You’ve almost certainly heard about James Cameron’s futuristic thriller Avatar by now. As one of the year’s most highly anticipated films, it’s expected to be huge at the box office. One may think that any iPhone game spin-off of such a major film would end up being a cheap, quick cash-in. However, Gameloft went above and beyond in their efforts to provide an original storyline prior to the events of the movie.
First, let us explain some background behind the concept of Avatar. The native, blue race of Pandora, the Na’vi, is under attack from the skypeople, or humans. In order to send their units into the heart of the Na’vi culture, humans started the avatar project. Avatars are the Na’vi embodiments of humans, or an alternative physical form one can take that mixes DNA of the two races. However, the game’s hero and first avatar to ever exist, Ryan Lorenz (or Ryanlorenz as he is known by the Na’vi), sees the evil his people are committing. Throughout this original adventure dating a few decades before the movie’s events, you play as this rebel avatar and seek justice for your newfound friends.
Hi ho, Aquamarine!
None of this is actually essential to your enjoyment of the game, because the depth of Avatar goes far beyond the storyline. Top-notch graphics and animations really make this game pop off the screen. At times we even forgot that we were playing an iPhone game due to how immersive it is.
Avatar also feels more like a console experience due to the multiple cutscenes and other cinematic touches. Loading screens between levels are cleverly masked by voice over narration of the story, using the voice of one of the actors from the movie. Needless to say, Gameloft has finally done voice overs justice.
Most action iPhone games tend to last a few hours at most, but Avatar runs for roughly ten hours. Spread across fifteen chapters, there is a lot of content to dive into. The majority of these chapters are a mixture of hack-and-slash combat with 3D platforming elements. Each of these lasts anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes. Another level consists of flying on a banshee, the giant bird-like creature that is sacred among the Na’vi. This comes down to dodging obstacles and shooting down high-tech human helicopters with your bow and arrow.
I’ll see you in heli!
Our favorite type of levels, though, are the open-world quests. Throughout the game, you are brought back to a Na’vi village, which doubles as a questing hub. You’re sent out into an expansive world to complete quests and then return to take more. This questing area seems almost as big as Ravensword, but a mount for quick transportation makes travel easy. Each time you visit this world in a new chapter, new areas are opened up, new landmarks have arisen, and at one point you even get the chance to explore it at nighttime.
One disappointment that took away from the expansive feel of this open world, though, are the invisible walls. By this, we mean that certain shortcuts over rivers or drops into crevices are impassable; you must proceed all the way around until a flatter path is available.
Your arsenal of weapons and powers in Avatar are very fun to use. In the opening chapters you will obtain all three available weapons: the assault rifle, battle staff (close combat pole), and bow. After completing certain missions in the open-world levels, these will automatically upgrade (for example, giving you the ability to dual-wield assault rifles). These upgrades keep the combat options fresh as you progress.
Take that, ravages of technology!
Another means of progression in Avatar is through collecting Spirits of Eywa. After obtaining enough Spirits by killing enemies or picking them up on your path, you will move up one step on a long skill enhancement tree. The different abilities include stronger attacks, more health, faster health regeneration, and more. We had a lot of fun constantly working towards our next upgrade.
The controls are as close to perfect as you can get for an iPhone game. Their high levels of responsiveness and thoughtful placement keep them out of the way. We never felt that the controls affected our ability to play the game in any way.
Our biggest gripe about Avatar is that there is virtually no replay value. Once you beat the game, you have seen everything there is to see. On top of this, there is no way to go back and replay past levels, which was a disappointment since the similarly epic Hero Of Sparta included this feature. Regardless of these problems, though, ten hours of gameplay is still a lot of bang for your buck.
We highly recommend trying out Avatar, even if the movie doesn’t interest you. It’s the best movie tie-in game for the iPhone yet, and it really pushes the system’s capabilities.