E3 2009: The Five: Avatar
The Intergalactic Pitch: James Cameron's ambitious 3-D sci-fi film gets a companion videogame, Avatar, which presents a parallel story that expands upon the world shown in the film.
1. "Avatar" the movie tells the story of Jake Sully, who is transplanted to the lush jungle planet Pandora, where he downloads his consciousness into a 10-foot-tall blue body (the titular Avatar) that has been genetically engineered from human DNA and the material from Pandora's native Na'vi. The game tells a parallel story, in which you'll play another guy working for the mining corporation that is raiding Pandora. You're stuck as a human for much of the time, however, so you'll use more conventional weaponry to clear forests and put down threats from local flora and fauna, not to mention incursions by the pissed-off Na'vi.
2. Loads of animals, plants, weapons and vehicles were created for the film. As expected, the game uses film assets, plus new gear designed by Cameron's crew. In addition to the dual-rotor Samson choppers and mobile power suits from the film, Avatar features stuff that didn't make the cut for the movie. If nothing else, this may be the most densely populated original sci-fi universe to come down the galactic pipe in a while. Be ready for big hammerhead beasts, viperwolves and enough menacing plants and insects to trigger those forgotten Daikatana nightmares.
3. Oh no, it's moral choice again! Midway through the storyline you'll be asked to make a choice. Either play the evil humans who are despoiling Pandora, or take up as a Na'vi. If you do the latter, you'll be able to ride a lot of the creatures that were formerly trying to masticate your human character. You'll also be able to cloak and, in general, live in hippie blue harmony with the jungle planet. Dreadlocks and drum circles optional. (Maybe in mini-games?)
4. At E3, Avatar was presented on a giant prototype display that invited us all to say, "Oooh, 3-D!" Will you be able to play the game in 3-D at home? Theoretically. But that will require some special gear and, let's face it, just paying to fix a red-ringed 360 is expensive enough these days. But, sometime in the distant future -- around the time Avatars are actually running around Pandora -- you will be playing games in 3-D.
5. With or without 3-D, it looks so purty. The most memorable vistas in both the movie and game could well end up being from Pandora's nighttime landscape, when all the flora and fauna begin to colorfully bioluminesce. During dark hours the jungle in Pandora is a crazy, trippy dreamscape, as shown by a brief peek during the E3 demo of Avatar.
The Crispy Forecast: Interesting. Movie games can be so hit-and-miss (Ubi's King Kong...) but Cameron and his people have been tightly integrated into this development cycle. Cameron has such a perfectionist's eye when it comes to tech details that I can't help but be optimistic.
This preview is based on a developer-driven demo of the game at E3 2009.