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Critical Reception:  James Cameron's Avatar: The Game

Critical Reception: James Cameron's Avatar: The Game

December 2, 2009 | By Danny Cowan

December 2, 2009 | By Danny Cowan
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More: Console/PC, Columns



This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Ubisoft Montreal's film-based action title Avatar: The Game, which reviews describe as "dull and forgettable." Avatar for the Xbox 360 currently earns a score of 66 out of 100 at Metacritic.com.

Tom Bramwell at Eurogamer gives Avatar a 5 out of 10, praising its unique premise. "Through the RDA's 'Avatar' programme, your human consciousness is transported to a Na'vi body," he explains. "Then you're confronted by a troubling accusation: all the evidence suggests the RDA is exterminating the Na'vi in order to plunder [Na'vi indigenous planet] Pandora, and you have to choose between executing a human traitor or helping him to escape and siding with the Na'vi, and accepting all the complications that implies."

"It's a simple choice, of course," Bramwell admits, "but the difference between Avatar and other action games where you face polar opposites is that a huge volume of content genuinely rests on the decision: Avatar is effectively two entire games, and the path you take defines the next seven or eight hours either as a Na'vi third-person action-adventure or an RDA third-person shooter."

Repetition soon sets in, however. "You're simply asked to wander between distant yellow markers on the map screen, then dispatched to another marker, sometimes to fetch plants, sometimes to speak to particular people, or sometimes to get in a fight," Bramwell describes.

He continues: "What little variety there is also finds itself undone by a lack of imagination beneath the surface: an unusual Na'vi mission, for instance, has you fighting an RDA dropship, but just has you doing the same thing three times (climb a ladder, effectively), and the third time is actually the first location again."

"As you run around the world itself it's evident how well put together it is," Bramwell notes. "Pandora could well lend itself to a great film, and would lend itself fabulously well to a good third-person action game. Unfortunately, despite providing two third-person action games here for the price of one, both of them are dull and forgettable."

Matt Cabral at Team Xbox scores Avatar at 7.1 out of 10. "A few years back, [Ubisoft] pulled the impossible feat of adapting Peter Jackson's King Kong into a decent game," he begins. "So, with the arrival of James Cameron's Avatar: The Game, we were anxious to see if Ubisoft could once again work its movie-adapting magic."

Cabral notes that the game succeeds from a visual standpoint. "The title's setting, the fictional planet of Pandora, as it pops off the screen with a majestic beauty rarely seen in shooters," he praises. "Sure, we've seen plenty of lush tropical settings before, but Avatar ups the visual ante, adding details and touches that go beyond just creating a backdrop for the action."

Avatar also features an impressive variety of weapons. "While arming yourself to the teeth with [RDA] hardware offers its share of thrills," Cabral writes, "it's the weapons of Pandora's indigenous Na'vi that steal the show. Giant war staffs, battle hammers, crossbows and dual-wielded blades make for far more interesting combat."

Cabral finds that a weak narrative is Avatar's biggest fault. "Ubisoft Montreal has crafted one of the better licensed efforts we've seen in a while," he notes in conclusion, "but a weak story, poor pacing and a few minor gameplay flaws keep Avatar from competing with the likes of far superior, recent third-person efforts such as Assassin's Creed II and Batman: Arkham Asylum."

IGN UK's Alec Meer rates Avatar at 6.8 out of 10. "It is a fine-looking first-person shooter -- thanks to the Far Cry 2 engine -- with meaty and semi-diverse combat," he says. "You can sit there and have a forgettably good time."

"Alas," Meer continues, "you'll be compelled to play on not because of the characterless, crystal-hunting trudge that is the plot, which has no meaningful bearing on the upcoming James Cameron techgasm -- it's a prequel, but a self-contained one. This isn't a Matrix Reloaded situation - film and game are off doing their own thing, linked only by basic setup and a digifaced Sigourney Weaver cameo."

Other elements make Avatar a compelling play, despite its weaknesses elsewhere. "You'll keep playing because of the ubiquitous compulsion-creator that is experience points," Meer observes. "When you level up, you earn pre-ordained upgrades for a few of your weapons and/or your armour, and for your skills. This latter is what makes the game an OK shooter rather than a dreary one."

Meer explains: "Getting around a tough fight might be a matter of a judicious heal, or turning invisible and running away, or boosting your damage output momentarily, or, most appealingly, calling in an almost comically small-scale airstrike."

"It does little to endorse Ubisoft's claim that it's been in development for years, as underneath the admittedly high-detail visuals it's a pretty rudimentary thing," Meer concludes. "It's a long way better than bilge like the Quantum of Solace, but it's certainly got no sense of a landmark pop-cultural moment, in the way we're repeatedly told the film will."


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