Review | James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game
Format: Xbox360/PS3/PC/Wii | Genre: Action | Publisher: UbiSoft | Developer: UbiSoft | Release date: 04/12/09 | RRP: £39.99-£49.99
By Jennifer Allen
When it comes to games, I’m not convinced that there’s anything worse than a mediocre one. At least in the case of terrible games, there is something to rally against. Something that provokes strong emotion within the player, even if it is pure hatred. The mediocre game is invariably so dull and uninspiring that it’s immediately forgotten within a matter of days of playing it. Unfortunately, that’s the best praise you could possibly afford to Avatar.
James Cameron declared during development that the game wasn’t just based on the movie; that it was part of the whole experience of Avatar. I’ve not seen the film yet, but if this is anything to go by, I hope that’s not the case.
It doesn’t bode well, though, as the scenarios on offer in the game and film are all rather similar, bar a few subtle differences. In the game, for example, you don’t play Sam Worthington’s character; instead, you play a new recruit for RDA. Other than that, it all seems rather familiar, with the first mission involving tracking down the mole working for the Na’vi tribe and subsequently being given the choice to side with either them or the RDA forces. It’s not strictly a bad thing for a game spin-off to follow its movie counterpart’s storyline, but it doesn’t exactly support Cameron’s somewhat dubious claim.
//About as fun as it sounds
Excluding the early decision of which side to take, everything is rather linear. If you take the Na’vi side, Avatar is a third-person melee-based action-adventure. If you take the RDA side it becomes a third-person shooter. Neither is enjoyable. Action takes place via a quest-based system. Run to one person who then tells you to run to another, or to acquire a certain number of an herb, and so on. It’s reasonable fun to start with, fun but as time progresses you come to realise that, well, this is it. That’s all there is to the game. It wouldn’t be so bad if the story were in any way compelling, but it’s not, instead opting for the shallow and underdeveloped route. Too often do you feel as if you’re just being sent from one end of a vast area to another, simply to drag out the length of the game.
The two different sides do offer some variety. In the case of the Na’vi, combat is predominantly up close and personal. This works to an extent, but sometimes it can get frustrating when faced with the likes of flamethrowers and shotgun-equipped troops, especially when you bear in mind the lack of a cover system. Fortunately Avatar never breaks its back to offer any substantial challenge, so that is a small comfort.
The RDA campaign turns Avatar into a third-person shooter, but one with the shocking omission of aim-assist, lock-on capabilities and any form of cover functionality. These are all fairly essential features in the modern shooting genre, so their absence makes this rather irritating. The lack of a cover mode is a problem regardless of which side you play, as it makes you extremely vulnerable to attack, and is the source of much frustration and frequent deaths. And that’s the only substantial difference between the two game types. In the end, you know the quests will settle back into a monotonous drone of ‘go here, get this and come back’.
Basic RPG elements come into play with the completion of each quest, where there is experience to be gained. There’s no levelling up system exactly; instead, there’s just a pre-set path to take, offering new weapons, skills and improved armour. As much as the skills sound extremely useful, such as being able to unleash a Viperwolf at your enemies, apart from the heal skill I rarely found myself using them. They’re of little benefit in any situation.
The Risk-esque mini-game Conquest could have been a great future. Experience gained in the main game can be converted into units, which can in turn be used to aid your skill in the mini-game. Controlling areas in Conquest then offers experience points and upgrades, which can be used back in the main game. But yet again it’s underused and underdeveloped, as the unlocked skills are never vital. At best, it’s a much-needed distraction from the rest of the game.
And therein lies the problem with Avatar: it’s all just far too shallow. Much like a model, it’s frequently very beautiful (even more so if you can afford a 120 Hz HDTV to witness the 3D effects), but ultimately there’s nothing going on behind the attractive visage. The potential was there. A more complex upgrade system would have been fantastic, the two different campaigns could have provided two completely unique paths that felt more adventurous than simply running from A to B, and even an adequate cover system would have helped hugely. But instead we’re left with the same old film-licensed spin-off; a dull, trite and very forgettable third-person action adventure that will still inevitably shift more units than heaps of far better, but less prolific, titles.