E3 09: James Cameron's Avatar: The Game: The Presentation


Yesterday, James Cameron managed to make me hate his new film, Avatar, sheerly due to the fact that he spent about twenty minutes describing the plot and world before he said two words about the game. I literally lost all interest in the franchise by the time he'd finished speaking.

Today, Hamsa told me I could check out the Avatar game and essentially see an actual depiction of the alien world Cameron described.  Suddenly, I found myself interested again.

Entering a small Avatar room closed off from the show floor, I was handed a pair of 3D glasses to my audible surprise. I knew the flick would be 3D, but I hadn't expected the game to follow suit. I sat down next to some other journalists, and was told roughly two thirds of the film's entire story before seeing the game.

I will detail both the gameplay presented to me, and the film's story as told to me. I will also try to be less wordy than James Cameron when detailing both.

Hit the jump for more.

If you don't give a rat's ass about the film's story and world of Avatar, skip down to the phrase "As for the gameplay."

Avatar takes place in the future. The protagonist is a paraplegic ex-marine who, in the opening voice-over narration, longs for a real cause to fight for. Some dudes in suits show up at his house and tell him that his identical twin brother has died while working for them, and they need the protagonist to replace him because his DNA is similar. He says no, then the suits say that he'll be able to walk again if they work with them, so he says yes.

They take him to a world known as Pandora, which has a really rare mineral colloquially known as "unobtanium"  that is valuable beyond belief back on Earth. It's dangerous to mine, though, because the air on Pandora is poisonous to humans. In order to still get to the mineral, the mining company takes the consciousness of their employees and inserts them into the bodies of Navi creatures, the dominant and most intelligent race on Pandora. These human-Navi hybrids, or "Avatars," help the mining company get the unobtanium. This is what the protagonist's twin brother was doing, and why they chose him to replace him -- his DNA will be compatible with his brother's old Navi shell. 

The protagonist shows up on the world and it's beautiful, in a sort of fantastic and naturalistic way. The sky is full of flying mountains and waterfalls and rainbows; the ground is full of lush, colorful vegetation. The protagonist finds that the only ugly part of the planet is the mining company's base, which is like a technological scar on the otherwise beautifully natural planet. 

The protagonist gets his mind into an Avatar, and works for the mining company briefly before being attacked by some feral alien dogs. He's saved by a female Navi and is taken back to her home village. The mining company wants him to become a spy for them within the Navi village, so they can study/spy on/infiltrate and destroy the Navi resistance on Pandora. The protagonist falls in love with the Navi who saved him, and realizes that the fight against the mining company is the meaningful cause he's been looking for. He decides to lead the Navi against the mining company, knowing full well that the company's destruction will get rid of the entire Avatar system and keep him away from the blue alien chick he loves.

As for the gameplay:

Avatar The Game is a parallel story, allegedly free of spoilers for the film (unlike the preceding paragraphs). You seemingly start out the game working for the mining company -- the bad guys -- trying to help take Pandora under corporate control. At some point, you get the choice to switch to the Navi side and become an Avatar, putting your consciousness into a Navi body and giving up all the upgrades you made to your previous gun-slinging, soldiering human self.

As a soldier, you get "Effort Points" for pretty much everything you do, which can then be spent on character upgrades, or to purchase more territory for your mining company on the planet. Hypothetically, I guess a really good soldier could buy over the entire world for the mining company. The soldier's powers were pretty boring and standard -- the Avatar equivalents of force speed, force push, and invisibility -- but I found it really interesting that you earn Effort Points just by shooting up the environment. You're actively rewarded for doing the wrong thing; while you're somewhat justified at shooting at the huge alien animals who attack you at every turn, the mechanics don't let you forget that you are really an intruder in this world who is trying to conquer it for almost solely financial reasons. When you tear up the attractive, foliage-heavy environment with a machine gun but see constant visual "+10 EP" awards dot the landscape, it's a surreal feeling. 

The game is indeed in 3D, but can also be played in 2D if you don't have a television that supports stereoscopic 3D (which wouldn't be surprising). The 3D didn't necessarily look amazing, but perhaps that's alright; most other 3D games I've seen have been so in-your-face and obvious that I couldn't look at them for very long without getting dizzy, but I never felt the need to take my glasses off throughout the entire Avatar presentation. I also felt like I wouldn't be missing much if I played through the entire game in 2D, however.

The soldier combat in the game looked pretty generic, to be honest: Big Alien Monsters came out of the (admittedly attractive) jungle and the player killed them with his Big Gun And Superpowers. He could also get into a Big Goddamn Tank or Big Goddamn Power Armor, making me feel like I was basically just watching Lost Planet on a jungle planet instead of a snow planet, where the bugs were switched out with alien mammals. 

After a pretty underwhelming boss fight (dodge the charging hammerhead beast, then shoot it), the soldier ran into a Navi ambush and the human portion of the demo ended.

We were then treated to some Navi gameplay, which, again, only occurs if the player chooses to join them and abandon his human body. There was no combat highlighted here: the Navi summoned a large creature that looked somewhat like a mix between a butterfly and a dragon, and rode around the world for a little while, taking in the sights and sounds. The game world is pretty attractive, and since the Navi are literally in tune with nature because of some science fiction-y reason, the Navi section of the presentation focused on the beauty of the world and how peaceful and awesome the Navi were.

Until the Navi saw a mining helicopter, and angrily divebombed into it.

That was the end of the demo. We were told it'd be out on both PS3 and 360 sometime in December, before the film's slated release date of the 18th. It didn't look like anything terribly special to me, even with the 3D goggles, but it also didn't look like the next Enter the Matrix.

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Anthony Burch
Anthony BurchContributor   gamer profile

Lead writer of Borderlands 2, curator of  more + disclosures



Filed under... #Avatars #E3 #PS3 #Xbox 360



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