Another big-budget Hollywood blockbuster. Another tie-in video game. But this one has James Cameron’s name on the box, so it can’t be that bad, right?
To be fair, I had very low expectations for James Cameron’s Avatar – The Video Game. It immediately brought back horrific memories of playing through another movie tie-in videogame with a title as long as my forearm (Peter Jackson’s King Kong The Movie The Game). It has always amazed me that a videogame form of a film seems to need the suffix “The Game” tagged on to the end of the title, as if the general public wouldn’t be able to figure out that the product they are currently holding, which may say Xbox, PlayStation, or Nintendo on it, isn’t actually the film that’s currently in theatres, but a game based on said film. But I digress….
If you’re expecting any kind of spoilers about the movie from this game, you won’t find them. The game is set two years prior to the events of the film, and you play a forgettable character that really doesn’t matter. You have a wide range of choices at the start of the game as to your gender and race, but this has no affect on the rest of the game, as you soon become a nameless grunt stuck on both sides of the ensuing conflict on the planet of Pandora. The basic story is similar to that of the film in that the humans are on Pandora and the Na’vi don’t really appreciate them, but since this is a few years prior, things are a little less established, and the invading human force hasn’t set up such a large presence – at least, not yet.
Through the main arc of the game, you progress to fighting with the humans and then with the Na’vi, eventually allowing you to make moral choices as to which side of the conflict you feel more at home with. The problem with this is that the game makes it very hard to side with the technologically-inferior Na’vi, especially when you can pilot mech suits, use rocket launchers and flamethrowers when you’re human, and on the flipside use bows and arrows and command bees. Bees? Really? I think I know which side I’m going to be sticking with, thanks.
Graphically, I have to say that Ubisoft once again has done what I thought would’ve been impossible. They manage to actually portray a convincing representation of Pandora, and do it in a way that respects the original medium. The jungle is teeming with life, from smaller insects to some of the larger predators that you can actually hunt or tame, depending on which side of the fight you’re currently on. The draw-distances throughout that game are beautiful, and the entire world seems to just be going about its business, whether or not you’re tearing through the jungle guns blazing or simple walking down a path taking in the sights and sounds. Character details are decent, nothing earth-shaking, but they get the job done. Cutscenes are presented with the in-game engine, which I was impressed with, as Ubisoft avoided using any clips from the film, instead allowing you to become completely immersed in this unique view of Pandora without worrying about filtering out expectations that come with using images from the Hollywood counterpart.
Sound design is both fantastic and dismal at the same time, but for completely different reasons. The sounds of life and nature throughout the jungle, and the effects from the weapons and vehicles are all spot-on. You can stand in one spot in the jungle and just listen to the variety of sounds coming from all around you, none of which seem canned and repetitive. The downside is when it comes to voice-acting. The dialogue is very stiff, and the actors don’t have any emotion behind what they are saying, which sucks the life right out of every single encounter with them. You just know that each time you have to report back to your superior you’re in for a boring short lecture, which is just repeated in text form about a second after the finish speaking to you. It’s almost like the other characters in the game are just as bored as you will be when they send you on some of the side-missions.
Some of these amazing side-missions are: collecting five types of a plant, but since you don’t know what they look like, you basically follow your map to a field and walk around; fixing sonic emitters that “were tampered with”, even though your character is a signal specialist, and admittedly knows nothing about sonic emitters; and then controlling vehicles that handle like bathtubs with bars of soap for wheels to simply get from point A to point B, even though you could’ve simply walked there instead (but you have to use the vehicles, otherwise the mission won’t continue).
Avatar has a multiplayer mode, but it feels tacked on instead of a fully developed gameplay mode. You have basic game choices, like capture the flag and team deathmatch, but once again, you’re faced with the fact that the humans are just simply better equipped than the Na’vi, and nobody wants to be on the Blue team. I’m still waiting to find anyone else playing this online to get a good feel for the multiplayer portion. Anybody out there?
Overall, James Cameron’s Avatar – The Game is a decent attempt from Ubisoft to follow up on the surprise that their version of King Kong was back in 2006. But at this point in the game, people are expecting more from games, especially movie tie-ins. The story is definitely thought out, but bad acting, lopsided weapon balancing, and a potentially player-less online mode relegate this game to the rental column, and even then only if you’re a die-hard Avatar fan.