Avatar was this year’s most anticipated movie with director, James Cameron, devoting over a decade to the production of the film. In 2007, the director selected Ubisoft Montreal to produce a video game based on his film. With the filmmakers and game developers heavily collaborating, the results have proved somewhat successful.
The main reason for James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game’s success is how the title expands on the cinema experience, rather than opting for the commonly-used and often poorly executed direct recreations of the film’s narrative. Like the film, the action takes place on the moon: Pandora – of the planet Polyphemus, where the human corporation, the RDA, are mining for the valuable mineral: unobtanium. However, the moon’s inhabitants, known as Na’vi, are doing all they can to prevent the humans from destroying their homeland.
Players occupy the role of Signal Specialist Able Ryder who goes through a series of tests in the RDA base, before completing a number of challenges on Pandora, as his Avatar (Able’s Na’vi form). About an hour into the title, players must make a choice between fighting on behalf of the RDA or the Na’vi. This choice is crucial to how the rest of the game pans out as players will permanently lose the choice of the opposite character type. Whilst the humans are a much stronger long-range attacking race, able to use a range of guns, most players will opt for the Na’vi to replicate the events of the film.
The two storylines provide major differences in terms of gameplay, with changes to the narrative perspective and sector challenges being evident. Sector challenges feature in each of the territories players will travel to on the moon of Pandora, often requiring players to reveal the entirety of the territory’s map, activating the numerous trees of wisdom positioned throughout and defeating a particular number of enemies. Whilst they are fairly repetitive and at times dull, the XP boost is one players will find especially beneficial.
Like many role-playing titles, players are able to upgrade their characters through gaining XP points. XP is obtained through the elimination of opposing units and the completion of the sector challenges. Once a player’s XP point total reaches a specific number, the player unlocks new skills and weapons they can use to upgrade their character.
Whilst the skills from both sides do contain differences, the resulting skills are pretty much the same with players being able to heal themselves, temporarily increase their damage or increase their armour, and momentarily increase the speed they run at or turn the player invisible. Regrettably, the skills aren’t a commonly used feature within the game with players most likely to use the health increase when they find themselves low on this during combat.
As for the game’s weapons, like the skills, there is an array to choose from, differentiating between long-range weapons to close-range. The choice of weapon isn’t particularly vital, especially considering at later stages in the game, players can carry up to four weapons at a time; assignable to each arrow on the D-pad. From there, they can easily be selected and switched to, even in mid-combat.
Each of the game’s skills, weapons, people, plants and vehicles can be viewed in more detail within the Pandorapedia – Pandora’s equivalent of an encyclopaedia. Despite the fact that it won’t necessarily appeal to the more hardcore gamer, who would rather plough their way through the game, the information and details are particularly interesting, especially to those who are keen on looking into the moon of Pandora in more detail.
One of the surprise features of James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game is Conquest, a strategy mini-game incorporated into the title. The mini-game displays the moon of Pandora, split into a number of territories. The aim of the game is to occupy all the territories on the moon by battling your units against your opponents. Defeating all the units on a particular territory, earns the triumphing player possession of it. Although it isn’t particularly enjoyable at first, with players’ units depleting with ease, once players have gained enough credit to purchase enough new units to form a strong army, there is plenty of gratification to be had out of it.
With one playthrough lasting approximately twelve hours, an additional few hours required to 100% the game’s sector challenges and a second playthrough essential to emphasise the game’s full potential, the replayability of the James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game is pretty astonishing, especially when the game’s online multiplayer is taken into consideration.
Online Multiplayer is a feature in James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game that wasn’t particularly necessary. The multiplayer consists of player matches on modes including King of the Hill, Capture the Flag, Team Deathmatch and Final Battle (in which each side defends their crystals). Unfortunately, whilst there is support for up to sixteen players, gamers will rarely find themselves in a player match with enough players to meet a suitable satisfaction, especially on the incredibly over-sized battlefields, taken directly from the single player campaign. However, with enough players, the mode is enjoyable, despite it being short-lived.
Similarly to the film, James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game is visually impressive featuring stunning environments and great character details evident throughout cutscenes and gameplay. Whilst they aren’t up to scratch with the film, they certainly are some of the best witnessed on the Xbox 360. The game’s audio is on a similar scale, with the game featuring some fantastic musical scores and sound effects, re-creating the cinema experience in the home brilliantly.
To conclude; James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game is one of the better movie-to-game tie-ins. The amount of replayability and closeness to the film, outweigh the slight repetitiveness and short-lived online play to rate the title as a one to consider.