PLAYING THE VIDEOGAME ADAPTATION of James Cameron's Avatar, one gets the impression that it desperately wants to be more than it actually is. Should Avatar be a tech demo with a story attached, or a visceral action adventure? The game never really makes up its mind, and the result is a short 10 hours of lukewarm gameplay that—despite Cameron's claims of hands-on involvement in the game's development—earns its place among the stacks of lame promotional tie-in games.
James Cameron's Avatar: The Game's first problem is that it simply can't tell a story the way that Cameron's film can: When the film's plot metaphorically recalls Uncle Sam's abuse of the Native Americans, it seems like a standard Hollywood-style morality lesson. When your Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 reminds you why your ancestors were dicks, it's hard not to laugh at the audacity of the uppity console.
It also doesn't help that Avatar's cinematic inspiration is just so damn pretty. Half a billion dollars bought Cameron a lot of computer-generated imagery, and there's simply no way for the game to compete. If Avatar were only being compared to other games, it would leave a much better impression—but since every person who plays this game will only be doing so after seeing the film, any visual impact the game might have had quickly evaporates.
The one area where Avatar might've been able to turn things around was in its gameplay: How could a videogame possibly be overshadowed by a film that, by definition, has no gameplay? By poorly aping other games, that's how. Every major sci-fi shooter from Halo to Unreal has served as inspiration for Avatar, and while there's nothing wrong with referencing one's influences, if you were to take away all the elements of Avatar that are watered-down throwbacks to earlier and better games, you'd be left with a blue logo and an empty plastic case.