James Cameron's Avatar
James Cameron's Avatar Hands On - Revisiting Pandora
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The last time we sat foot on Pandora was way back in August at GamesCom and this time instead of being given a vertical slice of the game showing off all of its features, we were thrown into the world right at the opening chapter. First, let’s recap. James Cameron’s Avatar takes place on one of Polythemis’ moons, Pandora, and tells the story of an escalating conflict between the humans; the RDA (Resource Development Administration), and Pandora’s natives, the Na’vi. You play the part of Abel Rider, a signal specialist, who is called into Pandora to help them find a sacred site that can help extend the existence of Earth and put to bed its resource shortage.

The first few scenes of this third person action-adventure title sees Abel landing on Pandora’s human military base camp and checking in with his contacts on the base. It’s a far cry from the luscious jungle environments of Pandora, but luckily you’re not based here too long and once you’ve been assigned your missions, off you go into the moon’s dangerous jungles. Last time we focused on the mechanics of the RDA and whilst you begin the first few missions performing as one of them, it all builds up to that initial choice where you choose your sides. This time, we backed the Na’vi.
If you’ve read our interview from yesterday, you will be more than aware that Avatar offers two completely unique experiences depending on which side you choose. The opening 20 to 30 minutes tries to give you both sides’ perspectives of this escalating conflict, before giving you the choice to choose your side. After a short cut-scene, with each party trying to reason with you, you are given the choice to attack either one of the RDA or a Na’vi native. Whoever you attack, suddenly becomes your enemy and you’ve effectively chosen your side. We are informed that these decisions crop up throughout, so don’t think you’re stuck with your choice until the end, oh no.

Unlike the RDA, the Na’vi’s gameplay rests mostly on close, hand to hand combat and is reminiscent of most hack n’ slash titles that we have come to know and love. Like the RDA, you are equipped with 4 weapons to start with; a bow and arrow with limited bows, a gun with limited bullets, a staff and dual swords. It’s clear that the emphasis here is on using the agile skills of the Na’vi to get stuck in and bash some skills. Similarly to the RDA, the Na’vi can take advantage of a series of special moves as well that include shockwave attacks, stealth skills, and more; these are unlocked as you level up RPG style.
The goals of the Na’vi are generally similar in scope to that of the RDA and we spent a good few hours disposing of the local troops and disarming demo charges placed by them. If you choose the Na’vi path, you’ll have to prove yourself to a few of the locals who are still unsure of your loyalty –  namely the warrior, Beyda'amo, one of the Na’vi’s top dogs who gives you a simple fetch and retrieve mission in some hostile RDA territory. Thankfully, with the maps being so big in scale – 1km by 1km – the Na’vi can take advantage of the moon’s wildlife to get around the environment. This approach differs vastly from that of the RDA who will be forced to taking advantage of the mechs and vehicles dotted around Pandora.

After I had spent a good hour running around in the shoes of the Na’vi it became clear to me that I was going to be in for a much tougher time than I had experienced with the RDA. Whilst it was relatively easy to romp through as an RDA soldier, the challenge playing as a Na’vi is on a totally different level and it’s pretty damn brutal. It’s the classic cowboys vs. Indians conundrum, where gun-toting soldiers are pitted against melee obsessed and not as technologically advanced natives. It doesn’t really work... if you’re a Na’vi anyway. Sure you can do a fancy leg roll with the left trigger, but you’re still taking bullets faster than San Marino’s national football team are conceding goals. When I asked Kevin Shortt about it, “Someone else was saying that which is interesting,” he responded, confirming my concerns. Trying to alleviate them however, he stated, “My guess is the reason that it feels that way is because it’s kind of a different style of gameplay. So maybe you haven’t figured out, “what can I do with the Na’vi?” yet.” It certainly didn’t feel like I had not figured out what the Na’vi could and could not do... there really isn’t much to it. Shortt continued, “We were very careful to make sure that we balanced it. We didn’t want one more faction to be more powerful than the other faction, and with the Na’vi you have to rely more on the trees... it’s a different kind of attack. You sort of creep up on them, you’ve got the plants that you can use and the creatures – like a Thanator.”
Short continued, “I think once you get a little deeper into the game you have unique skills that you can call on and using the trees and the environment around you, it’s definitely an advantage. Personally I tend to go for the Na’vi side because I like that I don’t have to worry so much about the plants around me.” Something that never really became apparent to me.
As you delve further into the picturesque world of Pandora, the environments open up somewhat to present some multi-tiered expansive openings, but it brought with it nothing but problems. Figuring my way across a multi-tiered canyon was such a mind bender that I spent most of my time just trying to figure a way across, but to no avail. Shortt touched on my concerns with this aspect, “We’ve tried to make sure that we’ve got guidelines to tell you where to go, but again, we do want to leave it open for you to explore, so I guess it’s a bit of a trade-off.” He continues, “Instead of sending you down rails, where you go and grab your item, we want to make it feel open and part of the price of that is, you kind of have to be like “okay, check my mini map, where am I supposed to go?” I think once you orient yourself to how all those things work, it gets pretty straightforward.” Or so he says... a potential stumbling block if ever there was one from my perspective.

