"James Cameron's Avatar: The Game"
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Also available for: Wii, PSP, Windows PC
and Nintendo DS.
From: Lightstorm Entertainment/Ubisoft
ESRB Rating: Teen (animated blood, mild
language, mild suggestive themes, violence)
By Billy O'Keefe
If "Avatar" movie experience is as extraordinary as early critical returns seem to imply it is, then, "James Cameron's Avatar: The Game" doesn't do it a great deal of justice. Rather, it's one of those highly imperfect games that, if engaged with dampened expectations and viewed presentationally as nothing beyond a respectable companion to the film, still can amount to a good time.
Problems and deficiencies are never game-breaking, but they are numerous and creep into most facets of the experience on some level —: and regardless of whether, as an early storyline twist explains, you play primarily as the invading human military or the indigenous Na'vi tribe.
Most visibly flawed is the combat, which feels dated and awkward by the standards of modern third-person games. There's no cover mechanic when shooting, nor is there a way, with most weapons, to stare down the sights for a more precise shot —: a surprising omission given the slight behind-the-shoulder perspective the game adopts. Some weapons have a semi-automatic aim, but the vast majority feel unwieldy and underpowered.
Melee combat, which plays a major role on the Na'vi side of things, feels similarly unchained thanks to some loose character movement that also makes traversing narrow, elevated terrain dicier than it should be.
And so on. The game's A.I. occasionally loses its mind on both sides of the battle. The mission structure is primarily some variation of kill x enemies or fetch x items, and the occasional offshoot mission feels predictably half-baked for one reason or another. All of it ties together around a storyline that takes place two years before the events of the film but struggles mightily to wrap an engrossing scenario around several hours' time.
But with all that air cleared —: and if you can believe it or not —: "Avatar" still emerges as a pretty fun (and pretty lengthy, especially if you replay it from the other side) single-player game. The action mechanics are dated, but the game sends lots of targets at you and moves at a high enough speed to engender some old-fashioned, arcade-style fun. For good measure, there's a nice upgrading mechanic that affords you unique weaponry and some very handy special abilities unique to both sides.
Lastly, while the game's storytelling is spotty, it nonetheless adequately educates players about the world in which "Avatar" exists. Between story content and an encyclopedia of people, places and things, the game hands off a ton of mythology that can only help players' appreciation for the more narratively capable film.
For good measure, if not much else, "Avatar" includes a multiplayer component and fills it out with the usual batch of modes found in a game of this ilk. It's hard to argue with more content for the buck, but given the rash of amazing multiplayer games that have released in the past couple of months, it likely will be equally difficult to see a lively community develop around this portion of the game.
(c) 2009, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.