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James Cameron's Avatar: The Game

by James Jones - January 9, 2010, 1:50 pm PST
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This blue-tinted poor man's Zelda has bad motion controls.

James Cameron's Avatar: The Game is one of those games in which there are more subordinate descriptors in the title than there are good elements in the game. James Cameron's Avatar (the game) is an Ubisoft developed side-story to the zillion-dollar CG extravaganza of a film bearing the same name.

Avatar (both the movie and the game) takes place on the planet of Pandora. Humanity has arrived on this jungle world in order to exploit its untapped resources, but unfortunately they are not alone. The native species, the Na'vi, are lanky blue humanoid creatures that live "with nature". With an extreme technology disadvantage, humanity's drive to despoil Pandora is not something the Na'vi are equipped to resist (hello, thinly-veiled metaphor for European colonialism).

You play as a Na'vi warrior who saw his village destroyed and his sacred ancestral relics stolen. He embarks on a quest for revenge, aiming to kill the man who ordered his home obliterated and reclaim the sacred objects. It becomes apparent that his talents as a warrior are needed to save his people from the efforts of humanity.

It is important to get this out of the way: James Cameron's Avatar: The Game is a Zelda clone. Originality in game design isn't this title's strong suit. A better analogue would actually be Star Fox Adventures: Dinosaur Planet. At its core, Avatar: The Game is a third-person action adventure. The Warrior is armed with a bow and a staff, and has to dispatch enemies (in a stealthy manner, ideally) as he treks through the jungle. The comparison Dinosaur Planet isn't simply due to the weapons, alien world, and dense jungle; unlike Zelda titles, Avatar does not feature traditional dungeons. Like Star Fox Adventures, levels are linear stretches of jungle in which you ambush your enemies, until such point you reach the end of the route. The game also tasks you with collecting various trinkets, ranging from blue orbs to ancient totems, scattered throughout each level in order to upgrade your abilities.

The problems with Avatar: The Game begin with the controls. The game supports both Wii MotionPlus and the Wii Balance Board. For the purpose of this review, Wii MotionPlus was the only control method used. Combat would seem like an obvious way to use MotionPlus in a novel way, but that simply isn't the case. You attack by swinging the staff horizontally or vertically, and your warrior swings his staff to match. However, this usually doesn't work; there is a noteworthy gap between swings, which gives your foes plenty of time to pepper you with machine gun rounds. The game advises that you can chain attacks together to perform combos, however I only accomplished this feat when I scratched my head while holding the Wii Remote. Translation: the controls are bad. The best approach is to avoid direct combat, and if it comes to that, wildly waggling the Wii Remote does the trick. Melee combat is functionally designed to work like sword combat in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, but in reality it is far less responsive.

Archery is a bit better, but it is still rife with issues. Holding the B-trigger pulls out your bow and puts a reticule on the screen. Using the pointer to aim, you must hold the reticule on your target while the aim "steadies". This takes a couple seconds, during which you are totally exposed. Even if your aim is perfect and you fire your arrow (by pressing A), you will miss if you don't wait until the reticule indicates that you have steadied your aim. Given how waggle-based combat is ineffectual at best, archery becomes your best friend. Climbing to the top of the highest ledge, shooting a foe, hiding behind an object, and shooting again is the best way to win a fight. Because it takes so long to aim, you have to wait until the evil humans are no longer looking for you before you re-emerge and take your next shot.

There are a lot of quicktime events, and boss battles require you complete them in order to win the fight. Another way to trigger these events is to ambush your enemies. If you get behind a foe you'll sometimes be offered the opportunity to eliminate them silently by pressing the B Trigger and completing a quicktime event. Many times the motion controls don't register what is clearly the correct input, forcing you to replay entire quicktime events.

The last mode of play is a flying minigame that comes up between levels. When The Warrior has to crisscross Pandora he mounts his Wraith, a winged creature that resembles a pterodactyl. While mounted, the Wraith's position is controlled by tilting the Nunchuk. It seems odd that this sequence forgoes Wii MotionPlus, but it does so in order to allow you to use the pointer to fire arrows at targets, which thankfully do not require you to obtain a lock in order to take the shot. This is easily the best part of Avatar, and the best use of its control scheme.

The entire game is repetitive. There are only roughly ten types of enemies and most of them are the same, only requiring more hits to take them out. The flight sections are always the same, simply getting longer as the game goes on with more enemies to encounter. Fortunately, Avatar is a fairly short title, so the repetition never becomes too difficult to tolerate.

The game does allow a second player to jump in at any time by pressing the A button. The help is great, but the game is never difficult enough to make it necessary, and the emphasis on stealth makes it feel pretty slow as a multiplayer title.

As one might expect based on the property, Avatar: The Game is visually gorgeous. The lush green environments, accented by colorful flora, are punctuated by the desolate metallic structures of the human colonists. Character design is another strong point, including nice-looking enemies and their mechanized weapon systems. The only knock on the graphics is that you often have a hard time seeing their beauty. The camera often fails to turn in the direction that you want it to go, forcing you to move just so you can position the camera where you'd like it to be. For a title with a heavy element of stealth, this can be a major issue when you need to see where enemies are and where they are looking.

The game features music from the movie, but does so in a subtle way that allows the natural and mechanical sounds to create the environment. It also features convincing ambient noise, and enemy choppers and walkers can be heard as they move overhead and past you. Many times you'll hear a chopper inbound and find yourself diving for cover to hide, even though their route is pre-scripted. There is a lot of voice acting, especially while fighting with enemy guards; the catch is that it's terrible. It's not the quality of the delivery, it's the writing; hilarious taunts from your enemies like "We're going to destroy everything!" deliver the film and the game's message about the colonialist and the “noble savage” with about as much nuance as a chainsaw.

Avatar's control issues and mediocre utilization of the Wii's unique features lessen the enjoyment it provides a great deal. It looks good, but it doesn't have the gameplay to match its visuals. In the end, Avatar is a long on style but short on substance.

Score

Graphics Sound Control Gameplay Lastability Final
9 7.5 5.5 6.5 4 6
Graphics
9

Easily some of the best graphics on the Wii. The colors of the jungle are vibrant, and the starkness of the colonies are unsettling. Character models and animation are also nicely detailed and smooth.

Sound
7.5

The sound effects are very good, creating an ambiance that blends well with the world of Avatar. However, the plethora of voice acting is overwhelmingly bad and will inspire more than handful of laughing fits.

Control
5.5

All the basics work, but the combat - the most vital part of the game - just feels unresponsive. If the only time I've ever done a combo was while scratching my head, that's a problem.

Gameplay
6.5

The repetition and lack of exploration would limit this score even if combat worked well. However, the control problems make it hard to evaluate the gameplay positively. The stealth can be engaging, but once your cover is blown it's more fun to simply run away and sneak up on your enemies again later.

Lastability
4

Avatar is a short game for its genre, clocking in anywhere between ten to fifteen hours, and there isn't much of a reason to replay it. The ability to add a second player on the fly is nice, but there isn't much payoff for doing so.

Final
6

Issues with control, camera, and repetitive gameplay drive Avatar: The Game over a cliff. With so many superior examples of the Action/Adventure genre on the market, there's little reason to check it out unless you're dying for two-player adventuring.

Summary

Pros
  • Interesting (if less than subtle) plot
  • Nice graphics
Cons
  • Archery mechanics aren't much fun
  • Poor combat controls
  • Repetitive gameplay
  • Unresponsive controls
Review Page 2: Conclusion

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Genre
Developer Ubisoft
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Worldwide Releases

na: James Cameron's Avatar: The Game
Release Nov 24, 2009
PublisherUbisoft
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