James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game Review

Failure is Alien to James Cameron’s nature, but is the Xbox 360 adaptation of his upcoming Avatar a Titanic success, or something you should Terminate on sight? Time for our verdict.

By Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, December 1, 2009

While the two “campaigns” which unfold from either pole of this central choice share the bulk of their locations, the RDA and Na’vi weapon rosters and base capacities are reasonably well-distinguished. As an RDA grunt, you’ll have access to some fat, satisfying futuristic shotguns, nail guns, grenade launchers and other specimens of old skool gunnery. You’ll also be smaller, slower and much preyed-upon by Pandora’s plant and animal-life. As a Na’vi, you get homegrown tools of destruction like the charged-shot bow, all-conquering dual blades and a super-sized chaingun they (presumably) threw in to stop the guns-and-ammo crowd getting bored. You’ll also be stronger, faster, three metres tall and an Aftershock shade of blue. Both sides get vehicles, with the humans mounting buggies, copters and mechs while the Na’vi keep the organic vibe going in the form of six-legged horses and weird bat-condors that are nigh bloody impossible to land.

The Na'vi aren't so hot at blending in.

The Na'vi aren't so hot at blending in.

Special abilities like speed boosts, damage buffs and shockwave attacks are triggered by holding a bumper (cue a cinematic and tactically advantageous few seconds of bullet time) and tapping a face button. Each skill takes a moment or so to recharge, so burning through the lot against a single foe is seldom advisable. Lacking the firepower of their offworld opponents, the Na’vi in particular must fall back on skills like the Kinetic Dash, a temporally phased gallop into the realm of reduced hit probabilities, to even the odds. Regrettably, given the successful separation of each race’s arsenal, there’s not a whole lot of light between human and Na’vi specials.

The game’s steepest downsides are its patently corridor-like maps and reliance on ye olde fetch quest, with only the odd take-out-the-weak-points boss fight to lend sparkle to the business of chatting to blokes with yellow exclamation marks stuck to their heads so you can kill a lot of other blokes in order to collect/deliver some technological doodad or mythical McGubbin. The turn-based strategy sub-game, which sees you building troops and conquering regions on a holographic over-map in exchange for stat boosts and special armor, is too throwaway to take up the slack: think Shogun: Total War without the battles and research trees.

There's a strong chance that they love the smell of napalm in the morning.

There's a strong chance that they love the smell of napalm in the morning.

Of multiplayer we can’t say much at present, as the server is still having its make-up applied. What’s on offer seems serviceable, though. 10 maps, eight players a side and five competitive modes – Capture and Hold, Capture the Flag, Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill and Ultimate Battle (destroy all enemy facilities) – may not add up to Uncharted-2-rivalling levels of repeat play, but if Avatar’s fundamentals click the online component should satisfy. Hands-on time suggests that the maps are spacious and simple in layout.

Avatar: The Game is more than “just another” movie spin-off, and more than an interactive demo for some stereoscopic wizardry, but what ingenuity the developer brought to bear has been invested in the visuals and setting, with the third-person gunplay serving as an excuse (albeit a reasonably convincing one) to trot through some attractive tropical warzones. It’s a good purchase if you loathe intricacy, enjoy reliving foreign policy quandries in sci-fi guise and are eager to get to grips with Cameron’s universe, but the Next Big Thing it most certainly is not. Let’s hope the movie, a decade in the making, doesn’t end up the same way.

7 out of 10

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