Developer: Ubisoft Montreal (“Assassin's Creed II”)
Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, PC, PSP, DS
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Like this year's “Terminator Salvation” game, “Avatar” isn't a video game version of the movie that inspired it, but is instead a prequel, set two years before the movie's story begins. Unfortunately, also like the "Terminator" game, “Avatar” is full of problems.
The plot involves a corporation attempting to conquer the mineral-rich, already inhabited planet of Pandora with the use of military force and artificial bodies (partly because the atmosphere is poisonous to humans). But while the film follows a soldier who turns traitor after falling in love with one of the native ladies, the game casts you as a different morally-conflicted soldier, and gives you the choice to either stay with your unit or join the locals.
Either way, the set-up is largely the same. You spend most of your time running simple errands that usually involve killing enemies or picking up something your side needs to win the conflict. Y'know, like pizza.
Plus, the scenery is nice. Pandora is a vibrant, often luminescent jungle world that looks like a cross between Felucia—the equally lush planet glimpsed in “Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith” and explored in the video game “Star Wars: The Force Unleashed”—and something Roger Dean might've created for a Yes album circa 1975.
However, things differ depending on which side you choose. If you opt to remain a soldier, the game is a third-person shooter. Siding with the natives means hitting people with sharp instruments, since you only have a bow & arrow and one gun, with very little ammo.
Sadly, both sides aren't created equal. "Avatar" is an OK shooter (though one that really, really needs a button that lets you look down the barrel of your gun for better accuracy), but it fails as a hack-n-slash game. Just as you pull the trigger buttons in shooter mode, you also pull the trigger button to whack people. As a result, you have to contend with an often wonky camera and you don't have the option to combine different melee moves like you do in other games.
As a soldier, you run ragged over the natives; as a native, you get slaughtered left and right. It's not exactly a fair fight. Good thing you spring back to life rather quickly.
The biggest problem with "Avatar" is that it's, well, dull. The missions are redundant and easy to complete. The hard part is getting there. The map isn't very helpful, while the controls for such vehicles as the soldier's ATV and the native's flying dragon-like banshees are prohibitively imprecise.
Besides the story mode, the game also features the usual compliment of online multiplayer modes, including “Capture the Flag” and “Team Deathmatch.” But like the story mode, these game types are pretty basic and rather uneventful, while the sides are similarly mismatched in favor of the machine gun-totin' soldiers over the stick-swinging natives.
Bottom line: Only serious “Avatar” fans should visit this game world.