Gameloft take to the treacherous waters of movie-to-game tie-ins with Avatar. So is it all plain sailing, or a sunken shipwreck?
Back in September 2009 I got my first hands-on with this game. I literally got about 2 minutes play time, as the game was still in development and it hadn’t even been announced, from what I did see though it certainly looked interesting. In november I got yet more play time, and was impressed with what I saw of the first few levels. Now, after four months from my 1st play, I’ve finally got down and dirty with all it has to offer.
Set two decades before the storyline of the movie, you play as Ryan, the game’s lead, a marine who enrolls in the Avatar program. The Avatar allows you to control the body of a hybrid human/native alien and infiltrate the locals (known as Na’vi) on the moon of Pandora.
The game consists of 16 levels overall, a pretty decent amount considering each levels size and length. The first half consists mainly of action and platforming. Controlling Ryan, particularly in the first training level is fun and intuitive, with you clambering up cargo nets, swinging from ropes and running and jumping obstacles. Later these skills come in handy when navigating the pandoran jungles, where you’ll be climbing giant trees, or leaf covered rock faces. The environment isn’t the only thing you have to contend with however, and this is where the action comes in. Pandora is strewn with various critters, in all shapes and sizes, and all it seem are out for your blood. Unfortunately, despite the variety, battles with the creatures all feel the same, and get very repetitive. While it’s platforming has similarities with Assassin’s creed, the combat doesn’t, and comprises of brainless button mashing. To try and keep things interesting there are various weapons including staffs, bows and human-based guns, there is even a magic system of sorts but its not key to success… after a while you just want to run away and avoid it where you can.
Around half way though, the game takes a turn into a surprising new direction. Before this, the levels where linear, with the 3D environments following a 2D platforming style path and not allowing open exploring. But from here the game world opens up into a lush green valley, the home of a tribe of Na’vi. In a nod to Nintendo’s Zelda: Ocarina of time you take to the plains a top an alien horse. It took me right back to those good old days of riding with Link on Epona. This part of the game is less about platforming, and becomes more about exploration and interacting with the locals. From their home tree you can take on quests. These can be simple collection quests such as find ten blue lemurs, or hunt down alien deer for food. Others will see you battling with the humans, and mechs as you become more in harmony with the locals and their ways.
Graphically it’s another good looking game from Gameloft. The textures and models are not as high in quality as some other games out there on the system, but where it lacks it makes up in the atmosphere, lighting and the large environments. The camera, in the earlier platforming levels can be a little problematic, not always shooting the action from the best vantage point… a common problem with auto cameras, but later in the open 3D levels things improve. The controls as you would expect from Gameloft are as good as ever, with the usual responsive virtual analogue stick, and context sensitive buttons like Assassin’s Creed. It’s just a shame they didn’t create a more compelling battle system.
Overall, Avatar is another well produced game from Gameloft with great production values in the graphics and sound, including some good voice acting for once, and some solid platforming and open world exploration. Action junkies may want to look elsewhere for their kicks, however, as if you were expecting Terminator Salvation with a dab of Hero of Sparta you’ll be disappointed. For everyone else though, there is fun to be had, and plenty of it, with this being one of the longer gaming experience for iPhone and iPod Touch at around 6-7 hours.
So in answer to the first question, it’s one of the better movie-tie-ins out there. But after watching the film twice, it just about keeps it’s head above water in meeting my Na’vi needs.