It’s no secret that geeks have a special place in their heart for James Cameron’s blue-collar-flavored science-fiction vision. While Cameron was away sinking boats and making undersea documentaries, the videogame industry has kept the space-marine flame smoldering nearly single-handedly. (Though let’s not forget the contributions of tabletop kings Games Workshop.)
That’s why James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game feels more than a little recursive. It’s a game about a movie about soldiers in space—a game that lets you step into the shoes of soldiers in space who have the power to step into the skin of blue aliens. Sadly, the game does little to explore issues of identity. It merely plugs into the movie’s setting and lets ’er rip.
The plot tracks a side character—a merc employed by the evil megacorp RDA who comes to Pandora to help quash the native Na’vi resistance so the company can strip-mine the planet’s ultra-rare unobtanium. (That’s really the name.) Depending on a couple of moral choices, players can opt to remain space marines or go rogue as members of the Na’vi resistance.
Unlike Ubisoft’s wrongheaded tie-in with Peter Jackson’s King Kong remake, Avatar: The Game has more than a little depth. On top of the ability to play from both sides of the fight, the game also offers a couple flavors of multiplayer, and a fairly compelling Risk-style mini-game.
As an early entry point into the convoluted lore of Cameron’s flick, the game serves its purpose. Players lay hands on a wide array of bad-ass futuristic weapons. They strap into mechs, choppers (close cousins to the killer dropship from Aliens), and boats. Wherever there’s a trigger on Pandora, this game lets you pull it.
Read all the unlockable notes in Avatar: The Game (they call it the Pandorapedia), and you’ll be up to speed on all the movie’s lore, lingo, and backstory. The downside, of course, is that after crawling through Pandora’s deadly jungles and culling its wildlife one bullet at a time, the movie may feel anticlimactic: Been there, killed that.