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Xbox 360 Review: James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game

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If history tells us anything, movie tie-in games are tend to be lousy. This is why it was with much trepidation that I approached the Ubisoft Montreal developed James Cameron's Avatar: The Game. In addition to sporting an inordinately long title, the game was tasked with trying to capture the hype of a highly anticipated movie and turn it into a fun videogame.

The end result is definitely a pleasant surprise. Avatar is a solid third-person action game with some replay value. The events of the game take place about two years prior to the events of the movie, so the game serves as a primer to familiarize players with the world of Pandora.

There are two completely separate single-player campaigns. Early on in the game, players must choose to side with either the human faction (called the RDA) or the Pandora natives (the Na’vi). The RDA have a full arsenal of high-tech weaponry at their disposal. Shotguns, assault rifles, grenade launchers, and flamethrowers can be used to battle the indigenous dangers of Pandora. The Na’vi campaign is more melee based, with dual blades or long battle staffs being wielded to wreak havoc on RDA troops. Na’vi also have a bow and arrow, but ammo is much more scarce than ammo for the guns of the RDA. Na’vi have the advantage that they are about ten feet tall and extremely agile, so leaping out of the bushes and rolling towards an unsuspecting soldier while slashing his comrades is quite fun.

Experience points are collected and used to unlock upgraded weapons, skills, and armor. These skills differ depending on the faction, but they are useful and can enhance the game experience. Calling in an air strike as an RDA soldier can cause an entire platoon of Na’vi to get blasted from above. The Na’vi have a stealth/teleport type of skill that is a bit reminiscent of Nightcrawler from X-Men.

The campaigns can be a bit repetitive, but the combat is arcade-y so it works. They story revolves around awakening a dormant Well of Souls, and mostly the player goes to a location, retrieves some items, and battles against the enemy along the way. Some vehicle missions pop up along the way, and these offer a nice diversion.

A minigame called Conquest is definitely a highlight of Avatar: The Game. Conquest is very similar to the board game Risk. The entire planet is broken into a series of small territories, players control how troops are deployed and territories are fortified in a strategic battle for the planet. Capturing certain territories leads to bonuses in the single player game, like 5% boost in armor or range.

The main game looks really gorgeous. The lush, dense forests of Pandora really pay attention to detail. The creatures and wildlife of Pandora are integrated in such a way that creates a very immersive environment. The weapons are all really detailed and look increasingly more menacing as newer models are unlocked.

Players can scan just about anything in the game and unlock a new Pandorapedia article. Characters, creatures, plants, and vehicles all have a detailed write-up available in the pause menu. Creating a fleshed out world like this definitely shows that time was put into this game, unlike so many other movie tie-ins. I noticed many plants I had scanned in the game are in the movie as well. There was obviously an open dialogue between the game developers and the movie production team, so that’s a plus.

Several modes of multiplayer are available on Xbox Live. King of the hill, team deathmatch, capture the flag, and several others are possible options. There are many side quests that are also possibilities if a player wants to try to unlock some achievements and get 100% completion.

All in all, this is a fun third-person action game with some solid vehicles and two wholly different campaigns. There is a ton of detailed background information for die-hard fans of the movie, and a character or two from the movie might just make some cameos. Next time you see this game on the shelves, don’t just automatically assume it is just another awful movie tie-in.

James Cameron's Avatar: The Game is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Animated Blood, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violence, . This game can also be found on: Nintendo DS, PC, PS3, PSP, and Wii.

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