FutureFive NZ - Hands on with James Cameron's Avatar: The Game

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Hands on with James Cameron's Avatar: The Game

Game Console's Darren Price recently tried out James Cameron's Avatar: The Game in full 3D at Ubisoft's Sydney headquarters.

Top Hollywood director, James Cameron’s next movie, Avatar, his first narrative movie since 1997’s Titanic, is almost upon us. Drowned in secrecy, including a shoot in New Zealand’s own Wellington, fandom awaits the movie release with bated breath. Will this Sci-fi spectacular suck like Jimmy-boy’s first feature, Piranha Part II: The Spawning, or are we in for another treat of Terminator's proportions?

If you’ve been to the movies recently you may have seen the Avatar trailer, featuring Aussie Sam Worthington in a wheelchair and a cast of blue people who look like distant relations of Star Wars’ Jar-Jar Binks. To be honest, I thought the movie trailer looked like a video-game cut scene.

During my recent trip to Ubisoft in Sydney I sat down with Luc Duchaine, Senior International Brand Manager for James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game and we peered at each other through funky 3D glasses.

As I mentioned previously, James Cameron is a top Hollywood dude and his movie, Avatar, is in 3D. So, regardless of whether anyone has a new-fangled 200 Hz, wallet emptying 3D TV, damn it if his game isn’t gonna be 3D as well. Hence my reason for sitting there in a Sydney office lounge wearing a pair of 3D glasses looking at a Canadian. Note that these were not the red/blue glasses of yesteryear; these were the polarised glasses that you get in an IMAX theatre.
Luc Duchaine explained that the game was a companion of the movie, set a few years before the film. All we know so far is that the movie, and thus the game, features a conflict between the humans and a blue skinned alien race called the Navi. There’s also the business of a paraplegic transferring his consciousness into a cloned alien, being the titular avatar. A pretty good set up for a game, if you ask me.

First up, the game looks fantastic in 3D. The game world, Pandora, is lush environment with loads of opportunities for leaves to swing out of the TV screen as you run thorough the undergrowth and jump around. Ubisoft has spent a lot of effort adding this extra dimension. But, let’s be honest, no one is going to be playing the game in 3D, especially me, having only just bought a 42-inch plasma screen. Luc said that they are not going have a red/blue anaglyph 3D mode for all us techno-deprived Kiwis as it messes up the colours. In any case, whilst I can handle a couple of hours of 3D, I’m not so sure that my eyes would survive an eight-hour session with the glasses on. I couldn’t help thinking that we will be paying for the 3D development costs in the price of the game, but we are never going to experience it. It sucks both ways, really.
The game has benefited from sharing assets from the movie production as well as James Cameron’s desire to create a believable, living, breathing world. The gameplay reveals the two sides of the conflict; it’s not simply humans versus aliens, but humans versus the ecosystem of the actual planet, Pandora.

I was able to play missions as both a Navi and a human marine. As a Navi I was an agile warrior armed with an edged pike-like weapon for melee and a bow for ranged attacks. The tip of the Navi pike-thing was swinging out of the screen, trying to poke my eye out in 3D. I could also cunningly lure marines towards various poisonous plants that attacked or gassed them.

The human marine had a more conventional arsenal of rifles, shotguns and, my personal favorite, the flame thrower. Burn, Pandora, burn. I also took a ride in a warthog… I mean “utility vehicle”. Technologically, the humans have the advantage over the Navi, but, again, nature is on the Navi’s side. As a human, you are also up against vicious 10-foot high plants and wolf-like critters.

Both the human and Navi sequences were set in a lush gorge. I’m not sure if this is typical of the game or if the levels will have a bit more variety in the finished game. There were definitely shades of Halo mixed with Lost Planet in the bits that I played. It is worth noting that the game has an XP system for unlocking skills and abilities.       

The game features an encyclopedia – or Pandorapedia as it is known – that unlocks information on the planet’s various flora and fauna as you encounter it in the game. You can also find details about the weapons and vehicle employed by the humans. This is a nice feature that suggests a loving attention to detail that I hope will be indicative of the presentation of the final product.

The very different play styles of the humans and Navi will make for a pretty interesting multiplayer aspect, which I was told is to be included in the finished game. If they do it right, the multiplayer alone could be worth the price of admission.

All in all, an interesting game. I’m very mindful that it is a movie tie-in that employs a pretty pointless 3D gimmick. This build of the game, when not 3D, betrayed some pretty average textures that I hope they sort out before release. No red/blue 3D mode is pretty damn elitist, if you ask me. The deck is very much stacked against the game, in my eyes. But, like the movie itself, James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game remains very much an enigma for the moment. We shall see.

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