James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game
James Cameronís Avatar has been a long time coming. The acclaimed director’s first film since the award winning Titanic has been shrouded in mystery for years with the inevitable video game tie-in following suit. This yearís E3 saw Cameron spend a good few hours talking about the project during the Ubisoft press conference without even a shred of footage; instead relying on his own words to sell the product. With the big man backing it and so much secrecy there was a degree of hope towards the title despite the lack of coverage. Unsurprisingly that was just wishful thinking. James Cameronís Avatar: The Game is your typical tie-in; it has some neat ideas and a lot of depth but itís never put to good use.
ďI managed to gain more information on the plot by watching the movie trailer than I did playing the entire gameĒItís also not much of a seller for its movie counterpart. The story is essentially non-existent throughout. I managed to gain more information on the plot by watching the movie trailer than I did playing the entire game - itís that barren. All you really need to know is that the game takes place roughly two years before the movie. A private military group called the RDA have travelled halfway across the galaxy for an expensive, rare mineral found only on the planet Pandora. The indigenous creatures on the planet arenít too happy about humans invading their homeland, particularly the 10 foot tall, mysterious blue species known as the Naívi. Things start off relatively peacefully with ongoing negotiations between the two factions carried out via the use of Avatars Ė human/Naívi hybrids utilised by the RDA. The player character Ė man or woman, whichever you choose Ė happens to have the right DNA to use an Avatar, and so youíre thrust into the exotic and dangerous world of Pandora.
The game fails to really tell you any of this important narrative information, and the poor dialogue and monotone voice acting doesnít help matters. However, the plot’s biggest failure comes half an hour in when youíre asked to choose which faction to fight for, the RDA or the Naívi through use of your Avatar. This is supposed to be an impactful scene, choosing whose beliefs and morals you want to dedicate the rest of your playtime to. But itís made redundant because youíre never given any exposition to allow yourself to make a logical choice. All it really boils down to is whether you want to shoot stuff with advanced weaponry or hit things with sticks. I may be underselling the Naívi slightly, but choosing them is a poor decision I made first time around.
With great power
Powers also play a role in combat. There’s no rhyme or reason for them being here, but both the RDA and Na’vi can utilise them. Much like the weapons, you can carry any four at a time. Some are fairly basic, such as the ability to sprint for a shot time or regain health in the midst of battle. Others deal out damage or strengthen your defences, usually affecting enemies in close proximity. Much like similar systems used in RPGs, they take a while to recharge so you won’t use them too much, especially since combat is pretty easy to begin with. But the effects on display are impressive, and it adds a subtle degree of variety to the combat.
Avatar: The Game opts for the two-campaign set, so each faction is unique besides from the obvious gameplay differences. If you want bang for your buck thereís plenty of playtime to be had playing through each separate campaign, though I wouldnít recommend the NaíVi side to anyone. While they may look like fun the mediocre combat is anything but. You can carry four weapons at once, whether it be a bow and arrow, crossbow or a multitude of melee weapons such as giant staffs of twin blades. Ranged combat works well - despite arrows killing people way before theyíve even made combat Ė but itís never particularly exciting. Your only alternative is melee combat which is extremely poor. The one-button move set gets tedious within minutes and the lack of any sort of lock-on means itís awkward and erratic. When the majority of the campaign revolves around these two poor combat methods itís hard to have any fun with it.
The RDA campaign is marginally better. The weaponry on offer here is a lot more exciting with assault rifles, shotguns, flamethrowers and grenade launchers coming into play. The loose shooting can feel a little inaccurate at times but itís a step up from the NaíVi combat and can be quite enjoyable at times. Sadly itís not as focused as it could have been with both campaigns consisting of a plethora of repetitive MMO style quests. Itís an odd choice for a game like Avatar but could have worked if more originality was injected into the experience. Most of the quests revolve around navigating from point A to B and either killing enemies at the other end, collecting items, or both. Thereís a small degree of variety with some anti-climactic bosses Ė they just dissolve after defeat Ė and set pieces, but itís not enough to save it from tedium.
ďThe nausea experienced when driving the buggies was almost too much at times.ĒEven travelling from each location is upset by your navigational options. The Naívi can mount a few of the indigenous creatures populating Pandora, including the aptly named Direhorse. Itís ok for getting around but it seemingly floats across the ground and is unable to plough through enemies despite its size and myriad legs. Though the RDA alternative isnít much better. Buggies are the vehicle of choice here, but the baffling amount of awkward camera movements from the slightest bump or change in direction is, quite frankly, vomit-inducing. Iím not one to fall ill from playing games but the nausea experienced when driving the buggies was almost too much at times. The airships are better once you get used to the controls but theyíre not used as much as I would have liked.
Surprisingly one of the best parts of Avatar: The Game is the Conquest mode. Itís hidden beneath the rest of the game but if you stumble upon it thereís some fun to be had organising your troops across the world, building units, defences and deciding strategies to tackle your foes. It doesnít really impact the gameplay as a whole since you can quite easily play through the whole game without ever going near it, but if you want to put some time into it it can be an enjoyable distraction from the unpolished combat.
And sadly itís that same combat that makes up the multiplayer component. Once again the Naívi are out of favour here with the RDA getting the best weaponry and vehicles. As a result itís fairly unbalanced and plagued by the same problems as the single player. I canít see it sustaining for too much longer.
ďUnfortunately, the framerate constantly struggles to keep up with the briefest of action.ĒVisually Avatar looks fairly impressive most of the time. There are some ugly character models but the world of Pandora is lush with foliage, stunning vistas and some of Cameronís unique geographical designs. Within a few hours the constant shades of green do begin to tire, so itíd be nice for a change of scenery once in a while. But for what it is it looks good. Unfortunately, the framerate constantly struggles to keep up with the briefest of action. Just running through the jungle bogs it down and disrupts the flow of movement and combat so itís disappointing this wasnít polished.
James Cameronís Avatar: The Game is your average movie tie-in. While it tries to do a lot with its MMO style quests, EXP, multiple campaigns and Conquest mode, it never really focuses on making the basic gameplay mechanics a success. The RDA campaign can be enjoyable when youíre using some of the more powerful hardware, but the Naívi are poor on all levels and the mundane quests youíre sent on never fail to bore. With more refinements to the combat this could have been a solid effort in the battle to make a good movie tie-in; as it is, it can join the rest in the bargain bins.
Five out of ten