Pandora's war has two sides. One faction consists of the human invaders, bearers of devastating weaponry, pilots of mechanised infantry and yellers of crass one-liners. In the opposite corner sits the Na'vi, a race of blue-skinned indigenous warriors armed with spears, bows and some slightly vicious plants. Which side you pick dictates the genre you play. Sadly, neither of them is all that great.
We will give it this much: Avatar isn't your typical movie tie-in. It's clearly had money melted down and lathered all over it as there's always plenty going on in the lavish world of Pandora. Opt for the Homo sapiens campaign and a brightly coloured Lost Planet 2 knock-off is your reward, with the added bonus of wheeled and airborne vehicles to mix up the tasks. Pandora is gorgeous, and at night the planet shines with a bioluminescent glow so bright it's dazzling.
Movement and combat is indistinguishable from Lost Planet 2's. The Effort Points awarded for killing hostile plants and animals can be spent on equipment upgrades and the 20 special skills (beginning with a handy Jedi Push repulsion move), while slain creatures are sources of nourishing DNA used for patching up wounds. Enemies can be scanned with your binoculars Metroid Prime-style, and all data collected is collated in the Pandorapedia reference logs to be consulted for tactical hints.
Early on, however, there's little that resembles tactics. Running towards an area with back-up and indiscriminately firing at the writhing plants and charging animals will mop up the majority of beasties, and the remaining few are but a circle-strafe or a diving roll and a reload away from death. The war's incredibly mindless, which just doesn't make for that stimulating a confrontation.
The Lost Planet side is but half the full tale. Step into the tribal gear of the Na'vi and Avatar takes on a hack-'n'-slash guise. Hand-to-hand fighting is clunky, clumsy and again - staying true to the soldier campaign - rather mindless, although the ability to enlist and boss about Pandora's deadly creatures at least offers something slightly new.
The game's biggest feature is undoubtedly its 3D mode. This works insomuch that some things on the screen definitely stand out without the persistent yellow glow that haunted rodent romp G-Force, but as half the detail is impossible to focus on without going cross-eyed Avatar's a frustrating and often painful game to play. 2D options are there to massage the eyes after the 3D torture but the game looks appallingly jaggy without the specs.
Being a game of a film under greater guard than Area 51, Ubisoft is reluctant to divulge any information about the game beyond the demo's end. Latter areas could funnel players through more interesting ambushes and set-pieces than shown to add some much needed direction to the limp action revealed at GamesCom. Mark the film's release on your calendars if you like, but leave the 360 version off for now.
Two competent games in one, but neither excel at what they attempt. The story, set parallel to the film, should neatly deepen the Avatar lore. However, story alone rarely holds a game together and there might not be enough strings in the Na'vi's bow to entice us back for much more.