered by enemies and are required to engage in full-on combat, your character will remain in stealth mode, forcing you to slowly plod toward the enemy. When you’re being riddled with gunfire and/or RPG rounds, it can mean a cheap and untimely death.
Jumping, climbing, and vaulting are all handled in like fashion, each with similar results. You’ll routinely be forced to fumble around, trying to find a sweet spot in order to simply climb atop some box or ledge. Thankfully, these sorts of activities don’t play too heavily into the action of stealth kills or all-out combat. Since jumps are handled for you after pushing a button, collision detection is never accurate when moving from one platform to another.
The adventure moves along a linear path, comprised of individual missions. By pressing the C button on the Nunchuk, your character will automatically face the direction of your next objective, as well as gain sight of nearby traps and enemies. You can lock onto enemies by holding the Z button, but it can sometimes force the camera into awkward positions that obstruct your view.
Your main weapon throughout the game is a staff, but you’ll also acquire a bow early on in the adventure. Use of the bow is an enjoyable device that helps keep the stealth action from moving along too slowly. Again, MotionPlus is more of a minus in terms of using the pointer functionality, and since melee combat doesn’t benefit greatly from the accessory, the game’s best played without it.
You’ll dispatch most enemies, however, by simply moving in close to them, pushing the B button when prompted, and then gesturing with the Wii Remote. The mechanic is reliable, but enemies are, much like in the Tenchu series, dumb as rocks.
There are also a handful of flying sequences in which you’re riding atop a pterodactyl-like creature, avoiding mines and picking up power-ups along the way. The approach to flight control is interesting, but ultimately it doesn’t work. You’ll pitch and roll by gesturing with the Nunchuk, whilst using your Wii Remote to aim and shoot. Movement with the Nunchuk is unresponsive, and the entire process is discombobulating. (Note: At the time of this review, we were unable to test out the functionality of the Wii Balance Board.)
Drop-in, cooperative play is a nifty addition, though, one that seems to be more prevalent in Wii games these days. Since Avatar is a stealth action game, you and your teammate will really have to coordinate well together in order to make things work. But, multiplayer can be a good bit of fun when paired up with the right partner (local only – no online multiplayer). The camera remains fixed on both characters at all times, so you’re limited in terms of strategy. Still, multiplayer is a nice little bonus that greatly appreciates the value of the package.
As you make your way through the world of Pandora, you’ll acquire orbs, which function as the game’s currency. A simplified skill tree is in place that allows you to upgrade your various abilities. It’s implemented in a very uninteresting fashion, and the bonuses you receive don’t feel all that tangible or rewarding.
When it comes to presentation, I found myself often ruminating, “Wow, those are Wii graphics?” Conversely, I often found myself lamenting aloud, “Wow, those are Wii graphics?” Many of the environments exhibit a gorgeous level detail, with individual blades of grass waving in the wind, and the draw distance is truly impressive, suffering from no pop-in whatsoever. Unfortunately, there are ample moments of ugliness as well – everything from sloppy, pre-rendered cutscenes, to blocky textures and rigid animation. The worst graphical offender, however, would have to be the consistently sluggish framerate that too often impedes gameplay.
Musically, the game is completely unremarkable, and none of the sound effects and explosions impress. Themes sit in the background, doing a decent enough job supporting gameplay, but there’s nothing here you’ll remember even minutes after you’ve shut the game off. The voice acting is barely serviceable, and there isn’t much of it. The entire soundtrack for the game is patched together with seemingly little care or attention to detail, which, ironically, is in keeping with most other elements of the overall production.
James Cameron’s Avatar is sure to offer ample entertainment on “the big screen,” but the adventure for Wii will be easily forgotten. The storytelling is abbreviated to the point of irrelevance, leaving only a flawed gameplay experience to fall back on. The stealth action is competent, but it’s formulaic and repetitive. There are no extras or unlockables, and ultimately James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game is an anemic package with little to no replay value.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.6 Graphics
At first glance, Avatar will make most folks do a double-take when they consider this is a Wii game. However, a sluggish framerate and ugly cutscenes drag down the visual experience often. 3.3 Control
Combat and stealth controls are decent, and use of the bow can be pure joy. Flight mechanics, poor collision detection, and other issues mar the adventure significantly. 2.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
In a word: average. The voice work is uninspired and sounds forced. Musical themes and sound effects do little to add excitement to the gameplay. 2.6
It’s a short adventure, and when compared to the other consoles, Wii owners are essentially getting half a game. The local co-op is a nice addition, but the complete lack of extras makes this an expensive extension to James Cameron’s new mythology.
3.0 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.