The problem with James Cameron’s Avatar at the moment for me, is its balance. Whilst it tries to tell two completely different stories, it’s going to be hard to tempt players down the path of the Na’vi after seeing how brutal and that much tougher it is compared to the RDA. There are still a few weeks left before Avatar hits the stores worldwide and we’re hoping that Ubisoft Montreal heeds these concerns and corrects them before it ships. I wasn’t alone in this concern... even Kevin Shortt told us that. On the whole though, Avatar does get the basics spot on; the action is fast, the world is fantastically realised – a dangerous paradise if ever there was one – and it sure is a lot of fun. With a bit of tweaking, Ubisoft Montreal’s Avatar could definitely score a few points this coming holiday season.
James Cameron's Avatar - The Video Game is out December 1st in North America and December 4th in Europe.


User Comments

Forum Posts: 58
Comment #1 by darksidecow
Saturday, November 07, 2009 @ 11:28:44 AM
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looks interesting but my plate is full with all these other games right now.

Forum Posts: 755
Comment #2 by l.maciver
Saturday, November 07, 2009 @ 11:48:14 AM
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too many good games coming out, this will have to be a second hand buy though

Forum Posts: 313
Comment #3 by Kyanite
Saturday, November 07, 2009 @ 12:12:58 PM
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While this is interesting, the game will be a GameFly rental at best. Dragon Age: Origins, Assassin's Creed 2, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Halo 3: ODST, Bioshock, Dead Space, Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, and whatever GameFly sends me are going to be taking up all of my gaming time until the spring.

Forum Posts: 9
Comment #4 by BROTTERR
Saturday, November 07, 2009 @ 12:38:19 PM
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definately on the rental list.... pretty sure i can squeeze in a short game even with all the awesome games that are coming out...

Forum Posts: 4
Comment #5 by Htimsdrof
Saturday, November 07, 2009 @ 12:57:11 PM
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played it at eurogamer, rental at best

Forum Posts: 504
Comment #6 by padraiglovesyou
Saturday, November 07, 2009 @ 01:46:52 PM
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Not that interested

Forum Posts: 300
Comment #7 by toonsage
Saturday, November 07, 2009 @ 02:36:22 PM
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looks great =D

Forum Posts: 154
Comment #8 by Compgeek_36
Saturday, November 07, 2009 @ 04:36:16 PM
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looking forward to playing the Na'vi

Forum Posts: 2
Comment #9 by grathina2000
Saturday, November 07, 2009 @ 05:39:22 PM
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Forum Posts: 105
Comment #10 by Zomaarch
Saturday, November 07, 2009 @ 06:10:02 PM
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Hmm... First! ... To wonder if this will be like every other movie game that has come out... Okay that's a little unfair considering that I have Kong in my achievements list, but honestly how many of you have seen movie games come out, riddled with bugs, boring to play, (even just for easy achievements, which is still pending on this one considering we don't have an achievements list) and just plain inconsistent. Well, considering King Kong was done right by Ubisoft, I guess we should keep an open eye to it(whether you only played it for points or not, or just didn't like it, that's not my demographic) just in case it may turn out to be a playable and even fun game.

Forum Posts: 2
Comment #11 by Solidslayer
Saturday, November 07, 2009 @ 08:07:54 PM
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people arent even going to consider this since games are hauling our way right now. this is probably like any other movie game anyway (except for x-men origings which was a badass bloody game)

Forum Posts: 239
Comment #12 by SuperWoody64
Saturday, November 07, 2009 @ 10:55:22 PM
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The name alone is going to kill it for 360 players. Everyone rips on people with avatar on their gamertags.
I know it's a completely different game but I'm not every gamer.

