Avatar Deathmatch is a first person shooter multiplayer game where your Xbox Live avatar must fight to survive. The game pits you and your avatar against three foes in a battle to the death… with NERF guns. Battle over Xbox Live using shotguns, Uzi’s, hand guns and even some power-ups in ten minute epic battles of avatarness in this surprisingly solid XBLIG.
When I first saw the cover art for Avatar Deathmatch, which pays homage in a not so subtle way to a certain multi-billion dollar FPS, my first thought was how Lighthouse Games Studio was going to get around the pesky little rule that XBLIG’s can’t have the avatars using guns. In a fairly clever move the developers chose to use toy guns that resemble the classic NERF toys, and use the term “knock out” rather than imply death. Anyone with half a brain can see through this ploy, but you do what you have to do to meet rules that sometimes don’t make a whole lot of sense. Somewhat ironically though, much of Avatar Deathmatch’s personality and charm ends up coming about due to the developers having to make it acceptable for distribution on the XBLIG marketplace.
The first thing you are bound to notice when you dive into Avatar Deathmatch is that the small town that makes up the game’s sole level (for now, the developer does state an intent to add another level to the game soon), is that this little town square really does look like the world our avatars would live in. It is bright, colorful and has that sort of semi-realistic cartoon charm. Unlike many games that simply insert avatars into their visuals, Avatar Deathmatch actually looks like it was designed around the avatars. The single level that currently exists is also well designed (minus a few glitches that have, at least mostly, been eliminated). There are very few “corners” to get stuck in and despite not being that large there are still areas that don’t feel totally explored after a couple of games. Really, the only complaint that can be made about the map is that there is only one of them, a complaint that will hopefully be rendered null and void soon enough.
Combat is an interesting bit of standard FPS and weirdness at the same time. Lighthouse hasn’t only decided to make the weapons shoot foam darts; they actually kind of make the bullets fly like foam darts as well. That is to say, they are somewhat slow, slightly inaccurate and tend to fall short of a target at a much shorter distance than a real gun firing a real bullet would. It is a little touch that is actually kind of surprisingly for an indie developer to spend time on; after all the foam darts are really just being used to get around Microsoft’s rules for XBLIG’s, why bother? Why? I’ll tell you why, it makes the game that much more unique. Honestly, if the game had been just a bunch of avatars running around shooting regular guns there wouldn’t be much here to go on about, and that would make my job a bit harder and I didn’t start writing game reviews because I wanted to work hard!
Seriously though, there is a certain charm to Avatar Deathmatch (the name notwithstanding) that comes about due to elements such as the foam darts. It takes it from the normal every-day FPS crap we see all the time to something a bit more… family friendly, yes, but also something a little more clever and unique. It takes it from a game that I would maybe play occasionally, to a game I would play occasionally with my nephew as well. It is no less fun and yet opens the market up. That’s using your noggin.
Speaking of guns, there are really three gun types in the game (again, the developer seems to have plans to add another; a crossbow). You start every level/respawn with a slow firing but still fairly powerful handgun, and you can pick up a shotgun or Uzi as well. Additionally there are two power-ups that I found in my adventures, a speed-up that makes you almost impossible to hit and a “God Mode” power-up that probably doesn’t something awesome but every time I picked it up I suddenly couldn’t find anyone to shoot.
Single-player enthusiast need not apply; the game is online multiplayer only. Avatar Deathmatch does lack a local multiplayer as well, so there will be no Avatar Deathmatch themed sleepovers in your near future, but the online multiplayer is the most active I have seen for an XBLIG yet. I had no trouble finding a match any time I tried, though I did have trouble getting a match to load on a couple of occasions. What’s more, each match I played in either had four players (the max the game allows) the entire time, or the vast majority of the time. It would be great if the player cap could be raised, even slightly, but there may be a reason it won’t be.
In one set of matches, there was one player who seemed to be frequently lagging. His avatar would continue to run for several seconds after being shot and his movements were jittery to say the least. Whether the game can support six or even more players without a loss of quality is questionable based on what I saw. It wasn’t too bad, but when you combine how difficult it can be to aim your gun, this did become problematic at times (aiming is made difficult both by the sensitivity of the controls, which can be changed but I never found a “golden spot,” and the aforementioned uniqueness of firing foam darts). These certainly aren’t game-breakers, but they do draw into question whether or not the game could be updated to include larger playlist.
Avatar Deathmatch may sport a very generic name and cover-art that, while eye catching, may scare away some indie enthusiast but it has the right blend of unique style and mainstream appeal to really draw attention. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and Lighthouse Games Studio’s need to conform to Microsoft’s rules likely played a large part in their creativity and style with Avatar Deathmatch; and I think it is better for it. Making an XBLIG that is primarily, or exclusively an online multiplayer is certainly a risky venture, yet Avatar Deathmatch succeeds. It is no small thing to say that it is the best multiplayer experience I have found in an XBLIG to date. Convince a couple of friends to spend $3 downloading Avatar Deathmatch and skip the Niki Minaj music video. Then get some new friends, because who spends money on a Niki Minaj video
Final Rating: 8.3/10
CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: XBLIG
Time to completion: N/A
Gamer Score Earned: N/A
Price Bought at: N/A – Copy furnished by Lighthouse Games Studio
Current Price: 240 Microsoft Points ($3)
Recommend Purchase Price: Could drop, but with the amount of support the developer is giving it I can’t imagine it will (plus the value will increase with new updates).
Why you should buy it: It’s an XBLIG with an active (and fun!) multiplayer.
Why you shouldn’t buy it: Your avatar has social anxiety disorder.