A Little Less Control
It’s been some time since moviegoers have seen anything from James Cameron. His last feature film outing was about a sinking ship and someone’s heart going on, or some such nonsense. So when news broke about a new sci-fi adventure coming from one of the fore-fathers of sci-fi films, people got excited. The major concern about the title isn’t whether or not it follows the curse of movie games, but rather will it ruin the hype around the movie coming December 18, 2009?
If you are one of the few gamers that can’t wait to be surprised with a movie’s plot, this game will not appeal to you. In fact, working as a prequel to the upcoming film might not have been the best course of action, as it leaves too much open. While it would have been great to get a leg up on why this and other various actions are occurring, you never really get the opportunity to find any of these things out in the game. Instead, you are more or less inadvertently made privy to what is truly going on. This is one of the big annoyances I have with the game. With this being a prequel, they could have delivered the essence of the plot without really diving into the purpose of the film; instead, you are thrown into the plot desperately trying to stay afloat. For example, you play as Abel Ryder, a new recruit to the Avatar program. Never is it explained what the program truly is or why Abel is excited to be a part of it. Hell, they never even say exactly what an “Avatar” is and what it means.
I understand those are major plot points in the upcoming movie and they don’t want to give anything away, but reducing the amount of information conveyed to the players hinders not only the enjoyment of the game but the overall experience. However, there is one thing that stands out in this title that I could possibly see becoming an option in upcoming titles. As I said, you will play as Abel Ryder (you get to choose your own Avatar look for Abel in the beginning) and soon you will be presented with a choice: either to continue playing on the side of the RDA soldiers, or as the Na’vi, the giant, 10 feet tall, blue aliens on Pandora. This choice alters the rest of the game significantly. Playing as an RDA soldier makes the game a third-person shooter. As the Na’vi, you will be more in for melee combat action similar to others like Devil May Cry and God of War. While this choice does change what type of game you are playing, the overall structure is still the same – tediously boring.
The mission structure for both sides is the same. You will get your mission from various NPCs, ranging from “go here and fix this” to “go here and kill this,” then you’ll return to the person you got the mission from. While initially these missions will keep your interest, eventually you will find yourself in a repetitive rut.
Despite the repetitive nature of the mission structure, the combat works well enough. That being said, it too has its follies. The biggest of these is the camera. While playing as an RDA soldier, you will feel like the camera is too loose when it comes to overall vision and aiming at your enemies. It can make you nauseous, but nowhere near as bad as the camera control on the Na’vi side. Literally, you will have to stop playing at several points during combat phases and catch your bearings just to move on. The vehicles you are able to drive also suffer from a weak camera. You will find yourself questioning just how the RDA soldiers are able to even function if the vehicles control for them the same way they do for you. Like I said, the camera makes it too much of a queasy experience to condone using them. Go on foot, it’ll make it easier – it did for me.
Aside from the camera, the mechanics of the game are average with a few additional bells and whistles. Each side carries their own set of abilities which are similar in basic design. One will allow you to run superfast in short burst, while another will allow you to shield yourself for an equally short period of time. These abilities are fine and well, but I almost think there are too many to choose from. This comes from the leveling system in the game. Each time you get experience points, the system basically does all of the advancing for you, except when it comes to choosing the abilities that you have unlocked. While some of these are cool, I am a fan of Berserker, there’s really only a need to pick the four you like to begin with and stick with those throughout the game. You are not hindered nor rewarded for exploring the various abilities.
The same can also be said about the individual weapons. Unlocking new ones as you progress through each side is great, but it becomes more of a “what weapon are you most comfortable with” experience. It’s because of these two examples that the game feels more like an attempt at something that just wasn’t followed through with, as is the case with most movie tie-ins. It’s as if they said, “Here’s a great idea for a game. Oh by the way, you can’t do everything we just told you, otherwise people will know what is going on.” When in this case most already know why they are going to watch the film – the visuals.
Visually speaking, Avatar: The Game delivers on the look and feel of Pandora and the various species on Pandora. This is something that I was very pleased with. The environment explodes with vibrant colors and beauty that likely represents the movie accurately. However, there are a few problems with the other aspects. Most notably is the ever-present lag in visuals. Literally, it is so persistent you will eventually grow to ignore it. This, coupled with the stiffness of the Na’vi and the clunky movement of RDA soldiers, hinders the graphical experience. However, it is important to note this game supports 3D, and as long as your television can handle the specifications to experience it in 3D, I suggest doing so – it is worth it. Enjoying the game with this feature and the occasionally epic soundtrack can really suck you in.
Avatar: The Game also supports online multiplayer for up to 16 players. The usual suspects are present, team deathmatch, capture the flag, king of the hill, all with Avatar-influenced catches. However, the multiplayer suffers from all of the main game’s shortcomings. Chances are, if you are frustrated with the single-player action due to any of its shortcomings, you will not enjoy the online side of it either.
James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game doesn’t pave any new horizons. Instead, it introduces a few new concepts while playing it safe in every other area. I loved the different sides of the story aspect of the game, it felt like getting two games in one, but because nearly everything else felt insipid, it didn’t much influence the replayability of the game for me. Even though I am not amongst the rabid fans of the upcoming motion picture, I can say I hope this game is not an indicator of the caliber of the film, because if it is, moviegoers are in for a boring, bland experience.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
Adding 3D capabilities to this title doesn’t revolutionize the experience, but it is easier to get sucked into its beauty this way. 3.0 Control
Way to loose to be called precise, but not way off to be considered broken. 3.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Never really rising up to the occasion, the voice acting and music just manage to get the job done. 3.4 Play Value
While you can easily drone through this game a second time due to the two distinct factions, lots of annoying flaws crop up that make it difficult to warrant a second playthrough. 3.4 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.