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James Cameron's Avatar: The Game (Xbox 360) artwork

James Cameron's Avatar: The Game (Xbox 360) review

"While I've seen terms like "revolutionary" and "breathtaking" tossed at the movie with regularity, the game is more worthy of commentary such as "another movie license game". It's pretty and I had a decent time with it, but I can't say that it's anything more than a decent action title riding the coattails of a major cinematic release."

So, it seems like this Avatar movie's kind of a big deal, getting a lot of positive reviews for being all impressive and stuff. That's the sort of thing that'd impress me if my taste in movies was a bit more high-brow than low-budget horror films completely devoid of logic and anything resembling competent acting. With me being who I am, though, any commentary I'd be able to give you would be second-hand from various things I've read online or heard from friends.

However, I CAN give you some first-hand info on James Cameron's Avatar: The Game for the XBox 360. While I've seen terms like "revolutionary" and "breathtaking" tossed at the movie with regularity, the game is more worthy of commentary such as "another movie license game". It's pretty and I had a decent time with it, but I can't say that it's anything more than a decent action title riding the coattails of a major cinematic release.

Avatar: The Game has some good ideas, though. Foremost is Ubisoft's decision to not directly base the game off the movie. Instead, you're controlling an original character exploring the jungle-covered terrain of Pandora. There are a few cameo appearances by movie characters, but for the most part, you're dealing with a completely stand-alone story in the movie's setting. It never feels like you're just regurgitating movie plot points, which is definitely a positive. You also get to pick what side you want to help. At the end of the game's first chapter, you're given the option to team with Pandora's native Na'vi or the conquering forces of the RDA.

This plays a big role in how you'll go through the game. As a military dude, you'll get access to all sorts of weaponry that ranges from assault rifles to flame-throwers, which do wonders in clearing away the land's more hostile plant life. Na'vi won't be harassed by those weeds, but will have to be a bit more stealthy and tactical while exploring as their bows and melee weapons probably won't win too many head-on confrontations against guys with machine guns and no qualms about using them. Certain skills, such as one allowing you to temporarily camouflage yourself, can prove vital to a Na'vi's survival -- while the RDA guy can just whip out one of his fancy guns and take out everything in range without batting an eye.

There also were a few neat extras in Avatar: The Game. By accessing terminals, you can take part in a land-conquering mini-game that brought back memories of those old Koei Romance of the Three Kingdoms strategy games (although in simplified form). Here, you could conquer regions of Pandora to gain experience points and bonuses to abilities. This experience system also is a neat addition to what is essentially a by-the-books action game. As you complete quests and take out enemies, you receive experience. Going up in level unlocks new weapons, armor and skills (or improved versions of what you currently have), which helps give a sense of accomplishment to completing quests.

Unfortunately, that sense of accomplishment was a bit lacking with the actual game. If the movie is supposed to be this super-awesome-fantastic thrill ride, why was I essentially doing little more than a string of fetch quests here? The majority of my experience with Avatar: The Game has been with the RDA story. In many of the game's regions, I had the exact same goal -- to find three shards of some sort of crystal and use them to create a harmonic signal that would help pinpoint my ultimate destination. After collecting each harmonic, I'd return to base to get my new orders and then venture to another region to do the same thing again. There'd be a couple more quests in each region that tended to involve me helping groups of besieged soldiers, but the main story was more monotonous than epic. It would have really helped if each region had a handful of optional missions. You can collect an achievement in each area for meeting a number of goals, such as getting "x" amount of experience points and exploring the vast majority of each map, but I lost interest in doing this by about the third region. The graphics are great and all, but I had no real desire to see every inch of Pandora when there was no legitimate reason for me to travel down unnecessary paths.

Also problematic were a few issues I had with the play control and camera. The camera has an annoying tendency to jerk around while you're in close quarters, which doesn't exactly make it easy to target foes in a third-person viewpoint. Also, a number of enemies have attacks capable of knocking you off balance, causing you to watch your guy tumble to the ground and slowly pick himself back up for you to try to get a few shots off before something knocks you down again. There are times where I was besieged by multiple Na'vi at once. It was REALLY frustrating to essentially be unable to fight back because their melee guys were causing the camera to jump around while their archers were knocking me down with their arrows. Playing as a RDA soldier wasn't particularly challenging, but when some of these gameplay elements conspired against me, I did find things teeth-grindingly frustrating from time to time.

Avatar: The Game is essentially a competent (if flawed) action game lucky enough to have a big movie license attached to it. It has its online modes and if you have a far better TV than I, you can even play in 3-D. I had a good time going through the various jungles and swamps of Pandora, taking in the scenery and blasting my way through the indigenous beings populating the world...but not a memorable one. No matter how atmospheric and cool the game's world was, it couldn't prevent me from noticing I was on a linear quest that didn't make the most of Pandora's expansive settings, nor could it induce me to ignore the times I became annoyed by the camera and play control. I'd call this game a good rental for a rainy day or two, but I couldn't find enough replay value to look at it as more than an entertaining diversion.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (December 30, 2009)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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zippdementia posted January 03, 2010:

Hm, this actually sounds more promising than I'd ever expected the game to be. Sounds like they took the time to add in more than they ever had to with such a big name attached to it.

Although big movie names are HARDLY a boon for a game these days. Gamers have learned to avoid them like the plague.
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overdrive posted January 03, 2010:

You know, I'd agree with your first sentence wholeheartedly if not for my experiences with movie license games over the last year. When I bought my 360, I got Kung Fu Panda with it. It was easy, but entertaining. Jason gave me Monsters vs. Aliens to review. It was repetitive, but has some really entertaining parts.

I was expecting a decent, if flawed far too much to be anything more than decent, and I felt I was correct in that expectation.

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