A few fellow Limiters and myself were given the opportunity to test out this bad boy well before its release date. At the time, I must say that I was more than a little surprised by just how much action Ubisoft had managed to pack into a 20-minute demo.
Unfortunately, with the release of Assassin’s Creed II, this product (from the same developer) simply fell off gamers’ radars. The movie was incredible, and I’d wager that plenty of fans just didn’t want to be let down by another movie-to-game dud.
But is James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game truly a monumental failure? Or is it simply an unappreciated, albeit unfinished, action title?
At last year’s iDEF convention, the boys from Gamer Limit were treated to a smorgasbord of goods from the Ubisoft team. Assassin’s Creed II, Splinter Cell: Conviction, Avatar, and Red Steel 2. Surprisingly, my pick for best in show was Avatar. Of course, since that time I have managed to play through both Avatar and ACII, and my opinion has naturally changed. Unfortunately for Ubisoft, a killer demo doesn’t always mean a first-rate game.
Jumping into the game I was immediately stunned by the low-quality graphics, especially for a game that has – apparently – been in development for years. I’ve read plenty of reviews that are calling Avatar’s visuals “eye candy”, so I can only assume that they played it on a regular TV; high definition exposes the game for what it truly is. After being enraptured for almost three hours inside James Cameron’s 3D brainchild, it was more than a little upsetting to discover a game that looked more archaic than the original Gears of War.
That said, the planet of Pandora is thrilling to behold. If you are able to put aside the spellbinding look of ACII for a couple of hours, you may just be able to become immersed inside this unique world. While linearity is a massive factor in Avatar, there was no real point where I felt I couldn’t venture into the forests if I had wanted to.
And believe me, there were many times that I wanted to. As soon as you receive your first orders, you are smacked in the face with the cold fish of reality: this is a movie-game. Storyline has been relegated to a role of least importance, with the developers (read: James Cameron telling people what to do) aiming for more of a “visceral experience” if I may be so condescending.
Male or female, human or Na’vi, the story progression is linear, straightforward, and balls-out easy. The omission of a difficulty setting is startling, as about three hours into the game you will have an epic arsenal of weaponry and skills at your disposal, facing enemies that never seem to level-up. Avoiding the fact that missions are extremely short (10-15 minutes each, for the majority), your journey into the world of Avatar is likely to be a short one.
But that isn’t to say that the game is without its moments. One highlight is most certainly the vehicles. After about an hour or so of gaming, you will be faced with the choice of siding with the Na’vi, or sticking around with them murderin’ sons of bitches, the human race. Depending on your selection, you will be privy to several transportation options, many of which prove to be the most exciting part of the game. Which is why I have to ask: why the hell can’t you shoot while in/on a vehicle? It’s almost as frustrating as the Mongoose in Halo. Without the ability to attack while travelling, you become cannon fodder for your enemies, making the entire process completely redundant.
Engagement is also another hit-and-miss feature in the game. While there are plenty of unique weapons for both the Na’vi and humans to use, the lack of a zoom function, and glitchy aiming controls, makes battle more of a hindrance than exciting.
If there is one shining feature of the game, it is the voice work. Plenty of characters from the film return, including a great cameo from Sigourney Weaver, and they do the best that they can with an awful script. Creating reality in a fantastical world is a difficult task, but there is a sense of honesty behind the story, despite some flawed writing.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much more to praise in Avatar. If there is one piece of advice I could give gamers, though, it would be to play as the Na’vi when given the opportunity. Their melee and ranged attacks offer a much more challenging experience than as a gun-toting human, and the ability to ride some of their creatures is far more rewarding than an ATV or hoverboat.
When James Cameron announced that this game was going to be just as epic and successful as his film, I’m sure that more than a few people scoffed. His ambitions for a 3D game were realized, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that has actually played it through in those optimal settings. We were able to have a look at the game in 3D at iDEF and, aside for a mild headache after only a few minutes of viewing, it simply wasn’t all that and a bag of potato chips.
Our search for a brilliant movie-to-game title will have to continue for now. I wanted so much to enjoy this game after seeing its potential last year, but Ubisoft Montreal has really dropped the ball on this one; enjoy their other 2009 release instead.
Despite representing one of the most visually spectacular films in recent history, the game looks like it suffered from release date constraints.
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Repetitive, formulaic, and unoriginal. These are all words that could be used to describe Avatar’s gameplay.
Chance Thomas wrote the score for the game, and his experience shines through. The voice acting is also above average for an action title.
A regular playthrough of the game should only take you around 10 hours, more if you are keen on exploring the world. The ability to play two separate campaigns does add an extra element of lastability, but after you complete the game initially, you probably won’t be heading back for round two.
The bottom line is that there are plenty of other action titles that are more unique, more refined, and more enjoyable. Rent if you must.