James Cameron's Avatar: The Game Preview
James Cameron is about to make a big splash in the world of moviemaking yet again – even if you weren’t a fan of “Titanic,” you have to admit, it made a lot of waves (er…pun intended?) – with “Avatar,” which is a sci-fi extravaganza for all you “techhies” out there. Obviously, they’re going to make a game to go along with it, and after watching the early trailer for the movie, we just had to see what Ubisoft has in store for us. Well, the game popped up at the PAX event last week and the first point we should probably clarify is that this title is essentially a prequel to the film. Yeah, we’ve seen plenty of these before, but they can work: you step into the shoes of an RDA (Resources Development Administration) soldier, and right from the start, you’ll notice that something is…amiss. Why exactly are you forcefully pushing your way into a heretofore peaceful land simply to snag some of this precious element? We don’t have permission from the civilians (the Na’vi) of Pandora, so isn’t this called stealing…?
So clearly, it seems you’ll be starting off in the role of the villain, although we’re willing to bet the solider isn’t 100% aware of what he’s part of until the story progresses. At that point, there’s a good chance that this guy will switch sides when he learns what’s up; otherwise, the game will have a not-so-happy ending. Maybe you’ll even be able to pick your side, just for the added flair of freedom and decision-making that so many next-gen gamers appreciate. The good news is that in terms of gameplay, we know a lot more than we knew before, just ‘cuz Ubisoft had a demo on display at PAX. The demo kicks off with a large land-crawler known as the Samson, which simply needs to reach a certain destination in a set period of time. The Samson has plenty of missiles on board, which lets you clear away any obstacles in your path and the best part is that any destruction you cause will yield Effort Points. You can also gain EP from eliminating enemies, but collecting cell samples from certain foes will also be part of your objective.
If you’re wondering what type of gameplay to expect, think of your standard third-person shooter like Uncharted, only with the addition of crazy-huge mechs, like you might find in Lost Planet. We hope Ubisoft gives us an engaging combat mechanic but the one downside we’ve heard is that there isn’t a cover system of any kind, which may prove problematic. After all, we’re so used to taking cover these days, it may come as a surprise when we’re always subject to incoming enemy fire. But at the same time, you’ll have an expansive inventory of weaponry and other useful items that will let you be on the offensive more often. Take, for example, the flamethrower: they showed this off in the demo presentation, and not only did it yield a very appealing visual feast for the eyes – watch that lush forest burn! – but it proved to be effective against the oncoming hordes of viper wolves. And you know, we like the sound of this; when we’re always ducking for cover and playing defense, we lose a little of that old-fashioned heroic, invincible feeling we got when blasting our way through hordes of nasties in shooters from yesteryear.
Towards the end of the demo, everyone was introduced to the Hammerhead, a massive boss that has the huge lumbering body of a Brontosaurus and the head of a hammerhead shark. This thing will knock your ass for a loop even if it grazes you, so it’s best to keep your distance and let the team toss volley after a volley of heavy machine gun fire and grenades in the Hammerhead’s general direction. Everyone seemed impressed at the graphical polish, although we’re not sure if there’s enough here gameplay-wise to separate Avatar from the rest of the pack. Third-person shooters are starting to become more and more popular these days and while we don’t have anything against them, when the genre becomes bloated with new entries, fresh efforts really need to be fresh in some way. Here’s hoping Ubisoft tosses in a few cool concepts that brings the entire production together, or at least make it as technically solid and breathtaking as Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.
Okay, we’re not really expecting that, but we always try to hold out hope for the next game based on a movie. Perhaps it’s a vain hope, but hey, we try to be optimistic ‘round these parts.
9/7/2009 Ben Dutka