Reviewed: January 13, 2010
Released: December 1, 2009
In the world of gaming it is a well known fact that video games based upon movies are rarely that good. The few that actually manage to be worth playing often are decent or in some instances better than the movie itself. Now Iím generally not a huge fan of movie tie-in games but in the case of James Cameron's Avatar: The Game, it is near perfect companion to the box office phenomenon. I will tell you that it does not spoil anything for those that have not seen the movie yet. Go now. Watch.
Avatar: The Game takes place two years before the events of the movie and follows the adventures of sig-spec ďAbleĒ Ryder who is hand-picked for the Avatar Program of the RDA. Once you gain access to your very own Avatar, you are more in tune with the planet and you can learn about the planet, its creatures and the native Naívi. From here itís up to you to make your mark. Do you fight alongside your fellow RDA troops or join the boys in blue (not those ones) and protect Pandora from total destruction?
Avatar: The Game offers gamers the option to interact in two totally different experiences. The game checkpoints at that critical point were you must choose sides so you can come back later and try the opposite faction if you want to. I did take the time to play through both factions to get the full experience and walked away with just under 48 hours of total gameplay between the two.
The story itself almost has that same feel to it that Modern Warfare 2 did. You go from point to point doing objectives, which I loved every minute of, learning slowly that things are going to crap especially on the RDA side. You know what your ultimately trying to do and thatís pretty much your whole motivation. I did find the Naívi campaign a bit more involved and I was totally into it the whole time. No matter what faction you choose first, I chose Naívi, you will navigate though and above huge maps that are nothing short of gorgeous.
If you have seen the movie, the graphics arenít as good as those but still impressive nonetheless. Each side is obviously trying to stop each other and this is the primary premise for the entire run. In addition to the three main locations each faction has 5 sectors that are exclusive to each. Each map or ďsectorĒ has the main objective of securing three crystal shards and more importantly a song or harmonics. The song/harmonics are then used to pinpoint a dormant ďWell of Souls.Ē It is up to either faction to complete these main tasks and stop the others.
Along the way to completing your main objective you will be tasked with completing other necessary tasks that will allow you to progress through the story. These objectives can vary from having to get a generator back online to helping take out enemy forces at certain locations to rescuing Naívi warriors or even seeking out plants to heal someone. There are also a slew of optional secondary objectives you can do on Pandora. Each location on Pandora has around 6 sector challenges that can aid in your fight. While these donít help you right away the experience gained by doing them will gain you access to better armor, weapons and skills faster later on. Most of these sector challenges repeat from sector to sector such as uncovering 100% of the map, getting a set amount of total XP, and collecting cell samples.
Depending on what faction you choose you can be tasked with destroying/placing so many A-PODS, killing so many of the enemy and or killing so many of a specific creature like the Sturmbeest. If you play as the RDA you are tasked with taking out some of the tougher enemies in the world such as the Hammerheads and Thanators. These fights are actually a highlight for me as they do add a greater sense of danger to Pandora. These enemies are no pushovers, as I found myself thrown around like a ragdoll if I had as much as a foot in their attack radius.
Everything you do on Pandora rewards you XP in some increment, though I noticed that XP was more easily gained on the RDA side. This probably has something to do with the fact that every living thing on Pandora is out to kill you so there is ample opportunity to gain a lot of experience. Like most titles in the action adventure genre you can die, though Avatar: The Game does seem to take it somewhat easy on you. It is possible to get completely overwhelmed but there are a few things that you can do to keep this to a minimum. The first is to pick up every Cell Sample you can lay your hands on regardless of faction. Besides padding your experience, Cell Samples are used to give you ďextra livesĒ as it were. You need a certain number of them to give you a second chance on the battlefield. You can have up to 5 second chances though I only encountered a couple of times where I was below 3. Other ways to keep yourself from taking a mortal hit is to use the skills that you learn as you go.
Each side has a total of 8 skills that are basically the same thing with different names. As you gain experience you will unlock higher ranks of these skills which max out at rank 4. One thing I did notice which I thought was cool was that the Rank 4 healing power for both factions differed. On the RDA side it would heal you up completely but on the Naívi side it not only healed you completely but also any allies around you as well. You can only have 4 skills quick-buttoned at a time so I highly advise only equipping skills that you know you will use. Every person plays differently so you can play around and see what suits you best. Personally, I like to be somewhat sneaky and tactical so I used Pandoraís Union and Kinetic Dash a lot when playing the Naívi side. When I played the RDA side I focused on using Ultrasonic Repulsor and Berserk and was brasher in my attacks.
Combat on Pandora is just as diversified as the locations you fight in. As RDA you have ample means to hit your enemies with force ranging from the up close and personal shotgun to the long-range and deadly nailgun. On the Naívi side of things the bow is your best friend and perfect for keeping your foes at bay. If things get to close for comfort you can equip dual blades and go to town. You can only have 4 weapons slotted a time though you can really only swap out three of them. The Dual Wasps with unlimited ammo and the Bow (50 arrows max) are permanent fixtures in your arsenal.
Ammo can be replenished by using A-PODS on the RDA side and various plants on the Naívi side. While itís weird to get your arrows from a plant it does play into the whole Ewya giveth mentality of the Naívi culture. The controls used in combat are pretty solid and the only real problem I ran into was when I was trying to change weapons on the fly in the thick of combat. Sometimes I would try to hit right on the D-Pad to select my Assault rifle or Heavy Machine Gun, but somehow would manage to hit down instead.
