James Cameron has been working on his upcoming film, "Avatar," for 15 years, and it's finally due to be released this December. Luckily, we won't have to wait nearly as long to play the video game based on the movie. Ubisoft recently showed off the first few areas of the game, giving us a closer look at what we can expect when we immerse ourselves in Cameron's sci-fi universe. Please note that this preview of James Cameron's Avatar: The Game will discuss some of the basic story elements from the movie, so tread lightly.
Instead of being directly based on the film, the game's story runs parallel to the movie's events. Even so, certain members of the movie cast such as Sigourney Weaver and Michelle Rodriguez will be reprising their roles in the game. You play as Ryder, a member of the Resource Development Agency (RDA), a group that is planning a hostile takeover of Pandora, a lush moon that is home to all sorts of strange life forms, including the native Na'vi people. These blue-skinned, ten foot-tall aliens aren't too pleased with the human invaders.
No Airbending Required
To survive on the planet's surface, the humans have created Avatars, genetically engineered human/Na'vi hybrids that the host controls via a remote link. As the game begins, Ryder is introduced into the Avatar program and sent off to track down a mole that has begun working with the Na'vi against the RDA. These first few missions act as a training mode, allowing you to become familiar with the gameplay as both a human and as a Na'vi Avatar. At a crucial point, you are given a choice: do you continue to work with the RDA or will you turn against your fellow humans and help the Na'vi defend their home? Your decision affects which character you play as for the remainder of the game, and there are separate human and Na'vi stages and missions. For the full experience, you'll want to play through Avatar at least twice to ensure that you've seen everything that it has to offer.
If you opt to remain with the RDA, one of your first objectives is to move from the crash site of a fallen hover ship (called a Scorpion) to an RDA base. There, you're able to procure a new Scorpion, but the craft's missile launchers are unfortunately busted. Even so, you can now fly your new ship back to the crash site and salvage the parts necessary to get the weapons back in working order. From there, you can begin attacking some of the indigenous (and decidedly hostile) animal life.
I'm Blue (Da Ba Dee)
Those who go down the Na'vi path will find that some of the natives don't exactly trust a human turncoat. In order to prove your loyalty, you'll first have to destroy an RDA compound, which requires you to track down and collect several sets of explosives. Of course, your former allies will be doing all that they can to stop you from your new task.
As you might expect, the gameplay is fairly different depending on which character you play as. As a human, the game feels like a typical third-person shooter. There is a large variety of weapons to collect, but only four can be brought into battle at a time. There are also multiple vehicles that you can control such as the aforementioned Scorpion, a dune buggy, and a boat. Since you are a hostile invader on Pandora, the planet's flora and fauna will take an active role in attacking. As a human, you can also play a mini-game that is somewhat influenced by the board game "Risk." By spending experience points earned from your kills, you can hire troops to send into different territories on Pandora to conquer them. The goal, naturally, is to occupy as much of the planet as possible, earning you even more experience points. If you're not interested in this strategic element, rest assured that it is completely optional to the main campaign.
The Na'vi depend more on melee weapons such as blades, but their bow and arrow allows for a powerful ranged attack. Because the Na'vi are at one with Pandora's natural world, they needn't worry about being attacked by any plant or animal life. In fact, you can even mount some of the animals to give you an advantage in battle.
Skills for Bill Paying
No matter which race you play as, there are some similarities between the two. Both characters have access to a skill ring that allows you to pull off four special moves that function either defensively or offensively. Some of the available skills include the ability to blend into the environment, repelling the native creatures, regaining health, temporarily boosting your strength, or calling in an air strike. Naturally, certain skills are exclusive to the RDA or the Na'vi.
If you find yourself getting drawn into the world of Pandora, you can bone up on your "Avatar" knowledge by checking out the Pandorapedia, an in-game guide to just about every aspect of the "Avatar-niverse." As you play, new entries in the database are unlocked for your perusal. Interestingly enough, many of the entries were actually written by James Cameron himself.
Avatar also makes use of advanced technology that allows the game to be played in 3D just like the film itself. I was able to demo the game this way, and the results were stunning. The depth of field provided by the effect took an already impressive-looking game and made the world seem even more vibrant and real. It's a fantastic demonstration of where gaming could go in the future, but unfortunately most TVs out there are unlikely to support the feature. Luckily, the game still looks great on a plain ol' HD set.
With its rich world to explore and two potentially compelling storylines, James Cameron's Avatar: The Game (which is only slightly less awkward of a title than Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie) seems like it will be the perfect companion to the film. But I also have to wonder how many people will be heartless enough to side with the RDA on their first playthrough.