Forum Posts: 154
Comment #13 by Compgeek_36
Saturday, November 07, 2009 @ 10:58:16 PM
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@10, fail by like 7 Hours,
And I'm hoping this isn't going to be a buggy epic fail because
A) They have spent too much time and money to be a fail in standard measuring
B) It's Ubisoft, (and not a Game they made for the Wii)

Forum Posts: 22
Comment #14 by the edge
Sunday, November 08, 2009 @ 02:13:23 AM
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bollocks to all ur posts . games r games some people will like it and some wont so shut up

Forum Posts: 237
Comment #15 by blitz7287
Sunday, November 08, 2009 @ 04:12:33 AM
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@ 14


Forum Posts: 9
Comment #16 by makk 88
Sunday, November 08, 2009 @ 04:22:31 AM
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Think I'm the only person who has never heard of James Cameron or this Avatar world of his.

Forum Posts: 6
Comment #17 by I Hirntod 82 I
Sunday, November 08, 2009 @ 05:17:37 AM
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Seems Good but there are already too many Games at Christmas and MW2(online) i will play for ages.

Forum Posts: 12
Comment #18 by JimboBaggins666
Sunday, November 08, 2009 @ 08:32:59 AM
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@13 Um, I think #10 was just being funny, saying he was the First!... to comment on movie-based games being somewhat disappointing (see what I did there?). I for one am looking forward to this movie, and to a lesser extent the game. The whole "like nothing you've ever seen or imagined" that this has been hyped with (although admittedly mostly from James Cameron's camp) has me intrigued. But it may also completely flop and not do well at all, as I can easily see happening. Looks pretty good from what I've seen though.

Forum Posts: 121
Comment #19 by cool4joe
Sunday, November 08, 2009 @ 09:46:23 AM
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James Cameron is the director for Titanic, the best selling movie ever, and this Avatar world is his new movie that is coming out soon.

Forum Posts: 2
Comment #20 by FrozenGearNinja
Sunday, November 08, 2009 @ 10:43:38 AM
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that air craft vehicle looks like the hornet from halo 3

Forum Posts: 105
Comment #21 by Zomaarch
Sunday, November 08, 2009 @ 05:24:56 PM
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@13 it was meant to be a joke. My point is I don't understand why people would just jump into it knowing that most movie games fail. If you can't see the joke then you fail.

Forum Posts: 105
Comment #22 by Zomaarch
Sunday, November 08, 2009 @ 05:26:55 PM
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Sorry for double post, but it could of been a lot worse, I could of just said first without adding anything else. 13 I pity your inability to read properly, better luck next time.

Forum Posts: 178
Comment #23 by Blue Thunder28
Sunday, November 08, 2009 @ 05:49:48 PM
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I really want this game.. the movie is going to be great too.

Forum Posts: 2258
Comment #24 by DRCL
Sunday, November 08, 2009 @ 07:49:13 PM
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@13 complete fail on your part.. If you didn't understand what he did with that then you need to catch up..
@10 I thought King Kong was all buggy and crap? :

Forum Posts: 9
Comment #25 by makk 88
Sunday, November 08, 2009 @ 07:56:07 PM
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@19 Thanks for the info!

Forum Posts: 10
Comment #26 by ERIKDOTCOM
Sunday, November 08, 2009 @ 10:18:03 PM
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Achievements will encourage me to play the Na'vi! :)

Forum Posts: 105
Comment #27 by Zomaarch
Monday, November 09, 2009 @ 07:13:29 PM
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@24 I didn't really notice any bugs in King Kong, it was a little boring, but with the achievements they didn't force you to go out of your way or make you play it again, so it was forgivable. I didn't even touch terminator Salvation noticing the reviews it got. I saw King Kong getting an 8 i think on here.

I just have a feeling it will be another game that will be placed into the bargain bin and forgotten 1 month after it's release. Another thing against it, is people who buy the big titles in december, I'm pretty sure there's still plenty of people wanting modern warfare 2, and this game will be overshadowed quickly.

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Game Info
Ubisoft Montreal


US December 01, 2009
Europe December 04, 2009

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