Billed as a visual showpiece, Avatar's cost an extortionate amount of money to make.
Naturally, with every movie blockbuster cometh the video game; something that James Cameron was keen to talk (and talk) about at E3 this year.
Avatar: The Game is set two years before the events of the movie, but the game plays little compliment to the franchise's over-riding fiction. In fact, coming away from the game we felt a more than a little confused. A good licensed tie-in usually offers, at the very least, a good nod to the fiction, but aside from the visuals, we got nothing like that out of Avatar: The Game.
You play as a human agent granted the ability to transform into a Na'vi (one of those blue cat things from the marketing). Y'see, from what we understand, the humans want to take Pandora away from the Na'vi (think Native Americans) and thus have developed technology to allow humans to transform, hopefully easing communication. Cue terrible moral decisions, etc.
Avatar: The Game is not a terrible game. In fact, it's clear from just navigating the world that someone at Ubisoft really cared about it. The world of Pandora in which you interact is a rich and colourful place, drawing off much of the visual flair from the movie. It looks pretty, and is an inviting place to play within. Sadly, awkward controls and poor shooting mechanics take away much of Avatar's early visual splendour. Alas, it's worth noting, if you have a super-super-duper TV and some 3D glasses, you can play this game in three dimensions. Which probably looks awesome. But we didn't know anywhere we could try it.
Avatar: The Game proves once again that any game rewarding you with XP as you complete objectives and shoot things is super-addictive. With XP flying off virtually everything you touch in Avatar (and upgrading your character) there's a good sense of progression throughout the game's campaign.
Fairly early on, Avatar: The Game presents you with a pretty cut-throat moral choice. Are you on the native Na'vi's side, or the laundering humans'? You make your choice and live by it. So far, so cool. Problem is, the Na'vi campaign is absolutely horrific. Playing as the Na'vi you're limited to mainly melee attacks which just aren't balanced at all. While your human "opponents" gun you down, you're left wading through the bullets trying to strike a hit. Naturally you die, and it's time to rinse and repeat. Worse still, there's absolutely no way to undo your moral choice short of starting the game again. If you end up on the human's side (cue: do this), you get a much more balanced and varied experience. The campaign is nothing special, but with access to the human's firepowered weapons, you at least get a single-player worthy of merit. The lock-on shooting mechanics are poor (but work), and the vehicles are a nightmare to drive but, hey, at least you get to shoot blue cat people, right? Well, yeah, see there's a hitch. Despite being a better game on the humans' side, playing them makes you feel awful. So basically, the moral choice in Avatar comes down to this: bad game with good intentions; or ok game with horrible intentions. Heavy Rain eat your heart out.
Despite having a genuinely interesting world, Avatar's frame-rate is nothing-short of atrocious at times, bumbling along at around 20FPS with piles of pop-in and aliasing issues. It's all a bit messy really.
What's going on? It really says something when a three-minute trailer can sum up James Cameron's Avatar better than an entire game. It just doesn't feel like Avatar: The Game does anything to represent the source material. But then, the poor voice acting - save a few lines from Sigourney Weaver - does little to make the plot endearing in the first place.
Much of Avatar: The Game's gameplay is pretty safe — y'know, fetch this, destroy that, talk to him, find her, etc. It works fine, but it's not exactly exciting. Especially with games like Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and Assassin's Creed II vying for your attention this Christmas.
James Cameron's Avatar: The Game has a full online multiplayer component which we'll cover in more detail at a later date.
James Cameron's Avatar may be being hyped as one of the biggest innovations in cinema; but the game intended to cash-in on that hype is about as middling as possible. Avatar: The Game isn't bad, it just isn't that good either.