Ubisoft will have to forgive me for being a bit sceptical about the 3D graphics in this game. Prior to Avatar, my last experience with 3d graphics was Nanosaur 2 - a pterodactyl-based shooter that came bundled with my iMac. It was a half-decent blaster, but while the stereographic technology worked rather well I still walked away feeling that the whole feature was little more than a gimmick.
So, has Ubisoft changed my opinion on this matter? Not exactly. I'm still not convinced that stereo graphics are about to revolutionise gaming, but on the strength of Avatar I can certainly see how they can add something worthwhile to the overall experience. Avatar is a third-person shooter set within the lush jungles of an alien planet; we've seen this kind of setting time and time again, and yet somehow it seems so much more alive when the scenery seems to have a visible depth. There you are, deep into the middle of a hostile rainforest, and as you turn around all you can see is an endless maze of colourful plant life - much of which is trying to kill you.
Of course, much of this effect is due to the design of Pandora itself. For the last four years Ubisoft has been working with director James Cameron as he builds his long-awaited sci-fi opus. Let's not forget that Jim was the man who brought us the Terminator, the Alien Queen and the Ripley's magnificent power-loader. Cameron and his designers know a thing or two about making cool toys, and it's already clear that both Avatar the Film and Avatar the Game will be packed with eye-catching goodies: lanky blue aliens, hoverships that look like dragonflies, and stompy stompy mech suits.
To be honest this is probably just as well, because only a few of us are ever going to experience this game in all its three dimensional glory. To play Avatar in 3D you'll need an HDTV capable of using a 120 Hz refresh rate in full 1080p, which currently means buying a fairly top-end set. You'll also need an HDMI-equipped console, meaning early generation Xbox 360s aren't up to the job. Ubisoft are quick to assert that funny-specs-o-vision-mode (my term, not theirs) is an entirely optional bonus, a stereographic cherry atop an already-sumptuous adventure cake; That may be true, but there's no denying the fact that if you leave aside the 3D aspect, there's a risk that Avatar could easily be written off as just another Gears of War clone.
On the other hand, most third-person shooters can't stick the words "James Cameron's Avatar" on the front of the box. The success of the film will surely be linked to the success of the game, but if nothing else this will be a shooter backed up by a brilliant concept. In the distant future, humans are attempting to harvest valuable resources from the planet Pandora, which is populated by 10ft tall creatures known as the Na'vi. Since the air on Pandora is toxic, the visiting corporations are forced to rely upon protective gear... until someone hits upon the idea of breeding human-Na'vi hybrids. These genetically engineered half-breeds can then be controlled remotely from a safe location, allowing their "pilots" to walk around the planet as if they were one of the locals.