Overgrown smurfs: James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game

James Cameron’s Avatar is a movie a lot of people are excited for. I mean, for a movie that about a paralyzed man becoming the love child between Larry Bird and the opera singer from The Fifth Element, there’s been plenty to talk about. Why else would Mr. Cameron himself spend so much time talking about the film at this year’s E3? Probably because it’s awesome, and there are pretty pictures, and blue people, and stereoscopic 3D, and dinosaur things, and shooting, and James Cameron, and Titanic, and because he says it’s awesome.

Yeah.

But videogames! That’s why you’re here, right? I bet you’re really interested in hearing my impressions of the brand new Avatar game, right? This is very much true, but unlike the much touted Xbox 360 and PS3 version of the game, I played something a little different: James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game for the Wii. Made by guys behind Assassin’s Creed, Prince of Persia, and some Tom Clancy titles, there is certainly a pedigree going on here. You’ll definitely want to hit the jump and see if what I saw would feed into your expectations.

James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game (Wii)
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
To be released: December 1, 2009

Let us all repeat after me: this is the Wii version of *gasp* James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game. As such, it’s not quite the majestic graphical masterpiece Ubisoft would like the Xbox 360 and PS3 version to be. Actually, for its benefit, it’s nothing like those games in either graphics or gameplay. Instead, Ubisoft Montreal made the smart decision to make a fairly linear hack and slash title based off the film, where players work through as the plot as jumbo smurfs, the Na’vi.

Oddly, and probably beneficially, Avatar for the Wii supports both the Wii Balance Board and MotionPlus. These are both optional items that will help make the game more interactive. The Balance Board is used for the on-rails flight missions, where you tilt your body to dodge bombs and obstacles, and the MotionPlus lets you control a giant wasp and deal with enemies before you rush in. Both of these modes are neat, sure, but not exactly something to sell the game on. If you have these devices, yay for you. If not, it doesn’t look like you’d miss out on much.

Single player involves running along linear jungle paths shooting dudes with arrows, smacking them around with a staff and stealth attacking when there backs are turned. I guarantee, if you have played a hack and slash title before, you’ve played this game, although it is too early to declare whether or not Avatar does this with particular flair or prowess. Considering it is an 8-10 hour game, I hope Ubisoft makes sure that the title really wows after the first hour or so. I’m promised later levels get much more difficult as gamers leave the jungle levels for more industrial settings.

Multiplayer is pretty seamless, with drop in/drop out co-op at any time. There is an “aggro-lite” system at play, so one player can distract enemies while the other goes around and pulls off the always useful one hit kills (replete with Wii waggle motions). Dealing with enemies is fairly simple, since clear icons show how aware they are of you, and even in single player you’ll be making plenty of stealth kills as well as dealing with unwanted attention.

Other installments of “how we add waggle” include opening boxes, flying the “Banshee” dinobirdthing thing (should you not have the Balance Board, you control flight with the nunchuck tilt), pointing at the screen to shoot arrows, and generally perform all your attacks. I was told that there is a combo system that must be mostly unlocked, but the early portion of the game I played consisted of only a couple of simple swipes.

Did I mention the graphics? Look, this is a Wii game. Graphics are not going to be the focal point. However, vistas were genuinely lovely, the jungles looked lush and verdant, and characters animated alright. It is just a reality of the game that if you go in hoping to be blown away, you are probably going to be disappointed. I blame this on the simple fact that Avatar the movie and Avatar for the other systems are being touted as 3D graphical masterpieces, and it is hard to shake the fact that Ubisoft just needed to get an Avatar title out for the Wii. There’s just no way getting around it.

However, it is very obvious that the team is working really hard to incorporate as much style into the game. “We knew right from the start,” says Daniel Bisson, the Creative Director of the game, “that recreating [James Cameron’s] vision would be our greatest challenge considering the constraints of the hardware.” Talking to him after previewing the game, he mentioned that the graphical constraints were frustrating to work with, especially since they aim to really push the system, but they are genuinly proud of what they have done.

Ultimately, my impressions of this game is that there is not much here gameplay-wise that we have not seen before. It’s a hack and slash title with a couple different gameplay modes to mix things up between levels. Simple as that. This could be a good thing, especially if the later stages prove to be really solid and the combo system becomes more exciting as you play. It’s hard to tell from my time with the game. Also, the inclusion of the Wii attachments are cool, but far from necessary. I suspect that people are going to be buying this game on the December 1 launch for the holidays, especially if they become fans of the film and live in those mythical Wii-only households. Everyone else, maybe wait a bit and check out the 360 and PS3 titles first.

Ben Perlee