Avatar: The Game Preview (PS3)

Inspired by the forthcoming movie that’s being touted as a potentially groundbreaking stride in bringing proper immersive 3D to multiplexes, comes a game that isn’t even remotely groundbreaking in any way. That’s not to say that it’s looking bad - far from it. Let’s just say that it all looks very familiar indeed.

A third-person action game that adopts a perspective akin to Resident Evil 4’s over the shoulder viewpoint, the conceit and title alone (with tacked-on ‘The Game’ suffix) invokes a shuddering cringe. Inevitably, we could well be in for yet another disappointing, lazy movie tie-in we instantaneously think. But upon playing the demo - which goes live quite soon - it turns out that Avatar: The Game may not actually be as bad as you’d think.

Beware the scary blue dragon beasties! A missile down their oesophagus should work.
Who will win this head-to head, I wonder?

Handed development duties, Ubisoft’s Montreal studio was handpicked by James Cameron himself to construct the game of the movie. Using an updated version of their proprietary Dunia Engine the team set to work on an FPS, before Cameron decided that he wanted a third-person shooter instead.

A prequel story that sheds added light upon the movie’s events, Avatar: The Game makes good use of Cameron’s extensive concept material, whether it’s art or gadgets, vehicles and characters, they’re all to be found in the game. Then there’s the encyclopaedia and bestiary, which has been consulted by the development team to ensure that the movie’s beasts, various races and other incidental details and minutiae are all present and correct.

During our hands-on, we get to see a great deal of what Avatar has to offer in a relatively short period of time, since this particular demo has been put together to show off every one of the game’s main features. Beginning in one of the dual-rotor helicopter-like flying machines, we bombard our way towards a clearing with a handy landing zone, where we set the whirly-bird down on solid ground.

We jump out and venture into the jungle, which is lush and dense with foliage. Playing on a 42” 3D JVC TV screen worth roughly GBP5000, the experience is rendered even more immersive, with genuine depth of field effects drawing us into the action, seemingly enclosing us in the surrounding jungle, despite the fact that in reality we’re wearing glasses that can’t help but make us look like a total plum. Ducking under non-existent, 3D hanging vines doesn’t help us look any better either.

Stalked by the scaly, canine Viper Wolves, we try and stay alert as they unexpectedly spring from the leafy undergrowth with a guttural snarl. The entire jungle is home to a menagerie of hostile creatures that the native Na’vi coexist with peacefully. Until you and your gung-ho Marine buddies come along shooting anything that moves.

Playing as a human soldier for the first act, you’re an invader on the planet Pandora whose objective is to clear a path for a shady corporation hell bent on mining a valuable resource aptly named ‘Unobtainium’ that could well save the waning human race from extinction. Of course, the Na’vi don’t take too kindly to violent humans destroying their planet and eradicating their way of life (typical human behaviour then), so fight back with warrior-like fervour while using nature to their advantage.

The odds are stacked in your favour since you wield all manner of technologically advanced weaponry, such as high velocity rifles, deadly flamethrowers and much more while the intimidating, 10-foot tall Na’vi use staffs, spears and arrows to defend themselves, launching head-on assaults with deadly melee attacks. It’s nothing that can’t be efficiently dealt with by a concentrated spray of machine gun fire though.

Commandeering a buggy to get to the next section before night falls shows us Avatar’s lovely day to night cycle, but then it’s not long before we’re stomping around in a tooled-up, bipedal mech, blasting all and sundry. Forced from out of the cockpit just as we’re having loads of fun killing innocent beasties, we’re then faced with a gigantic Hammerhead - a massive four-legged dinosaur-like creature with a hulking great hammer-shaped head (the clue’s in his name, really).

The jungles of Pandora are lush, vibrant and teeming with life. Best blow it all to hell then.
Why do I get the distinct feeling that James Cameron has been playing a whole lot of Halo?

Evading his devastating charge, we defeat him after wearing him down with a few well-aimed grenades to his thick hide. We then surge onwards only to be caught slap bang in the middle of a stampede, which is where the demo ends. Big teasers. Still in such a relatively short demo, we’re convinced that Avatar might possibly manage to buck the trend for sloppy film to game transitions with Cameron’s input potentially setting this apart from the usual movie-based bilge we’re used to.

Derivative as it may seem - Avatar is, it has to be said, reminiscent of a dozen other third-person shooters - for a movie tie-in, Ubisoft’s title is looking surprisingly decent. Using the Far Cry 2 engine has allowed the dev team to incorporate elements such as propagating fire and lush vegetation into the mix, making for a rather attractive game. And while our brief time playing the game proved enjoyable, only the full version will prove whether Avatar: The Game can manage to offer a lasting prospect rather than a short-lived blast.

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