And So The Warrior…
As one of the most prolific screenplay writers and film directors of all time, James Cameron seems to find immense success with every new project. With his skill and reputation combining with state of the art technology, as well as a huge budget, it would seem as though there is very little chance that his latest film, Avatar, will be any different. While Avatar is sure to clean up at the box office, the PSP version of the game based on the film property will probably not be as lucky.
In a strange choice, the events of Avatar: The Game (ATG) aren’t taken directly from the film its named after. Instead, players will take on the role of one of the Na’vi – blue cat-like natives of the planet Pandora – simply referred to as The Warrior. The Warrior’s village has been destroyed by the Resource Development Administration (RDA), a company from Earth that is pillaging Pandora’s resources, leaving him enraged and looking for vengeance. The story basically boils down to an eye for an eye parable that showcases what can happen when you don’t respect the rights and customs of other living beings.
The Warrior’s quest to regain artifacts that were taken from his people as well as to make those responsible for the destruction of his village pay is a mostly stealth-based affair. A majority of the levels in ATG have The Warrior located in the lush jungles of Pandora, sneaking through tall grass or across high tree limbs in order to get the drop on unsuspecting RDA flunkies. Since your main weapon is a staff and all of your enemies are equipped with guns, being covert is of the utmost importance to your survival. Unfortunately, your enemies aren’t the only thing working against you during this adventure.
There are so many things in this game that inhibit your ability to perform the most basic of tasks that it’ll be tough to name them all, but I’ll attempt to be fairly thorough. First of all, you’re given a pretty broken camera that is more likely to give you a close-up of the ground than an adequate view of your enemies. There is no direct camera control to be found to help compensate for this, only the ability to center it behind your character by pressing the L button. This also frequently leads to close-ups of the ground, making it next to impossible to sneak up behind enemies for one-hit-kill stealth attacks or to even know which direction your foes might be facing.
Stealth gameplay is further hindered by the game’s environments and the way in which you interact with them. As I mentioned, being on a high tree limb or in tall grass is supposed to make you more difficult to spot but that’s not always the case. Whenever there are enemies nearby, the edges of the screen will blur, letting you know you should be hiding. Unfortunately, you can’t actually crouch (your only real means of hiding) on your own accord. Instead, the game decides when your character should crouch and when they should just stand upright and get filled full of lead, which is often the case. You can still try to place yourself behind a crate or fully out of view of your enemies until the game decides to make you crouch, but the fact that you have absolutely no control over such an important aspect of your stealth, and that it is handled so poorly by the game, is a constant source of frustration.
Once the stealth approach inevitably breaks down, all you’ve got are your weapons. The staff is fairly easy to connect with but seriously lacks power, needing to strike enemies many times in order to take them out. As you can imagine, this doesn’t work out particularly well when facing off against groups of enemies who have become alerted due to your inability to sneak up on them.
You also have access to a bow, which has a ton of problems that make it fairly worthless. The bow can be manually aimed or directed more easily by holding the L button in order to automatically lock on to your closest enemy, at least in theory. Locking on to enemies rarely works correctly, often refusing to target your closest enemy and going for ones that are potentially out of range instead. This leads to you constantly trying to finesse the camera while repositioning yourself in hopes that the game will actually realize that there is indeed an enemy right in front of you. Readying a shot with the bow can take several seconds, far too slow to be effective, especially once you have been spotted while trying to target the correct enemy. There’s also a pretty huge issue with hit detection because of objects in the environment. The game will often not let you shoot an arrow because it thinks that something is in the way, even when you are clearly aiming around it. Conversely, you can also manage to shoot some arrows directly through crates and objects because the game doesn’t realize that they’re there. The real problem is that you never know which will be the case until you try, and if it fails, it is likely already too late to be of any use.
Both of your weapons, as well as your Way of the Warrior ability, which makes you more difficult to spot and more resistant to damage for a short time, can be leveled up during play. Killing enemies and finding white glowing objects will net you spirits, which can be cashed in and used to purchase upgrades. Each of your three upgradable items have very basic tech trees, with branching lines of upgrades that need to be purchased in order to get to the more useful improvements. This part of the game worked fine and, thankfully, helped to take some of the edge off of the broken stealth gameplay by making your weapons and abilities at least moderately more effective.
Besides the jungle-based levels, you’ll also find a few that take place in what The Warrior refers to as metal villages as well as some banshee flight levels. The levels that take place in the metal villages play almost identically to those in the jungle, although you’ll need to hide on the tops of small buildings and in water as opposed to tree limbs and grass. However, the banshee flight levels are a welcome breath of fresh air, at least at first. In these levels you’ll need to steer the large flying creature to collect spirits while also shooting down enemy aircraft and floating mines. The only aircraft you come across are the Halo-esque helicopters, which generally require a decent amount of damage and a quick-time event (QTE) in order to take them down. Battling these can be entertaining, except that they end with the exact same QTE every time. The button presses required to complete them don’t even change. This, sadly, causes these segments to feel incredibly stale after only a few encounters.
In terms of visuals and story, this title really isn’t that bad. Even on the small PSP screen, Pandora and its inhabitants look decent and the message about not exploiting others for your own personal gain is a relevant one. Unfortunately, the clunky and repetitive gameplay destroys any chance the game had at being an enjoyable experience. If you want to take control of a Na’vi and experience Pandora before the release of the Avatar film, you’re better off either just waiting or trying ATG out on another platform.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.8 Graphics
Pandora and its inhabitants all look respectable, with a good amount of detail. 1.9 Control
Constantly fighting with the camera for a useable view, not being able to crouch, and having a broken lock-on mechanic ensure that you’ll find this adventure frustrating. 2.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
While there’s nothing particularly noteworthy in this department, there is a small amount of decent voice work during some cutscenes. 1.8 Play Value
At only twelve levels, this game is incredibly short. But, in the case of ATG, that’s a blessing. 1.9 Overall Rating – Avoid
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.