James Cameron, love him or hate him. Heís a visionary film director and you can be that whatever heís cooked up is going to be epic in scope and ideas. This is true regarding his latest Blockbuster flick: Avatar. And of course, just like usual...the video game industry has been hot on the heels of the film, with Ubisoft trying their hand at movie to game magic.Story
Set two years before the main story from the film, Avatar chronicles the journey of Ryder, a young hopeful (who you can choose) on the planet of Pandora. A hostile place that is teeming with exotic flora and fauna, most of which wants to devour humans outright. The RDA Corporation wants to mine Pandora, because a particular rock gives them a huge payout back home. The native Naívi doesnít want this to happen. Itís a simple story with some nifty twists and turns later on.Gameplay
Iím not quite sure where a lot of the hate comes from for this game; itís a bit of a throwback to the old school shooter. No cover and no fancy mechanics for aiming/shooting. You have the standard controls, move and shoot. You do have an rpg-lite layer of gameplay to contend with, where you can do various sector challenges to gain experience points that rack up to a level up, upon level up you get new stuff unlocked such as: new armour, new skills, upgraded weapons and new weapons. There are several vehicles to pilot, mech suits and copters as the RDA side, or the elegant Ikran (flying creature) and Direhorses for the Naívi. My only gripe is that it takes a very MMO idea to the quests, you do this, go there, fetch that, kill x-of this.
Fortunately the gameplay is Ďold schoolí solid, it plays out very differently depending on which side you choose and there is a checkpoint at the choice so you donít have to play the same level over and over again when you come to change your mind after finishing the game as one side or the other. The RDA are technologically strong, powerful and the easiest side to survive Pandora with...they get attacked by the native flora and fauna a lot, so expect to spend a lot of time fending off killer monsters, plants and a few other surprises. The Naívi are weaker, they prosper with hit and run tactics and make excellent use of the environment. Yet the game is hard when you play as one of them.
You can equip three additional weapons at any time, four skills and change them out as you play without the need for special kiosks or complexity. You have a bunch of objectives per sector to do to gain 1000XP each time, these are repetitious and cover the gamut from destroy-x things, explore the map, activate x-objects as the RDA, or explore the map, destroy-x things and activate x-object as the Naívi. They arenít needed to complete the main game missions, but do give you 1000XP per challenge completed and count towards achievements (for you achievement hunters out there, yes we are looking at you Saul M).
Once you complete the gold coloured story quests, you can usually move on to a new sector on the planet and do more. Itís a big game; the sectors are massive and teeming with things to eliminate. Thankfully thereís a good quest log, a decent map and a way to track resources, objectives and so on. Thereís also a Risk-like Conquest mini-game built in, but I didnít spend too much time with this since it gives you very little in the way of reward compared to the main game and the Risk-like style of game isnít my favourite type, so I couldnít give that section the love it deserved. From my observation, itís has a limited tutorial and itís very tough.
There are some times when the game seems to just pour on the mobs, with guards or hostile fauna spawning in from nowhere, it reminded me of the bugs with Vegas 2 terrorist hunts, when the enemy would appear to shoot you in the back just as you cleared a room. If you like this MMO style spawning, youíre going to love it. Kills = XP depending on what you kill. RDA gain XP from killing plants, animals and Naívi. Naívi gets it from RDA and their installations.
Itís nothing new, but it adds a tactical layer to the gameplay that might not be present sometime. One minor gripe is that the falling damage seems to be the same for both RDA and Naívi, one would expect the native tribe to the planet to be able to withstand a longer drop. Also the falling damage does seem a little severe, as does the amount of firepower that the RDA field in direct comparison to the Naívi, even late game when you level up. Still, minor gripe aside, thatís probably just like the film.
The check-point system works very well, you can collect DNA to help you revive in combat and even if you die, you respawn at a nearby checkpoint with little or no grinding needed to get back to where you were. Objectives auto-save so thereís no need to repeat huge chunks of play. You can also jump back to sectors youíve already done and play on after the game ends to clean up challenges.