James Cameron's Avatar

GamesCom 2009: James Cameron's Avatar Hands On Preview - Trying to Break the Mould

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If you cast your mind back to Ubisoft's Press Conference at E3 this year, specifically James Cameron's lecture - I know it wasn't meant to be a lecture, but it felt like it at the time - you'll have taken from it that he and his team didn't want the Avatar video game to be another one of "those" movie tie-ins. You know, the seemingly generic cash-ins that are more about the money than offering players a truly memorable experience. After the general release of the film's first trailer this week, we finally got chance to check out the game and go hands on with it in Cologne.

James Cameron's Avatar The Game - which is its full unedited title - takes place on the planet of Pandora and revolves around the natives, the Na'vi, and its human inhabitants. The film follows former marine, Jake Sully - paralyzed from the waist down - who is sent to the planet Pandora to take part in the Avatar program that allows him to become mobile once again through a genetically bred human-Na'vi hybrid, the Avatar. Sully, through his Avatar, is sent undercover into a Na'vi tribe where he falls for one of the Na'vi warriors and finds himself stuck between two sides in an escalating combat on the planet's surface. The game runs a different course to the events told throughout the film and we're told you can play the game without spoiling the film if you wish to play it before its general release this coming December.

Avatar offers players the chance to choose sides in this growing conflict and Ubisoft Montreal have even allowed players to switch sides at various points throughout the story should you decide you're backing the wrong dog. On the on hand, players can choose the side of the humans and get access to long range weaponry, and a range of mechs and vehicles dotted throughout Pandora - in fact, we took control of a winged “Hornet” style helicopter, a mech robot and a buggy all within the first twenty minutes of play. On the other hand, you can jump in to fight for the Na'vi‘s cause using a hybrid as an Avatar for your in-game character, where you'll be thrust into a more traditional hack-n-slash style gameplay. The Na'vi - who incidentally come in at around 3 metres tall - are more agile and faster than their human counterparts and must use that to outsmart their foes. The Na'vi can also make use of the world's local wildlife instead of the human technology to help aid their cause. So expect to be mounting the local beasts, rather than hopping into buggies and helicopters.

Avatar makes use of the old skool “lives” system rather than the seemingly more traditional regenerative health mechanic throughout the game. Players can pick up “cells” from dead enemies and defeated local wildlife to rack up lives along the way. Net a certain amount of cells and you'll get an extra life - very Sonic-esque and on the same level as the whole collecting 100 rings palaver. Avatar also features a character progression system which is done, like any RPG, on an experience point basis; earning points for missions, side missions and general destruction. Levelling up gives players access to better equipment, skills and generally makes life easier for you as you encounter more of the troubling enemies - like the Hammerhead for instance who we despatched in our first mini boss encounter.

The controls felt responsive enough and it controls as any third person shooter or hack-n-slash title would. The large open environments meant we experienced no problems with awkward camera angles which is always nice to report. Pandora is a dangerous world though and as Ubisoft Montreal told us, if you're playing as the humans you basically have to shoot everything as everything can be a threat. You do get rewarded for your destruction though, with the local plants and wildlife spitting out cells and experience. Playing as the Na'vi, you'll get access to a bow and arrow instead of the more traditional guns that the humans will use – should you wish to take a break from the general hacking and slashing.

In case you didn't know, Avatar is the first full stereoscopic 3D game and can take advantage of the newly created 3D televisions. It's a unique experience, and even a little surreal as you'll often find yourself ducking out the way of trees instinctively as you guide yourself through the rainforests of Pandora. The frame rate was a little choppy on the 3D TV but we're hoping that will be fixed between now and launch. Of course, chances are you won't have access to a 3D TV; that's ok though, because the normal HD version of the game looked pretty detailed, had a solid frame rate, good resolution and was just as immersive, in fact, even more so than the 3D version. I'd even be as bold as to say that if I had the choice, I'd much prefer to play the HD version than the 3D version, so you're not missing much. Call it outside my comfort zone, or my graphic whore mentality; either is fine with me.

The Avatar experience is certainly a unique one at that, especially when seen through the eyes of a pair of 3D glasses and on a TV that will set you back thousands of pounds/dollars. What are the chances that you'll have a setup like that this coming December? Slim to none I'd have thought, but fear not, the normal high def resolutions look solid and remind me of the visuals present in the upcoming Lost Planet 2. The combat feels seemingly generic but the world seems to be well realised which is part of the game's hook. The ability to choose two different sides in the war with totally different styles, strengths and weaknesses will only add to the replayability of the title which is always welcomed. Are we expecting the usual generic movie tie-in crap? Far from it, but whether Avatar will break the shackles and go above and beyond that remains to be seen. With Cameron involved though, we're expecting a strong story and narrative, and like any one, we're suckers for that.
James Cameron's Avatar The Game is coming to North America and Europe this coming November and December respectively.


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Game Info
Ubisoft Montreal


US December 01, 2009
Europe December 04, 2009

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