Saturday, February 20, 2010

Video game number forty nine: Avatar

Game review number forty nine in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Avatar".

No, this isn't that Avatar game where you put it into your console for 30 seconds and you get 1000 gamer score for hitting the "B" button a few times. I already played that one.

This is James Cameron's Avatar game. The one based on his little indie flick you might have heard of. The game he traveled to Comic Con to talk about, and gave the audience a walk through of the entire plot. I'm glad I didn't go to that panel, because I'm told the dude spoiled the entire story of the game for anyone who did. I went into this one completely un-spoiled, ready to play.

Much like the movie, Avatar begins with you landing on a human army base on the alien planet of Pandora. It's not "the movie game", so while the plot is similar, you're not playing the same main character from the movie. They give you like 20 choices of pre-configured soldiers, I picked the hot blond girl of course. Sigourney Weaver made a cameo to say "hi" in the beginning and to tell me that I'd better not screw my mission up. I wanted to press the button that tells her I saw the movie and she's probably not the best person to talk, but I couldn't find that button. Anyway, you meet all the soldiers at the base, and before you know've got your own avatar to walk around with.

Just like in the movie, it's much cooler to be an avatar than a human. You are ten feet tall, you can run really fast and perform awesome jumps. Given these new powers, you are asked to check out some plants, shoot some puppies, drive a buggy and repair a few radio beacons. Basic "Run here, do this, come back to me" sort of game. Just as you're getting the hang of the basics, you meet another human (also occupying an avatar) who walks you over to a cliff and shows you some burning trees. He tells you that all these missions you've been working on have caused all this. He tells you that the humans are ruining Pandora, and that you must join with him to help him stop the humans and save the Na'vi.

I whipped out my army issued assault rifle and shot that big blue motherfucker right in his goofy looking face.

After that, the game deviated quite a bit from the movie. I decided that the humans spent a lot of money to fly me to Pandora. Space travel isn't cheap (it was going to cost that kid from N'Sync ten million bucks just to orbit earth in a Russian spaceship, and that was in 1990's money). The human race has set up an occupation force, spent the time to build these awesome looking avatar things, then spent years integrating with the indigenous people and learning the native language. Finally, they fly me (an expert in communications) all the way out here, and I'm supposed to betray them? Fuck that. The least I could do was help them mine a little unobtanium. The Na'vi clearly aren't using it to it's full potential, or they wouldn't be running around naked and talking to trees. Some people might say it's not fair to dig up this mineral if the natives have built their homes on top of it, but I say they can always go move somewhere else. It's a big planet....and there's plenty of room for them, as long as it's not on top of that stuff that we need back on earth.

Sure, I could have joined the Na'vi, and helped them fight the humans, like in the movie...but that's sort of like playing Super Mario Brothers and teaming up with the mushrooms to help Bowser kidnap the princess and burn down her kingdom. I didn't want to be a traitor, I wanted to be a hero.

The world of Pandora is a beautiful place, with amazing wildlife. When you equip your flame thrower and burn it all up, you get lots of experience points. There are many wonderful creatures, from the harmless horses, to the flying Banshees that circle the beautiful islands in the skies. About 5 or 6 missions in, the humans gave me one of those awesome helicopters, and gave me some missles to destroy all that stuff.

There are a lot of Na'vi running around the planet Pandora, trying to stop you from stealing their unobtanium. Luckily, the humans have had the foresight to put ammo stations everywhere, so you almost never run out of bullets. Every Na'vi you kill gives you another 50 experience points, and every few thousand you get unlocks a new gun for you.

These pesky Na'vi seem to have teamed up with every animal and plant on their world, and they're all out to kill you. If you're flying a helicopter and you land it to do a foot mission, you'll often come back and find a group of Na'vi smacking your ride with their sticks. Whenever I saw this, I liked to pull out the nail gun and give them a lesson in superior human firepower. Perhaps I should have left a few alive so they could stick their tails into the trees and tell everyone on the planet not to fuck with me, but they're just so hard not to kill.

I know this probably sounds like the best game ever created, but it's not. First of all, unlike the movie...the graphics aren't awesome. They're sort of blah, and although the world is nice..your travel is limited to very specific paths. The combat is incredibly annoying, as you are often swarmed by a half dozen enemies at a time, and they always get a piece of you before you kill them. It doesn't really matter, since you carry around health packs you can recharge at will, but it's still annoying.

The humans in this game move REALLY slow. The army gives you little buggies, helicopters and boats to drive, but if you crash them, or if the Na'vi kills your have to do the rest of the mission on foot. That's never fun. Playing in your Na'vi avatar is fun, but then you can't use the human vehicles. You have to ride horses, or birds....or walk. They did include teleporters for both the humans and Na'vi, but until you've opened them up, you can't use them. That means you have to walk everywhere on Pandora at least once. It's sort of lose-lose as far as the transportation in this game goes.

I mentioned before that you're limited to specific paths, and that might be an understatement. You're very much on the rails in this game, and you can't leave them...even if you want to. When you're in the chopper, you will often find that you can't fly to certain areas (even though they're completely open in front of you), because that's not the way the developer wants you to go. The first time I had a mission where I was supposed to fly to a certain spot, and I couldn't take a straight line, it was so confusing that I actually crashed before I got where I was going. The next attempt, I figured out that the developers wanted me to get out and walk the last little bit for some reason. It was exactly the opposite of what my natural expectation was...which is really lame.

Overall: 5/10. This game is blah. Even though I had a lot of fun deviating from the storyline of the movie at first, that fun wore off pretty quickly. I would definitely recommend this game to someone who really likes the movie, but not to someone who really likes games. It's destined to be 9.99 in the bargain bin at every game store out there, so if you feel you have to play it....wait for the inevitable sequel to come out and pick this one up on sale.

Achievements? I got a few through normal gameplay. Don't plan to beat this one though, I hear it's a 12 hour game, and I'd rather put those hours into Mass Effect 2 or Bioshock 2.

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