XBox 360 Game Review: "Avatar"

12/15/2009 Posted by Admin

By our guest blogger Michael Lee

It is common knowledge to many gamers that movie to game conversions rarely do well. Look at “Superman,” “E.T.,” or every “Star Wars” game ever created. All have been disappointing. “Avatar” attempts to end the curse and, while it has potential, it falls just short of breaking the trend. “Avatar” is a great looking third-person action game but is bogged down by many little things, which ultimately muddles the entire gaming experience.

As you may know, “Avatar” is based on James Camerons' movie. It follows a young soldier who goes to the planet of Pandora with the military. The military tries to take over the harsh land by taking control of the native aliens there called the Na’vi and implanting human minds into Na’vi bodies. Roughly, the game follows the same premise. You are a person in the military who goes to Pandora and is given random tasks to do like, find a person or destroy a robot. Once a task is completed, you are given a reward and then given another task. That is pretty much the entire game in a nut shell. After a while, the gaming structure gets a little tiresome and you soon forget why you’re doing this in the first place. There are certain tasks that require you to enter a Na’vi body and a little later you’re given a choice to stay human or become Na’vi for the remainder of the game. Na’vi are just stronger, faster and bluer versions of a human, a novelty that wears off pretty quickly. It’s not a bad game overall, just mediocre.

Graphically, the game is stunning. Pandora is a lush rainforest with tons of character. The plants are detailed, the rock formations are staggering and well-textured, all of which is a sight to see, especially during the flying sequences. Then again, this probably is all borrowed from the movie so you can’t really give Ubisoft credit for James Camerson’s vision. Either way, it’s beautiful. Even the character models look great. You can see definition in the muscles of characters and all the intricate details on the different alien species on Pandora. Visually, very impressive.

While the game looks great, the level design could’ve been better. There is a lot of detail with the environments but that extra detail makes it kind of difficult to see where you need to go. There is a map that helps but during the flying sequences, the map becomes almost useless due to all the rock formations and trees getting in the way. Plus, the map doesn’t have a zoom in or out so it doesn’t give you a sense of relative distance. With all the traveling you’re going to be doing, a simple feature like map zoom would’ve been nice.

Also, the gameplay is really hampered by a few minor things. One thing you notice is the character movement. You start every movement with an awkward lunge move that’s very irritating. While the lunge move only affects humans, it also affects all vehicles as well. It makes getting out of corners and flying straight practically impossible. This is also aggravated by the many trees and rocks in the environment--so, expect to run into a lot of walls. There is a leveling up system as well. With each level you gain, you acquire more abilities and stronger equipment. It’s very cut and dry but later in the game, the upside of gaining levels is virtually negated. The enemies around you level up as quickly as you do, so as you get stronger, they follow suit and do so as well. Any possible gain from stronger equipment becomes null. One final annoyance that needs to be mentioned is the auto camera. It’s usually pretty good but there are times during heated battles or near walls that the camera will do some crazy stuff.

Another thing worth mentioning is the mini game within Pandora called Conquest. At each teleportation site is the option to play Conquest, which is very similar to the game Risk. Pandora is broken into different land fragments and the objective is to control as much of the land fragments as possible with units you create from land you already control. With each fragment you conquer, you gain experience points, attack bonuses and other benefits that are used for the single-player campaign. You create units with experience points earned during the single player. Early in the game, Conquest is very hard because you can hardly build anything.  It isn't until late in the game, with all the experience points you earned, that Conquest becomes much easier.

One final aspect that deserves to be recognized is all the content and detail within the in-game encyclopedia call Pandora-pedia. It lists a wealth of data about weapons and the flora and fauna--it's a lot of data. Again, this probably is all borrowed from the movie, but it’s still  impressive.

“Avatar” is a great-looking game that has a lot of potential but which lacks some of the fine tuning that could’ve made the game soar.  Titles such as “Uncharted” or “Assassin’s Creed” might be a better choice but, if you find that you love the movie when it's released on Dec. 18, 2009, then “Avatar” the game might be a nice addition to your collection.

View a behind-the-scenes look at "Avatar" below. Thoughts?

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