Director James Cameron has been hyping his sci-fi "magnum opus" Avatar for some time, but shown very little from his film in the process. That's why I was so surprised to learn Ubisoft would be helping Cameron debut some of the first details on Avatar at E3 and it wouldn't be coming from his movie, but Ubisoft's game. There might be good reason for that: Avatar is a lush, big, expensive-looking video game.
But is it a good one?
That's hard to say right now. Like I said, it's easy to immediately tell Ubisoft has spent untold amounts of money envisioning Avatar's world, which takes place on the jungle world of Pandora, in interactive form. There's endless flowers and fauna (many of which are extremely dangerous -- plants like to eat you on Pandora) and trees that seem to reach thousands of feet into the atmosphere. Plus, it's all in 3D.
There's the big catch. While I haven't actually played Avatar, there wasn't much in my 20-minute or so demo that suggested it's doing anything remarkably different as an action game. Much ado has been made about the visuals in Avatar the movie and it's the distinguishing feature in Avatar the video game, as well. Ubisoft had journalists watching Avatar's demo on a 100+-inch 3D-enabled television screen. That is not the monitor that I'd be playing Avatar on when it ships later this year.
So while, yes, Avatar looks absolutely fantastic in 3D, adding a sense of visual depth that's literally impossible without the aid of this new technology, does any of that matter if only a fraction of the audience will ever see what it looks like? Avatar will play just fine on your everyday, 2D-only television, but 3D is a big differentiator for Avatar the movie and it's clear Cameron pushed Ubisoft to do the same here.
But enough with speculating the merits of 3D. Avatar, the game, is a 3D over-the-shoulder shooter that's best described as Lost Planet in a jungle. Actually, I think that's what Capcom's calling Lost Planet 2. Avatar looks remarkably like Lost Planet 2, in fact, with giant creatures, bugs and lord knows what else trying to kill you. You even pilot a speedy little mech during some sequences in Avatar, too.
That's actually just one side of the gameplay in Avatar, though. You start off as a gung-ho member of the RDA (Resources Development Administration), a group who intends to mine the planet of Pandora for all its valuables. As the story progresses, however, you're given the opportunity to change sides. Pandora is home to a powerful but simple-minded alien race known as the Navi. The RDA wanted the Navi to become slave laborers, but the Navi rebelled. It's up to players whether they want to support the RDA's motives or fight back as a member of the Navi. The combat differences between the two sides are vast -- Navi use weapons of the land (bows and arrows, etc.), while the RDA are overflowing with technology.
And if you're such a Cameron nerd that you'll be picking up Avatar regardless of quality (such tendencies explain why I've finished both 24: The Game and Lost: Via Domus), you won't have to worry too much about spoilers. While the video game takes place within the same world of Cameron's film, it's not the same story.
Will that story be worth playing? As soon as I can play Avatar, I'll let you know.