Hands on with James Cameron's Avatar on iPhone

A film tie-in of titanic proportions

Hands on with James Cameron's Avatar on iPhone

When you consider Gameloft has invested a year in the development of James Cameron's Avatar on iPhone, it's hard to peg it as just another film tie-in.

And it shows too - gorgeous graphics and varied gameplay make this one to watch out for in December.

Set 20 years before the film, Avatar takes you to the world Pandora where a blue-skinned alien race called the Navi are under siege by human forces seeking a rare natural resource.

You control the first avatar: a proxy body for space marine forces operating on the planet's surface. Through 15 chapters, you explore Pandora as the stage is set for the movie's first scene.

Move and fight

While Gameloft is withholding story specifics in advance of release, plenty was shared about the platform-action gameplay.

For example, Lost, the game's third chapter, sees you trekking through a dense jungle learning the basics of combat and navigation.

Indigenous wildlife - small predators, bigger tiger-like foes, and even triceratops, found in mini-boss battles - are easily dispatched with taps of the attack button located in the screen's lower-right. In this early chapter, you only have access to a staff, but later on you acquire guns and get to double-wield in the final chapters.

Action hands

Tapping the attack button issues strong offensive blows with your staff, whereas holding down the button prompts a more defensive posture. Your attacks still deal damage, but less than those landed with an aggressive tap.

Targeting is fully automatic, which could cause problems in battles involving multiple enemies. Near the end of chapter three, the aforementioned triceratops-like mini-boss is accompanied by an entourage of lesser creatures. Dealing with them is troublesome since the mini-boss is automatically targeted.

Adjusting the camera helps slightly. Sliding a finger anywhere across the screen moves the camera, which in turn changes your nearest target. That didn't quite work in the previously described battle, but in later chapters where you battle firearm-equipped foes at a distance, it fares fine.

Jump to win

Platforming plays a surprisingly large role in the game, being heavily featured in some levels. Getting through the jungle means hopping across suspended platforms, shimmying along ledges, and jumping up cliffs. There's even a couple of sections involving vines where timed jumps are necessary to swing across a waterfall and a massive river.

And the variety doesn't end there. A series of chapters interspersed in the game depart from linear design, dropping you into an expansive village with surrounding countryside to complete different missions. Like an extraterrestrial Grand Theft Auto, you wander about the level taking on missions doled out by Navi villagers such as reigning in a horse and riding it through checkpoints.

Another level has you riding a flying creature called a banshee. Using the virtual analogue stick, you position the banshee in order to evade obstacles rushing into the foreground.

Such variety guarantees Avatar will avoid humdrum gameplay and the lush, colourful visuals definitely make the game stand out. The fundamentals appear solid, though it should be interesting to see how it all comes together when it arrives on the App Store sometime in December.

Tracy Erickson
Tracy Erickson
Manning our editorial outpost in America, Tracy comes with years of expertise at mashing a keyboard. When he's not out painting the town red, he jets across the home of the brave, covering press events under the Pocket Gamer banner.