Jeff Markiewicz On January 6, 2010 at 11:44 am

James Cameron’s Avatar is a videogame based on the universe of the movie of the same name. A lot of thought and work has been put into this movie and it’s paid off big time, both critically and monetarily. Prior to release, Ubisoft and James Cameron’s team worked together and shared assets to make sure this is the best game possible. The biggest hurdle for movie games is that they are rushed to meet the release of the movie and end up suffering. Will this trip to Pandora be another of wonder and amazement or should we just see the movie again?

You play as Ryder, a signals specialist sent to the world of Pandora to partake in the Avatar Program prior to the events of the movie. You work for the Resource Development Administration (RDA) to help them mine more Unobtainium from the world. Before the game starts, you can give your character a first name and select one of several predefined looks. After the first couple menial tasks, you enter your avatar and soon realize there is someone feeding information to the Navi. The Navi are a native species of humanoids that live on the moon. This search eventually leads to a confrontation where you have to choose which side you want to play for the duration of the game. No matter which team you decide to bat for, you’ll get a fairly basic story with little to no character development that at times pointlessly drags on. The story feels like the movie remixed with some minor new elements here or there which is disappointing. Pandora seems to have a lot of neat stories to tell, even within the realm of Navi versus the RDA but this one fails to deviate enough to be original. On the plus side the story is somewhat competently told but it just doesn’t add anything to the Avatar universe and you won’t really care about what is going on.

James Cameron’s Avatar is a third-person action game with two ways to play. Playing as a human with the RDA you’ll encounter more hostile vegetation and animals along your trek whereas a Navi will be able to walk through unabated. They also have slightly different fighting styles. The RDA obviously uses guns whereas the Navi rely on bows and melee weapons. You also unlock various powers along the way like health regeneration or other various buffs but they are pretty much tit for tat between the sides. These powers can be used as much as you like, you just have to wait through the cooldown period. All of your powers, weapons, and even armor get upgraded through an RPG-lite experience system. Killing hostile things and completing quests will net you experience points. The weapons and bows have a lock-on system that helps you target enemies which also has the bonus of helping you see people in the middle of the jungle. Melee weapons have a very basic hit combo system that will get you a special attack for a certain amount of hits. In addition to this, occasionally you’ll have access to vehicles but a lot of them have really weird controls that take a while to get use to and during that learning period even the strongest will have to fight motion sickness. Thankfully this part isn’t entirely tit for tat and the humans have some interesting options merely due to the fact that some of them have weapons. The levels are fairly open with a maze structure of interconnecting paths which is kind of nice but it’s easy to get lost. You’ll have a trusty map but it’s hard to differentiate elevation which will make you tread through the mud trying to find the right path. The quests you’ll get are all quite basic go here and kill something or collect a certain amount of these. They start to get repetitive after a while. You’ll also have bonus missions that you can decide to do like uncover the entire shroud off the map or find all of the transportation hubs which will get you a little extra experience bonus. The There a lot of things to go around but they all lack personality and depth that you’ll forget about it all once you stop playing the game.

One of the best parts of Avatar is a little minigame you can play at transportation hubs. It’s called Conquest and is essentially the board game Risk on Pandora. Throughout the game you’ll earn credits which will let you buy troops to conquer territories which provide certain bonuses. Most are just minor experience bonuses but some provide more troops, health, increased range for your weapons, and other things making them strategically important to hold. It’s a neat distraction from the regular game but you’ll have to play the actual game to experience it.

There are some funny design choices you’ll encounter throughout the game like the RDA gates automatically opening for Navi and see elements from future missions (like random bombs around an armory). The AI is pretty dumb as well, at times you’ll be able to take out a people standing right next to each other and they won’t notice. They also don’t really use any tactics or anything, just run around individually and shoot at you. All of the enemies will respawn the second you leave the area so during the copious backtracking, you’re going to have to fight through everything again. The ability to choose sides is nice but there isn’t enough difference to justify playing both sides at the end of the day. Plus with the length of the game, it just merely overstays its welcome. You’ll start out cautiously optimistic because it is at least fun for the first couple hours but its lack of depth and repetitiveness over the considerable length will start to wear on you.

