According to James Cameron, Avatar's homeworld of Pandora contains a rich, complex heritage and culture. Step away from the sales-speak, and it's an old-fashioned tale of progress versus tradition, science versus spiritualism, bullets versus spears, and humans versus 10-foot-tall blue blokes. It's basically cowboys and Indians, with helicopters and dragons.
This isn't the same story as the movie - you'll have to choose which side you're on pretty quickly. After a brief controls tutorial, you'll be forced into a stark decision, and it's a permanent decision that decides the entire course of the game.
Playing as the opposing factions is as similar as it is different: choose Na'vi, and you'll be low on ammo, and rely more heavily on your special powers. As a human, you'll be able to construct ammo depots on your progress through a level, allowing you to rely much more heavily on flamethrowers. As a human you also get a remarkably similar set of special powers, so it's considerably easier. And the Na'vi have to deal with the agonising flight controls of the Banshee: the only system to make us hold our hands in front of our face and scream at them for 20 seconds.
Avatar's controls are often frustrating: the third-person combat works fine when you're engaged in gun combat, but indoors and in melee, there's a fat-thumbed clumsiness to the game. It's all tilted towards the human side: being a hippy blue dude is hard work.
Either way, you'll have access to the War Room sub-game - a modified version of the Risk board game that feeds from your in-game XP earnings, and offers rewards that plug straight back into the real-world running and shooting. It's a peculiar addition, as the War Room world map seems completely divorced from the real world - but it's also an intriguing diversion, and it's good to see your XP earnings going somewhere more interesting than an arbitrary level-up.
Avatar is a strange game. It's beautiful, and it does things in its own way, which is actually something of a rarity for direct movie licences these days. Sometimes, this works beautifully. Often, it's awkward and unfriendly. It's a beautiful duckling that doesn't turn into a swan.
Stands alone from the film, proud and awkward
- Does old things in a new way
- Pandora is a beautiful and filled world
- Tons of challenges to keep you busy
- Riding a Banshee is dire
- The Na'vi branch is rubbish