James Cameron's Avatar: The Game

James Cameron's Avatar: The Video Game only furthers the point, rather than dispels it, that the movie-to-video game genre is as treacherous as the planet of Pandora itself

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Ubisoft James Cameron's Avatar: The Game
  • Ubisoft James Cameron's Avatar: The Game
  • Ubisoft James Cameron's Avatar: The Game
  • Ubisoft James Cameron's Avatar: The Game

Pros

  • The planet of Pandora is pretty and the AMP suit is fun to drive around

Cons

  • Clunky controls, poor storyline, lack of variety

Bottom Line

With Cameron's latest surefire blockbuster only a few short days away, Ubisoft has teamed up with the cinematic mastermind himself for this official prequel to the enormously anticipated Avatar. The question remains, however -- is it a Terminator-grade masterpiece, or are we looking at another Piranha Part II?

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When Ubisoft and James Cameron announced the Avatar video game, they made it clear that they wanted to create a title that would not only raise the bar for movie tie-ins, but usher in a new era for the medium itself. That's a rather lofty aspiration, especially given the unfortunate track record already solidified by countless licensing disasters, but with these two powerhouses of entertainment joining forces for a brand new interactive entertainment experience, nothing could go wrong... right?

Well, not quite. Unfortunately, Avatar has little going for it, but the one thing it does right is in the visual department: the sweeping open world of Pandora looks fantastic, with lush vegetation and clear skies full of floating rocks. Yet, I felt that something crucial was missing from the whole planetary spectacle: It just didn't feel alive. The world, while beautiful, is really nothing more than an arena for repetitive battles with various creatures, man-eating plants, and simplistic mission objectives. Recent titles such as Brutal Legend or Assassin's Creed 2 took pains to make their worlds feel unique and memorable, but Avatar's Pandora does little to immerse the player in its jungle habitat. There is a feature called Pandorpedia within the game's menu which explains some of the history and ecology of the world in small paragraphs, but I couldn't help but feel that more time should have been spent bringing Pandora to life rather than writing encyclopedia entries.

The game does try to mix things up by giving you two distinct sides to play as: you can either enlist with the Na'vi (the big blue aliens) or the RDA (human space marines), each with their own unique abilities, vehicles and storylines. However, regardless of which perspective you choose, you're presented with similar mission objectives -- you just happen to be standing on the other side of battle as you do them. The RDA missions do offer up some interesting features like the ability to go crashing around in the large mech AMP suits, but the Na'vi campaign is a pretty dismal affair. I found this highly disappointing as the Na'vi could have offered something different from the many sci-fi space grunt titles already on the market.

While I found the RDA soldier route slightly better (as it was more challenging to fight against the Na'vi than to play as one of them) neither campaign offered anything worth investing $60 into. The controls are awkward and clunky which makes for some frustrating and oftentimes dizzying moments, and I found that on both sides of the battle I spent most of my time running through forests like a possessed delivery boy, avoiding conflicts and pressing the required button to complete some objective (say, planting a bomb) with no real challenge or sense of accomplishment. There are a couple boss fights, mostly reserved for the RDA campaign, but they can be quickly resolved with a few grenade rounds. It is regrettable, as the universe Cameron has set up seems strong enough to support a unique and varied experience. Yet, the game ultimately gives you no incentive to continue playing, as once you've completed one mission, you've completed them all.

The game has native support for 3D capable televisions, but I wasn't able to test that feature out. It may end up adding a bit more fun to the game visually, but overall, Avatar is simply a rather dull experience, which could be the worst thing you could say for any piece of entertainment. From my time with it, James Cameron's Avatar: The Video Game only furthers the point, rather than dispels it, that the movie-to-video game genre is as treacherous as the planet of Pandora itself.

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