By Neil McCormick
In the earliest days, from E.T the Extra – Terrestial in 1982 to the modern day with Terminator Salvation , movie spin off games have had as sure as night follows day, one common denominator, the reputation of not being very good.
However, when Avatar the Game was announced that it was in development and with James Cameron saying he would have a lead role in the game’s development to ensure it played a vital role in sharing the Avatar experience with the player / viewer, hopes had to be high that things would be different. In fact i even remember reading an interview in which the developers said to forget about Halo 3 ODST for what they had planned for the multi-player would be nothing short of special.
Unfortunately whilst it is undoubtably a great improvement on the average movie game, it doesnt quite tick all the boxes to be the awe inspiring game that was promised.
When I first started playing, I have to admit to being bowled over by the gorgeous scenery, the floating cliffs in particular, being some of the most visually stunning scenary I had seen in a game to date. The Farcry 2 engine has been tweaked to great aplumb, vegetation looks as good as in the actual film, it looks as wild as you expect an alien world to look like.
Unfortunately scenery alone is not going to make a good game, gameplay has to be crucial. And that is where Avatar:The Game stumbles.
The controls are in a word clunky. Little things you now expect as standard in a shooter are missing, no cover system, no scope on any of the weaponry, let alone even the simple option of looking down an iron sight. It is all the more bizarre when you consider that this game was developed by Ubisoft Montreal. So its not as if they do not have the experience, if you look at their past catalogue of games. After all this was the team that developed the Rainbow Six games for one. The Vegas games use a wonderful cover system and have the scope and iron sight options as standard.
When things get up close in Avatar the Game, it soon becomes a case of spray and pray. Having just came from playing Modern Warfare 2 it felt too big a step backwards to not have these options.
Avatar takes place on the planet Pandora, which Resources Development Administration (RDA) is stripping of its resources–much to the dismay of Pandora’s indigenous population, the blue-skinned Na’vi. Meanwhile, the RDA has established a way of transferring a human’s consciousness into an artificially created human/Na’vi hybrid called an avatar. You play the part of Ryder, an RDA operative who soon finds himself (or herself, if you choose a female persona) in over his head as he discovers the consequences of the RDA’s destructive presence on Pandora. About an hour into the campaign, you’ll be faced with a choice: side with the RDA, or live as an avatar and take your chances with the Na’vi. Unfortunately as the game is really only getting started at one hour in, it really is a case of choosing A or B, you have not developed any affinity with the characters be they human or Na’vi.
The game assumes a familiarity with the nature of avatars. Cutscenes are abrupt, and moments that should carry weight, such as the first time you take control of your giant blue avatar, it just happens, not even a decent cut-scene. With few exceptions, humans come across as resource-hungry idiots, while the Na’vi are reduced to native stereotypes. The blend of sci-fi and fantasy seems conceptually solid, but the ideas were given such a cavalier treatment that it’s impossible to care about either the fate of this world,or that of its people, and unfortunately you never seem to develop any emotional attachment own character.
Each of Pandora’s explorable regions is relatively large, and missions often involve traveling long distances to get to your next objective. Along the way, you’ll run into a number of different types of enemies that seek to destroy you. If you side with the Na’vi, you have a few instruments of death to keep you well protected. Your default bow will likely be your default weapon. It snaps to targets when you hold the trigger, which is a real boon in the busy environments, given that it can be tough to spot camouflaged RDA foes. In fact, melee combat leads to Avatar’s most consistently enjoyable kills: it can be a lot of fun to cartwheel toward your target and slice him up with your dual blades. You equip four weapons at a time, but you can switch them out for other available options, and over time, your weapons level up and you gain access to better armor. Leveling up is not implemented as well as I would have liked. As you advance through the levels you earn exp for doing things. So when you have enough exp the game levels you up. Unfortunately rather than let you choose how to use your exp, the game automatically assigns the exp and gives you upgrades as it sees fit.
If you go the way of the RDA instead, you won’t wield any melee weapons and will instead shoot your way to victory. You’ve got a pair of pistols to get you through if the better guns run out of ammo, but they’re all but useless; luckily, your shotgun, flamethrower, and other weapons seem appropriately powerful, if not exactly satisfying to use.
Of course, what fantasy game would be complete without special powers? You get a number of skills to play around with no matter which side you choose, though it’s odd that these abilities are never given any context–you just have to accept that they exist. Nevertheless, they’re good to have on hand, and like weapons, skills become more effective as you level up. Your healing ability will become the most useful, because though you regenerate health quickly when not in battle, you’ll need to heal yourself when engaged with enemies. There is some overlap between the factions aside from health regeneration. Both sides can sprint for a short period of time, and both can activate camouflage to remain hidden for a short time.
In spite of these special skills, Avatar soon becomes tragically predictable: shoot a group of enemies, travel toward the next hotbed of activity, and shoot some more. The pace rarely varies, so Avatar feels like it drones on for far too long. There’s never a sense that the action is ramping up, and the few boss fights sprinkled about are as challenging as fighting your way out of a paper bag. For example, you take on a huge beast in a large clearing, which is easy to avoid,when it dies, the creature falls to the ground with little fanfare and dissipates seconds later. Talk about an anticlimax.
The most interesting, but under utilised feature in Avatar is the minigame Conquest you can access from the fast travel stations. Playing the levels earns you funds to use in Conquest to purchase units to attack and defend territories. In theory, taking a territory that gives you a boost such as increasing your experience or do more damage would be a good thing. But when such an action does not seem to have any real impact, it quickly gets ignored. After an initial use, I think I only accessed the mini game two more times during playing the campaign.
On a technical point, Avatar has enabled 3d graphics. So if you had a tv or monitor capable to display 3d you could enjoy this game in glorious 3d.
It may seem reading this, I hated the game, that is not totally correct. It is more a case of being disappointed at what could have been implemented in other words it feels like it was a missed opportunity. A few simple tweaks and Ubisoft would have had a great game on their hands. Whilst I would not be proclaiming that you should rush out to buy it, I think it could be a game to consider picking up during the next gaming drought.