Traveling across Pandora can be quite a trek after a while. Luckily there is transportation that you can find almost anywhere you go. Each side has bunch of different and unique options available to them. On the Naívi side I could ride Direhorses, Banshees, Thanators, and even a Toruk. On the RDA side, I had vehicles ranging from the small weaponless Buggy IV to the colossal Dragon. I found navigating with the Naívi creatures, particularly the Banshees a heck of a lot easier than say operating a Scorpion. Those things are incredibly annoying to fly.
As I mentioned above, I was pretty impressed with the world of Pandora. Most of the levels are lush with vegetation and even those that arenít are just a pretty. The creatures you encounter while on your crusade to save or take over Pandora are all wonderfully recreated from the movie. The way they interact if you spook them or when fighting them is just awesome. The creatures are so nimble and gang up on you so fast sometimes that you have to use the 180-turn feature quite often. When you use the 180-turn command the screen literally blurs as you spin around. Iím also impressed on how each of the 12 available Human/Avatars has their own distinct markings. If you play as the RDA you will see airlocks off and on. I really like how the screen fogs up as the pressure changes in the lock.
But one of the things I like most about the world of Pandora is the night cycle. Depending on the level, there is a day/night cycle that only last for a certain period of time. If you happen to be in a forest its like you stepped into a whole new world. When the world lights up in brilliant neon itís just as awe inspiring as it is in the movie. If you look closely the ground lights up beneath your feet as you walk across it. If you move through water it has a cool lighting effect that floats off with the current.
Even the animal life lights up in the dark. The coolest one is the Thanator which lights up with red stripes across its body. Not something I want to see charging me through the trees. If you play as the Naívi you can even see the same glow in the dark markings that they have in the movie. Everything is just brilliantly detailed and I almost wished that the night cycles didnít go away or would appear more frequently. Avatar: The Game is also the first game that Iíve seen that supports the newer 3D TVís and monitors though sadly I didnít have the opportunity to see what this title would look like since I didnít have one available at the time of this review.
For those that have seen the movie already one can only describe the music as epic. Thanks to James Horner, who also did the music for Cameronís Titanic, viewers were captivated by a score that touched millions of people. Whether or not Horner had a hand in creating the music for the game, it has that same quality feel to it. It helps to enrich the already gorgeous title with uplifting melodies while navigating floating rocks and upbeat rhythms when deep in combat.
The sound effects are well done and fairly believable. Since this is a fantasy based game, you can have some liberty on how certain weapons sound. The Nailgun and Banisher being prime examples of this as both have a sort of Sci-fi sound to them. Weapons like the Bow and Machine guns have a very realistic sound to them. The sound effects for the animals particularly the Banshees and the Viperwolves are nicely done. You can sort of pinpoint where the V-Dogs are coming from even before you see them.
The voice acting is pretty good as well. Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang and Michele Rodriguez all step in to lend their voices to the game for their roles which is nice since all three are pinnacle to the story and the movie as well. As far as I can tell there are only two voice actors for the role of ďAbleĒ Ryder. So no matter what Human/Avatar you pick, youíll get the same voice for each. The chatter from all the warriors of troops that you hear from either side is nicely done though nothing special. I do like the fact that while on the RDA side they make little comments about your shooting or reputation.
Avatar: The Game offers a Multiplayer mode via Xbox Live for those seeking a bit more than just a solo story adventure. Multiplayer features several different modes which include King of the Hill, Conquer and Hold, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and Final Battle. Several of these are self explanatory so Iíll just cover my favorite which is Final Battle. In Final Battle, each side is tasked with destroying their opponentís items. If youíre RDA you have to take out the Naívií Crystal Shards while protecting your missiles. The reverse goes to the Naívi side of things.
If you blaze right through both campaigns, without doing any of the sector challenges intentionally, I imagine it would take you only about 12 or so hours to complete. Fortunately I am not one of those kind of players, so that is my best guess on a minimal completion run. There is also another mode that players can do within Avatar: The Game that can aid them in the story mode and that is the War Room mini-game. Players can access this from any Teleport node via the Conquest option.
The overall objective is to take over the entire map in one large game of Risk. Each faction has their own Home Base from which to start. Players must build up forces and navigate around the world globe and take over territories. By playing the story mode players earn credits from the experience they get off of kills and missions completions. These credits are then used to build factories/biogenerators, buy troops and upgrade defenses. Each faction has three types of units: troops, AMP Suit/Thanator and Scorpion/Banshee. If you successfully take over a territory it helps you in the single player campaign one way or another via the reward for that territory. From here itís just a strategic game of world domination where my only advice is plan smart and build up those credits.
At the end of my tour on Pandora I walked away with a smile on my face. It isnít often that I find myself engrossed with a movie tie-in title. The movie is a work of art and it is reflected in the game. The environments are lush and the music was well done. I really enjoyed the combat especially on the Naívi side. The multiplayer was cool with its well designed levels and various modes. I also really enjoyed being able to play both factions each with their own story. James Cameron's Avatar: The Game retails for $60 at most retailers, and while I usually wouldnít drop that kind of cash on a movie tie-in I would so for this one.