Avatar: The Game takes the beautiful, science-fiction fantasy of the film and tears it to shreds.
Unlike many other movie-based games, Avatar switches things up, having nothing to do with Jake Sully or his struggle on Pandora. Instead, you're a random soldier named Ryder who gets involved with a battle between the RDA and Na'vi people. Ryder's character (who can be either male or female, depending upon the initial choice) is a soulless grunt whose blank slate of a nature allows them to be a part of either faction. Ryder gets some help from some RDA soldiers, can join up with a high-and-mighty Na'vi general, or deal with their total jerk of an RDA commander. The story is predictable and seems to wear the Avatar license on its sleeve, focusing more on lame secondary characters than the epic struggle that the feature film created. The narrative is best ignored.
From the get-go, Avatar forces you to make a critical moral choice: whether to join the RDA or the Na'vi factions. This single decision immediately breaks the gameplay up into two different styles. Both gameplay styles have their share of common issues, however. First is the mission structure. Your average mission in Avatar will involve you traversing an absurdly long map to either fight a random group of enemies, set up items, or usually both. The actual objectives aren't too bad, but having to run from Point A to Point B over and over again is tiresome. Teleportation machines are helpful, but there still is far too much mindless running around to be ignored. Second is the Experience system. Completing missions and defeating enemies nets the player experience, which after reaching a certain amount, will unlock new weapons, armor, or skills. These skills can range from a higher run speed (which is a must, considering how much random running is in this game) or a quick health boost. These skills are few and simply upgrade themselves after repeated experience boosts. There's really no strategy in the skill sets, making them incredibly pointless.
As an RDA soldier, the game plays like your typical third-person shooter. For the most part, it's running and gunning down hostile animals, toxic plants, and Na'vi warriors. As far as the basics, the RDA gameplay isn't too bad. However, the auto-aim system makes battles much more frustrating. The game does a horrible job at implementing an auto-aim system, as your reticule will lock on to a random plant instead of the Na'vi bowman who is shooting at you. Even worse are the vehicles, which are a nightmare to control. Something as simple as a car is hindered by cumbersome and overly-sensitive controls; having the vehicle crash and explode is frequent. Under the RDA, you can select between a group of weapons, none of which have much significance over each other. The only real advantage of playing as the RDA over the Na'vi is the use of vehicles, which make the arduous treks across the huge map much more tolerable, but with such horrible controls, it's a bittersweet taste.
The Na'vi gameplay mixes things up a bit. Players have access to ranged weapons like a gun and bow, but a majority of the battles as the Na'vi include melee weapons like clubs, staffs, and blades. While it's definitely appreciated that the developers opened more doors for the Na'vi battles, the game retains a repetitive nature, especially when smacking around soldiers with your blades, Dynasty Warriors-style. The Na'vi gain new abilities like summoning or riding wildlife, gaining health boosts from nature, and upgrading their weapons. Still, the game's transportation system is flawed, as you'll be running around from Point A to Point B far too much. The camera is a serious issue; it will frequently get stuck on rocks and add to the already high level of frustration the game offers. If you're tired of mindless third-person shooting, the Na'vi is definitely a change of pace, as long as you're not tired of mindless melee attacks.
The multiplayer is awful. The typical multiplayer modes are here: death match, king of the hill, and the like. You'll normally be divided into teams of humans or Na'vi and have to beat the crap out of each other. The maps are confined, lack diversity, and can even make finding an opponent an ordeal. That is, if you can even get into a decent match. The multiplayer is a forgettable and flawed mess that's not worth any of your time or energy. It's tacked-on at best; stick with the single-player for the nine or so hours it provides.
The sad thing is that Avatar: The Game's graphic design is actually incredibly well done. The lush foliage and reactive wildlife really draw out the best of Pandora, a powerful translation of the film's beautiful world. There's a good amount of diversity in the different regions across the planet. How each piece of wildlife is presented is pure and true to the film's world. This is all well and good, but it is all shot down by a number of technical issues, more specifically the inexcusably slow frame rate. Battles involving more than one enemy will usually drag down to a slideshow effect, making the actual fighting of these enemies a real pain. The environments also have a cluttered and crowded effect; it's very difficult to know what path is a road is and what is a dead end until it's too late. It makes navigating the different regions much more tedious than it should be. The load times are long and frequent as well so be prepared to wait a while for sequences and cinematics to get going. The audio is okay, with some interesting tribal themes, but the voice acting is absolutely soulless and boring. No character has any degree of personality, and even when they're spouting one-liners, you'll usually just want to ignore their mindless chatting.
+ Great graphic aesthetic
+ Moral choices add depth
- Auto-aim makes shooting controls awful
- Repetitive "Point A to Point B" missions
- Cluttered environments and slow frame rate
- Uncooperative camera, poor vehicle controls, long load times…
Avatar: The Game really had no reason to not be passable, at the very least. The world is beautiful, the mythology has plenty of potential for unique gameplay, and the storyline parallels offer inventive ways to progress through the struggle. While the game does have the aesthetic and the mythology, everything else in the game falls flat. The RDA missions suffer from poor controls, both on foot and in vehicles. The Na'vi missions suffer from a horrendous camera. Regardless of which side you pick, you'll find the mindless traversing from one area to another to be boring and tedious. An insufferable frame rate and lengthy load times slow the game down considerably. There's an unprecedented amount of potential in Avatar: The Game, but at the end of the day, it's your typical movie tie-in that doesn't even handle the basics with much finesse. If you want to witness the world of Avatar as it should be, grab some 3-D glasses, go see the movie in theaters, and ignore the mess that is Avatar: The Game.