Monday, July 27, 2009

First look : James Cameron's Avatar

The Game has been shrouded under a dense layer of secrecy second only to the one that surrounds the movie it's based on. For those that haven't been following the film, Avatar follows the conflict between the denizens of a planet called Pandora, the Na'vi, and mankind who are essentially strip mining their world to disastrous results. The games based on the film basically offer complementary stories that offer a close up look at the conflict. But, outside of a demo of the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC versions at E3 last month and the painfully thin assortment of screenshots released, things have been pretty quiet around the games. Thankfully some noise kicked up at Comic-con which saw the Wii version demoed at a press event. Our hands-off demo followed the game's main character as he sabotaged a military installation, took on an airship, called a Dragon, and made a daring escape. Although the demo of the game (which is an original title and not a port of the other console and PC titles) was short, roughly 7 minutes, it hit on a fair amount of the major gameplay elements.

Who's Making This Game: Ubisoft

What The Game Looks Like: Avatar has a somewhat boxy, but colorful look to it that's a far cry from the eye bleeding detail of the PS3 and Xbox 360 game we saw at E3. However, once you factor in that there's no way the Wii is going to move the same amount of polygons that the other consoles are or offer stereoscopic 3D, the game looks pretty sharp. There's a good amount of detail and, more importantly, a heavy cinematic feel to the presentation. The camera smartly follows the action and favors sweeping views and dramatic camera angles.

What There Is To Do: You'll play as a young Na'Vi hunter looking for revenge after his family tree gets a thorough pruning by human military forces during an attack on his village. As if that wasn't enough motivation, a dam's been built that's depriving locals of much needed water. Your goal is to destroy the dam and get in some payback. While the revenge the young hunter is after can be accomplished solo, the game will feature drop in, drop out cooperative play.

How The Game Is Played: The Wii version of Avatar the game makes use of both the nunchuk and remote to play. In addition, the game features unique support for the Wii motion plus accessory. The game is a third person action title that mixes combat, stealth, some platforming and some puzzle solving. The nunchuk and remote let you race through the natural setting like a pro. The Wii motion plus support in the version of the game we saw let the young hunter summon a wasp the he could precisely control thanks to the peripheral. The fine control was needed to guide the winged critter to take down an electric fence blocking hunter's way. People that don't have the peripheral will be able to take an alternate route around the fence. At the same time the game still has some waggle control for stealth takedowns, which you initiate with a button press and finish up with a controller motion. Melee is fairly straightforward although you'll want to be smart about when you engage mobs of soldiers. Puzzle solving and getting around require you to use your head and, most importantly, the natural world around you. As a both a local and a hunter, your Na'vi has all sorts of natural tricks up his sleeves (metaphorically speaking, since he's light on clothes) to counter the military's technical opposition. Although, as evidenced in the boss fight where he used explosive canisters lying around, he's not opposed to improvising with what's lying around to get the job done. For example, if there are explosive canisters he can use to take down a massive tower which will knock the Dragon airship out of the sky, why not use them? The demo ended with the hunter making a hasty retreat on a brightly colored flying creature that was somewhere between a bat and a pterodactyl.

What They Say: "Players will find themselves thrust into a fight for the heart of a planet and the fate of a civilization."

What We Say: The game looks cool and has us anxious to try it to see how it plays. The gameplay seems solid and the story sounds like it's going to be a strong complement to the film's narrative as it will offer a deeper look at the motivations of the Na'vi and impact man is having on their world. We like that the title is it's own game as opposed to a port of the others. The visuals may not be the kick to the eyeballs the other versions are, but they play to the systems strengths which is key. As movie games go, Avatar looks like a nice change of pace. We reckon the close collaboration between Ubi's developers and the filmmakers will be a good thing for Avatar: The Game. Look for more on the game in the coming months as Ubisoft starts sharing more information.



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