The online is even less compelling than the single player unfortunately. Instead of selecting which mode you want to play, you have to spin Pandora around and try to highlight certain spots which will each represent a map. There are 5 game modes here ranging from Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag to Attack/Defend variants. There are 2 maps per game mode which is decent but they are all incredibly large which basically end up making you run around aimlessly for 30 seconds until you reach combat. Luckily you can consult a map to navigate the maze but on your nice trek, the world feels so devoid and empty because you’re not seeing anyone. Sometimes you won’t have to go far though because games quickly devolve into spawn camping, especially in the best game mode, Team Deathmatch. Chances are you’ll try this out for a couple minutes then move on because it’s just not fun.

One of the biggest draws of the movie is the excellent graphics. The world of Pandora is one of lush vegetation and beautiful vistas. The game does succeed a little in recreating the magic with all the foliage and some decent views. The detail of it all though leaves much to be desired and most of the levels start to mesh together after a while because of the lack of variation. The animations are pretty poor for just about everything. The vines you climb up are as static as a metal ladder. The different pieces of armor you unlock change the look of your character which is pretty nice. Flying is pretty cool once you get a hang of the controls and the world looks nice. With the two different perspectives, it’s nice how the levels have two different stories. Playing as the Navi you’ll look around and see how beautiful the world is and when you reach places that are destroyed, you’ll see it as beauty being destroying. But if you’re playing as a Human on the RDA side, the world is hostile and dangerous and when you see it all brushed away, you feel at home and safe. It is one aspect that is decently done and almost makes the reuse of the levels (for each side) worth it. Interestingly, there is an option to enable 3D but you need a very specialized setup so unless you got a top of the line television recently, you won’t be able to experience this option. I was unable to experience it myself so I can’t comment on how well it’s been done.

Matching the visual prowess of the movie was the sound. It brought everything to life but here nothing sounds that great. Nothing has that much of a punch or sounds that impressive. The voice acting is pretty bad which may lead you to skip it quite a bit. There is one bright light though with Sigourney Weaver lending her voice to the same character she plays in the movie but it’s brief and once it’s over, you never hear her again. I wouldn’t say James Horner’s work on the movie’s music was an instant classic but it was good and would’ve worked brilliantly here yet none is to be heard. Its okay, but its standard fare game music which can be quite forgettable. A lot of personality and soul can come from great sound design but here the lack of it just compounds the problem with making the game stand out.

You’ll start out cautiously optimistic because it is at least somewhat fun but its lack of depth and repetitiveness over the considerable length will start to wear on you. The universe of Avatar is ripe with great story possibilities but you’ll be shaking your head with how similar the story is to the movie when it’s suppose to be completely different. The experience system and Conquest minigames are decent but they aren’t as fleshed out as one would like them to be. You start to stop caring when you level up and get new stuff once you’ve selected the four weapons and powers you enjoy, and even then you’ll use only one of each for the majority of the time. In the Conquest game you never seem to have enough credits to thoroughly enjoy it. Online has plenty of modes but its menu system is weird and the gameplay is just dull and uninspiring. The online has quite a bit of modes but is hindered by a weird menu and dull gameplay. The world is full of lush vegetation but bad animations and repetitive elements drag down the look.  The game seems to have every element for something good but it lacks personality and depth which rounds out to an immensely forgettable experience. You’ll have fun for the first couple hours, it won’t blow you away but you’ll enjoy yourself but then it just becomes a grind to the end. May be worth a rental but seeing the movie again may prove the better buy.


Original story takes a bit too much from the movie and fills in the gaps with fairly generic stuff. It’s all pretty poorly presented and keeps dragging on far past its welcome. The gameplay is very basic and gets repetitive in time. Conquest minigame is a lot of fun. Online is fairly full fledged on paper but just doesn’t offer much fun.


Lush foliage is quite nice but everything else doesn’t quite add up to a current-gen game. Animations are quite poor. Repeated elements create many déjà vu moments when navigating around.


Passable music with even worse voice acting. Sound effects are okay but nothing particularly interesting.


Immense potential leaves a lot to be desired. Most of it comes down to the gameplay which is just too shallow to support the length of the game and becomes boring and repetitive. Generic story with no character development doesn’t help at all. Lush foliage and some nice views help bring Pandora alive but a lack of detail and poor animations drags it down. Voice acting is really poor and the music is passable. You’ll have fun for the first couple hours, it won’t blow you away but then it just becomes a lackluster grind to the end.

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