Games based on movies are about as compelling as most spin-off novels—they’re little more than marketing exercises in stretching a franchise across multiple mediums. They’re also remarkably easy to make.
Throw in a generic action-adventure template, add art assets and footage from actual film, coat it in some high-budget polish, and you’re done. It shifts a few thousand copies in the wake of an advertising blitz and is promptly forgotten in a month’s time.
Green with envy: Avatar has lush, detailed visuals, and is set in a very interesting world.
So when we hear that director James Cameron has been working closely with the folks at game company Ubisoft to design the game version of his forthcoming, potentially earth-shattering film Avatar, it feels like a ray of hope for the movie-game genre.
The last time a movie game actually felt like it could stand on its own feet was Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie (notice the naming similarities)—which, buoyed by the involvement of both director Peter Jackson and virtuoso game designer Michel Ancel, was an interesting, exhilarating game.
Avatar starts off on a promising note—instead of aping the film’s storyline, it acts as a prequel. Set in the lush world of Pandora, you play ‘Able’ Ryder (you can choose to play as either gender), a “signals specialist” sent in to assist the RDA Corp, a proper military-industrial beast of a corporation which is mining the world for unobtanium, a precious mineral found only on Pandora. They’re at odds with the Na’vi, the native alien race resisting this invasion.
Early on, you’re asked to choose sides—join the Na’vi, or the army. In most games, this would be a purely cosmetic choice, but in Avatar it splits the game neatly into two different experiences, each lasting a good 8-10 hours. In effect, Avatar is two games in one—a third-person shooter if you’re on the human side, or a third-person action adventure if you chose the Na’vi. The RDA part of the game means shooting things with big guns, while the Na’vi rely on staffs, clubs and bows.
Intriguing premise, yes, but unfortunately neither experience is particularly compelling. The shooting and exploring bits are adequate, but painfully generic. The story lacks any gravitas or motivations for your character’s actions, making it purely secondary to the action. Some of the quests devolve into predictable chores.
Choices: The narrative is split neatly into two distinct experiences, making Avatar effectively two games in one.
The visuals, however, are lovely, and detailed—and the game works pretty smoothly, without any glaring technical errors. The controls work fine. It even supports various 3D-TV options (hooking up the game to a 3D display for some eye-popping visuals), but no one I asked was sure what tech you’d need to be in possession of to get it to work.
Avatar is disappointing, yes, but it’s not a bad game either. It’s a straightforward, unremarkable shooter with very pretty graphics. But it could have been so much more than just a middle-of-the-road movie adaptation.
James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game is available for the PC at Rs699, The Xbox360 and PS3 at Rs2,499 and the Playstation Portable at Rs1,499.