Most impressive game of E3: Avatar (disclaimer applies)
Most impressive game of E3: Avatar (disclaimer applies)
Things tend to look better when you use the best hardware, it's an unavoidable fact. But in the case of James Cameron's Avatar, it's the whole story. If you are willing to judge Avatar in the way its meant to be played - it's our pick for best game of E3.
Here'sa the catch: we're having the game demoed to us on a 103 (or is it 130?) inch Plasma HD TV with stereoscopic 3D output. We're wearing 3D glasses. And it looks staggeringly good. But it's hardly the standard gaming rig for the punter at home, is it?
The film story
We'll get to the why soon enough, but first we had the producer of the movie, Jon Landau, explain the film storyline, which James Cameron describes as his "magnum opus", one that as we noted in our Ubisoft conference notes, just couldn't be made when he convceived Avatar 14 years ago.
Cameron wanted to create a new universe, something that had't been done for some time. And he wanted to create it in CGI, which meant technological limitations were always going to interfere with his vision. The last four years have seen tech creep up to a level where Cameron - no stranger to CG in big budget films (see; Titanic for starters) felt it could do his concept justice.
Avatar is set in the future. "When," Landau tells us "is not important." We start on Earth, but Landau encourages us to think of Earth as merely the first step. You play Jake Sully. Sully is paralysed from the waist down after participating in a conflict that he never really bought into.
However the Resource Development Administration (RDA) needs Sully. The RDA is mining the distant plannet of Pandora for a very hard to obtain super mineral, and Sully's estranged twin brother was a key participant in the process. However he's dead now. Only Sully has the common DNA traits needed for the company to "access" his brother's Avatar.
The said Avatar is crucial. Pandora's air isn't breathable by humans, so the RDA developed "Avatars", hybrid creations that feature the consciousness of humans in the body of the Na'Vi, the indigenous inhabitants of Pandora. 10 feet tall and blue with tails, the Na'Vi are more primitive than humans in terms of technology, but much like the wily Ewok, should not be underestimated.
Sully isn't interested in travelling to a distant planet to inhabit a physical shell that used to be home to his dead brother until the RDA point out as an Avatar, he will be able to walk again. Lured by the prospect, Sully agrees to embark on the five year voyage to Pandora.
Landing on the planet, we're told Sully is blown away by the natural beauty of Pandora's forests and landscapes. Towering trees, massive waterfalls and verdant terrain. Then he notices what the RDA has done, scarring the earth as they hunt for the elusive Unobtainium ore. It's the first sign that perhaps the RDA isn't going to be the side of the angels.
On his first (I *think*) patrol as an Avatar, Sully's team is attacked by "viperwolves", speedy lean beasts native to Pandora. He ends up saved by, and falling in love with a Na'Vi female. The na'Vi take him under their wing and he learns the race are the good guys, basically. The catch is when his Avatar sleeps, his corporeal; body wakes back at the RDA base, where he is pressed fpor security details and expected to spy on his adopted people in order, who the RDA believe are getting between them and their minerals.
Sully ultimately discovers the RDA is killing Pandora and discovers finally a cause he can believe in - leading the Na'Vi in revolt against them. The catch is if the Na'Vi do succeed...the Avatars will also be incapable of existing on Pandora and thus he will lose his hot blue girlfriend - not to mention the ability to, er, 'walk'.
In the game, you will have to ultimately make a decision on who to side with. Our game demo showed gameplay from both sides, although regrettably a lot less as Na'Vi than RDA soldier.
Presented in third person, this game looks utterly amazing. What may well be a good - but not exceptional - third person shooter becomes something transcendental when you have terrain, creatures and other people moving about in a true three dimensional field in front of you.
It's utterly believeable. Panning around your character and even mundane details like cartridges being ejected from your weapon become things that you spend time just...staring at. It's not that the engine is amazing - it has a high level of detail but the framerate for instance cannot compare to say, Modern Warfare 2, at least at this stage - but you're actually moving about in 3D! Your sight reticle occupies a place in space in between you and your targets. Mission updates and completion notices seem to float at the top of the screen. The small HUD elements in the bottom right hand corner seem to hover in midair. Words cannot describe it - it needs to be witrnessed first hand.
We're seen combat and an array of tools. An invisibility function cloaks us in a Predator-style effect which would be "so what?" in a normal game but with this viewpoint looks amazing. An "amp suit" allows you to climb in a mech and lay waste with even more power.
Upgrades are attained through earning "Effort Points" - which basically come from...blowing stuff (and people) up. As you do so, "EP" floats in the air to let you know. We take on a number of different beasts, including hopping into a jeep with rockets to finish off a hammer-headed massive beast. All of what we did - from the most basic of actions - had an immeasureable amount of increased impact because of the field of view.
The sun goes down, and the jungle turns neon - bioluminescent flora lights up the forest, as well as making you easily trackable. We don't see much of it in action - nor of being a Na'Vi - but it looks hot.
Avatar has a way to go before its spring (in Australia) release - however one thing is clear. You're going to need the 3D support to do this game justice. It may be perfectly playable without it, but it's just not the way the game is meant to be played. Which leaves us torn. If you strictly judge it on impact - Avatar is the most impressive thing we have seen at E3 2009.
If the hardware requirement is taken into account, well, then we've got a few more options to talk about - after all, there's plenty of games out there which *support* 3D play and technology.
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