Avatar was a 2009 blockbuster with a difference – it started the trend of 3D movies. So yes, if you hate the glasses then you can blame James Cameron. Anyway, there couldn't be a more natural franchise to have a 3D video game than Avatar. Fortunately, to play the movie tie-in you won't need any glasses. In our review, we ask whether the game has any novel features to offer or if we've seen it all before?
Before I go on, there may be some of you out there who haven't heard of Avatar – which I say based on the fact that I still haven't seen it! The story is about the planet Pandora which possesses a valuable mineral called "Unobtanium" (no, I'm not joking). The people of Earth are intent on mining Unobtanium without any regard for the local inhabitants, who are a kind of blue Feline-Sapian species, called the Na'Vi. Earth's military spy on the natives by remote controlling life size imitations of them. All with hilarious consequences (just remember that I said I haven't seen this film, okay?)
Obtaining Unobtainium - yes really!
Avatar is one of many epic 3D romps from Gameloft. By now, the formula is somewhat standardised for this sort of mobile game: they have PC quality graphics, a virtual D-pad and action buttons; and the gameplay involves running, jumping, and climbing around a 3D world on a predetermined path; and fighting off a range of creatures.
Climbing action on Pandora.
The first chapter of the game is a welcome training mission where you stretch the legs of your new (and blue) avatar in the safety of your base camp. The chapters (presumably) follow the course of the film and are punctuated with impressive artwork depicting parts of the film, narrated by the main Na'Vi female, telling the story of the hero's path from an undercover avatar to being a member of Na'Vi tribe. (Yes, that's a spoiler, but I haven't even seen the film and could have told you that's what would have happened anyway.)
Telling the story of Avatar.
The game controls are actually very simple. There are only two action buttons, which are primarily for jumping and attacking, but they do change depending on context. All you really have to do to attack, is point your avatar in the right direction and hold down the attack button, and the rest is done for you. As you progress through the game, you'll get different weapons to work with. You start with an assault rifle, but soon switch to a Na'Vi staff. There's an option page to switch your weapon and armour; given that the Na'Vi mostly run around naked I'm not sure what armour you'll find!
Avatar combat - spot the targetting reticule which locks onto targets by itself.
If you get lost while running around Pandora's jungles, there's a handy icon that will launch an orb of light to show you the way. This is a novel way of dealing with in-game navigation, and I found it helpful when it wasn't clear to me which ledge I was meant to be jumping to, etc.
Avatar is very well presented – the graphics and music are a joy to behold. The downside is that the gameplay just didn't hook me. Maybe it was because I haven't seen the film, or maybe it's because I have seen this type of game so many times before. Whatever the reason, I just didn't feel compelled to play on, either for the sake of itself or to see how the story unfolded.
David Gilson, 22nd April 2012.