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According to the Internet, James Cameron’s Avatar is quite probably the greatest film ever made. Probably not even a film, more like the birth of a new entertainment medium. Avatar the game therefore has a lot to live up to, and despite it having no chance of doing so, it isn’t quite the washout you might expect.
Avatar opens with your basic introduction to the world of Pandora through the eyes of the human military. Set in the third person, you’re soon off from character to character – sporting over-head graphics to identify them – to receive your early missions. These missions also set the story in motion, although you won’t be too aware of this until you’re put in a position where you have to makethat decision. And from that moment on the game steps up a gear, although it’s only second gear and I’m not convinced it’ll ever find third.
Pandora itself is a beautiful place to explore, although it doesn’t boast the level of awesome that Naughty Dog coaxed from the PS3 with Uncharted 2. Still, zipping around the waterways in funky watercraft is fun, as is galloping on the horse-like creatures you can use when playing as a Na’vi. Ubisoft hasn’t managed to give us a consistent framerate for all this though, and coupled with the sometimes flat looking “enemy” creatures, it’s not always the best looking game in motion. This can sometimes make the combat a little more annoying than Drake’s, but there is at least some fun to be had with the Na’vi’s more primitive weaponry.
Conceptually, Avatar doesn’t differ from the template of many games that have gone before. It’s all very much a “Go here, speak to him/her/it, do this” experience, but despite the Conquest sub-game there is little that hasn’t been done better already. Of course, a first level is by necessity only an early look, and there is promise. Indeed, the cleverness of the early story-telling is such that it uses in-game missions without you realising. When that realisation dawns about two hours in, you’ll be genuinely unsure which way to go.
Ultimately, games are about the game, and no amount of clever story-telling is going to paper over the cracks. Avatar looks ok, plays ok, but leaves you feeling that it’s trying to be something it’s just not capable of being. An interesting thought, but I suspect that much like your human character changing into its awesome Na’vi Avatar, the game here would be better served if it could just change itself into a blue-tinged Uncharted.
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