James Cameron's Avatar project has long been shrouded in mystery, but now as both the film and its video game counterpart approach their December release dates, things are becoming a little clearer. We're getting a feel for the Na'vi, the 12ft tall blue aliens who dominate the film's advertising, and for Pandora, the lush jungle planet they call home. We're also getting a sense of Cameron's key theme, the conflict between nature and technology. Finally, we're also finding out exactly what Ubisoft has been doing with all this source material over the past four years.
As covered in the last preview I wrote, Avatar the Game is a third-person action adventure that casts you as a member of the RDA - the human military force that's attempting to gather important natural resources from Pandora. Thanks to a lengthy session I spent with the game last month, I can now reveal a few more details about this setup. The player takes control of a chap named Abel Rider - a communications specialist who's been brought in to help find a particular sacred spot on Pandora. It's not yet clear what this place is or why the RDA wants to get there, but right from the start it's clear that Rider will have other problems to handle - particularly the fact that someone within the RDA camp is feeding information to the Na'vi, who are getting increasingly upset with the human presence in their back yard.
The game kicks off at a military base with a short introductory section that serves to introduce both the controls and some of the back story, particularly the whole concept of Avatars themselves. In short, the RDA has been creating genetically engineered human-Na'vi hybrids that can be controlled remotely from machines known as link beds. These Avatars are extremely useful, as humans are unable to breathe the air on Pandora, but only one in a million people have the right DNA to be able to sync with one. And as luck would have it, Abel Rider is one of these lucky few.
As a tutorial this short interlude works well enough, but the dull corridors and electronic doors instantly fade from memory once you arrive in Pandora's wild jungles. It's clear that a lot of effort has been spent on the game's look, and you'll immediately appreciate the level of detail on both Rider and his surroundings. Last time around I was playing on a 3D-enabled TV, and under those circumstances the lush environments really felt like they had a lot of depth; you don't quite get the same immediate level of immersion on a standard set, but you do certainly get drawn in by the sheer mass of flora and fauna that surrounds you. If you're curious about something, Rider has the ability to scan nearby objects and creatures by holding down the right bumper (I was testing a 360 build), and once you've done this to a new discovery a fresh entry will be added to the PandoraPedia - an in-game database that provides further details on content and concepts.
If on the other hand you're feeling a tad destructive, you'll soon realise that opening fire on the environment will net you a small reward. Every time you destroy something, whether it's a hostile threat or just part of the jungle, you'll earn an XP bonus that will eventually help you to upgrade your equipment. If you run around blowing up everything you see, you'll rack up points quickly- but it may turn out that this isn't such an appealing approach; while the RDA see the jungle and its contents as an active threat, something to be neutralised and cut back, the Na'vi know it as their home. The RDA's quest for resources has set them on a head-on course with the alien locals, and sooner or later you're going to have to make a choice about whose side you're on.