I like big ass movie projects, I like special effects, I like fresh ideas. And in spite of smurf creatures and the risk of hubris I've been looking forward to Avatar, James Camerons multi-mega-movie. Supposedly it has cost the same amount as a cab ride to the galaxy of Andromeda and halfway back, or whatever out of this world financial comparison is popular this week. The project has been so vast that I actually thought there was hope for a good video game tied to the movie. I was wrong. Avatar: The Game is a mediocre action game that now joins the pile of licensed movie games we'll soon forget.
Avatar: The Game takes place on the planet Pandora, but has its own storyline compared to the movie. Resources Development Administration (RDA) is a bunch of nature-hating baddies that piss the long and blueish Pandora people off, by harvesting their world dry of natural resources. You start the game as one of the baddies but after cyber-borrowing one of the 10 feet tall Na'vis bodies you're faced with a decision - play as the RDA or Na'vi the rest of the game. Either way there will be third-person action and even if the weaponry of both sides are unique the experience is like two apples from the same tree.
Speaking of trees, Pandora is a lush, magical and fascinating world from the get-go, and there's almost nothing to complain about concerning the graphics. Trees and plants you've never seen before are casting shadows over beautiful rivers and the exploration (not that there's much of it) is a pleasant experience that makes you curse the RDA that wants to destroy something so beautiful. That being said the nature is also menacing, not to say lethal, and plants chewing your arm off is not unusual flora.. Ubisoft created this world with a modified Cryengine 2 and it's nice from start to finish. Prepare yourself for a lot of green though...
The nice first impressions will soon fade away and the fears of a slightly rushed out product will get confirmed. In spite of warp zones and a few vehicles there is for instance a hell of lot of walking in this game. The missions that you do are also really bland and just feel like walking to the next yellow marker on the map. Too often when I play Avatar: The Game I get flashbacks to the worst MMO missions, where your only mission is to collect a certain amount of a certain plant, slaughter some forest creatures or just finding a person to talk to.
Also, there is not a lot of variation when it comes to enemy types. At least twice the type of enemies would have been needed to make this passable and to bring some kind of dynamics in your progress in the story mode. Neither would it hurt if your enemies were smart enough not to run constantly in to a tree, something I witnessed more than once.
We also get to play with a typical system of experience points and when you've fired enough shells or arrows you'll get access to more powerful weapons and armour. Sadly you can't choose in which direction to develop your arsenal, that is something the game chooses for you. I've never seen any reason to use anything than the machine gun though, which have worked well in most situations.
Something good to say? Well, there is something called Conquest Mode which is a miniature strategy game that is somewhat interesting. When you access Pandora's warp points the entire moon is divided into a grid system and by purchasing troops with money you've earned through levelling you can activate battles and try to conquer as many grids as possible. The more land you conquer in this mini game, the more health and armour bonuses you'll get as a reward.
Just as the story mode has two branches the arsenal varies depending on which side you're fighting on. Na'vi keeps the eco criminals at bay with bows and arrows and the smurf crew also has access to a huge mace to smash things up with in melee combat. The RDA dudes doesn't use weapons for close encounters, and prefer to blast everything they see. Handguns, shotguns and flamethrowers are here but the aiming is unprecise and the strength is unbalanced, sadly.
Both sides also have different special abilities and we can for instance heal ourselves and activate a camouflage for a little while. The Na'vi is of course a nature people and one of their specialities is summoning a swarm of insects, practical against big hordes of enemies. The RDA can call in an airstrike to blow the Na'vi people's cozy treeohuses to infinity and beyond. The game is never challening, though, and I would rather have seen missions where these huge attacks really was necessary.
If Avatar: The Game is supposed to make us more excited about the biggest blockbuster movie of 2009 something has gone really wrong. That the actors of the film haven't done any voice work in the game speaks a lot, this is simply something without soul. Avatar: The Games is tedious, half-hearted and surprisingly bland when the creators have had such a magical world to start from. Without having seen the movie I think I can promise you are better off buying a ticket to see the film.