You have probably hear of the movie James Cameron’s Avatar, directed by the self-proclaimed “King of the World” who has had his hand in several blockbuster movies like Titanic, the first two Terminator films, and Aliens. Avatar focuses on a soldier who is transported into the body of a big blue alien to blend in with the native Na’vi people. The movie has made a ton of money, partially because of the fact that the movie has some of the best motion capture technology and you can’t see the movie in 3D at home like you can in certain theaters. As the natural law of video games goes, every blockbuster movie must have some kind of video game tie-in. Because of that we have James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game.
In Avatar: The Game you play as Abel Ryder, a member of the hired military human group RDA. You have been in suspended animation asleep for five years on a space ship that has finally landed on the planet of Pandora. You follow orders as a human and eventually figure out that this planet is rich in some resource called unobtainium. However, the atmosphere is toxic, so you either have to wear a gas mask or travel around in your Avatar body.
Whenever you want to find out what is going on with the world or what your role is you get the answer that, “a lot has changed in the last five years.” If you have seen the movie then you have a general idea of what has gone on, but the game is a prequel to the movie, so the opportunity to flesh out more of the universe and explain how the fighting has gotten so violent is wasted here.
Also, you have the opportunity to get into your Avatar after a few hours on the ground as a RDA grunt. However, you only get a short time in your Avatar before you find out there is a mole in your midst. When you find out who the mole is, you are given a choice to continue in your Avatar body and integrate into the Na’vi or stay and fight for the human side. While there is some emotional manipulation for you to try to join the Na’vi right before the choice occurs, you aren’t given enough information to care about either side. This feels like a cheap slap in the face because it would have been more interesting to progress and explore both sides more during the entire game instead of having to choose a side early in the game when your information on both sides is very limited.
Each side of the conflict plays out in about four to six hours. If you side with the RDA you are going to get a FPS experience with military weaponry. You have plenty of guns, conquering by brute force and laying down A-PODs that allow you to heal and recharge your ammo. If you side with the Na’vi you do have a machine gun, but most of the time you will be using primitive weaponry like knives, clubs, and a bow and arrow. As an Avatar you have a larger physical presence with more agility and strength, giving you more melee sequences with a touch of platforming. While you can appreciate that the developers tried to create two unique experiences, other issues prevent it from being a good experience.
Special abilities are given to you on both sides of the battle. Some of these give you a quick burst of speed, allow you to blend in the environment, or make your weapons more powerful. While they are named differently, they are mirror reflections of each other. These powers do get upgraded throughout the game by gaining experience points, but you aren’t able to choose which powers and weapons get upgraded when. Also, the only time that the experience points you have really matters is when you complete missions. When you complete a mission you get the next upgrades almost automatically. Trying to gain levels while shooting at enemies doesn’t make sense because of the number of enemies you encounter and the low amounts of experience points given.
The scoring of the experience points is a bit questionable as well. When playing on the RDA side, when you destroy any plant life you get experience points for that. Some of these include plants and animals that attack you. As an Avatar, you are more attuned to nature. Because of this you don’t get any points for killing any plants or animals. While these animals don’t always attack you, some will and they are annoying.
The missions given to you are fairly standard. Sometimes you have to fix a communications beacon. Other times you have to gather certain crystals and place them around a tree in another location. There are the typical kill X amount of this creature missions as well. The map does help you to get there, but the map doesn’t have any sense of depth. Most of the time you can find your way pretty easily to the objective, but sometimes you find yourself finding yourself in front of a cliff looking up to where the objective is.
What makes Avatar: The Game really frustrating is the controls. The D-pad selects your weapon, the analog sticks control movement and aim, and the R1 attacks. The face buttons interact with the environment, reload your weapon, and jump around unless you hold down the L2 button. When this happens the face buttons use one of the special powers that you have assigned. The biggest issue is that the controls are floaty. It’s not too bad when you are shooting far off objects, but when it gets up close and personal the camera swings wildly and it’s hard getting a good aim.
Vehicles and mounts do have a small part in Avatar. While the Buggy, Gator watercraft, and Direhorse are fairly easy to control, the Scorpion gunship and flying Banshee are more difficult to control than that vehicles in Warhawk. The vehicles and mounts aren’t able to reach a lot of places because of the vegetation. This means that you either run around a lot using the dash special ability to get from one location to the other.
One unique feature is the War Room. This is a Risk-like global map of Pandora where you buy units, build defenses and factories, and expand by conquering other regions. You gain credits from the experience points earned in the single-player game to buy units and buildings. When you capture territories with a bonus on them, they are awarded to you in the single-player game. It’s a unique concept that could be fleshed out a little bit more, but most of the time it isn’t very engaging.
The multiplayer modes are par for the course. You have King of the Hill, Conquer and Hold, Team Deathmatch, Final Battle, and Capture the Flag. If you’ve been playing multiplayer games since the Quake/Unreal Tournament days, they are standard fare. You won’t see too much activity with them though.
The Pandorapedia helps you learn more about the world around you. It gives you information piece by piece as you explore the world. Some of the blurbs are interesting reading, but in all honesty it probably won’t hold your interest much unless you believe that Pandora is a real planet and paint your entire body blue.
The world of Pandora looks good, with lush environments reminiscent of the movie. The vegetation flows throughout the entire world, while the inside of the RDA buildings feel sterile. It is pretty easy to see the paths that the developers intended for you to use throughout the game though. You can even play the game in 3D if you have a TV that supports it. However, this feature is really not necessary for 99.99999% of gamers at this time.