James Cameron hasn't made a film for well over a decade now, but with his deep sea exploration sabatical out of the way, one of Hollywood's most celebrated names is set to return this winter with the mysterious Avatar. We don't know much about the film, other than that it's about aliens and will be created using advanced 3D, but we have been treated to a sneak peak of Ubisoft's game; crafted alongside Cameron himself.
This may be a game based on a (expensively acquired) movie license, but that isn't to say that Ubisoft Montreal have been cutting corners. Quite the opposite in fact, the firm having embraced Cameron's three-dimensional vision in some style. Two version of Avatar are crafted for the PS3 and Xbox 360, one 'standard' version (that still looks lovely) and one quite astonishing 3D version, that works using Proclaimers-like 3D glasses.
An 'action-adventure' title will be offered, and from what we played behind the scenes with Ubisoft at GamesCom, the emphasis is very much on the action part of this - with a specially-crafted plot in place to help add context, tie the world together and link the game inextricably with the film (on which everyone seems to know next to nothing). While the game is set in the same world as the film - the beautiful and somewhat alien Pandora - we're told the game's plot will not follow the movie's story.
Rather, Ubisoft have been charged with penning a brand new yarn, not only for this PS3 and Xbox 360 release, but also for the Wii version - which will once again boast it's own unique tale. The premise is seemingly very similar to the film of course, Pandora under attack as part of an alien invasion, the alien race that stars coming to terms with the potentially unfriendly nature of the aggressive new arrivals.
Repelling and fighting the invaders across a range of landscapes is seemingly the main staple of the gameplay, and while the third-person combat isn't going to be re-writing the gameplay rules, it does look solid and well implemented, while the world itself; and the visceral action, looks stunning in glorious 3D that literally pops-forth from the Hyundai 3D television we're playing on. As our Ubisoft guide notes, the Xbox 360 we're playing on is much hotter than if only running the standard version - the 3D aesthetics pushing the hardware to the limit.
It's easily worth it though, as Avatar is one of the most striking games on show at GamesCom, perhaps only id's Rage giving it some stiff competition in the 'jaw-dropping visuals' department. The detail of the world is perhaps what surprises the most in three-dimensions, and it is hard to do the visceral sensation offered justice in words. You just need to see the game moving for yourself.
Clearly the jungle levels we're presently playing are very apt for 3D gameplay, the leaves literally hanging from the screen, while bullets whiz around you and colourful aliens beast roar forward from the television. Water also looks like it has real depth, texture, while all in the stereoscopic effects used in Avatar seem to represent a genuine technological leap - that is likely to be seen in other titles in the future.
Beyond action-packed gunplay, the game will also sport a number of vehicles - of the flying and wheeled variety, the game's unique story unfolding across sixteen maps that take in all manner of climbs, not just the sub-tropical jungle we presently find ourselves immersed in. Ubisoft promise an experience of some diversity, then, and while there are question marks over how the plot will fit in with the already solid-looking firefights, we're also told to expect the added bonus of multiplayer modes. Not that our Ubisoft representative could be drawn into divulging details on this side of things.
Having got over the 'wow' factor of the Xbox 360 version I was demonstrated, I also had the opportunity to take in the Wii version, which pits you as an alien hunter, once again doing battle with the invading hordes through lush jungle environs. No groundbreaking 3D here of course, but Ubisoft do seem to have made reasonable use of the Wiimote-nunchuck double act. The nunchuck controls directional movement while sweeps of the wiimote provide staff attacks, and there's even a spot of archery to be had - Zelda style.
Avatar is coming along nicely, then, and certainly from a technological perspective the title seems to represent a genuine leap forward on the PS3 and Xbox 360. As I mentioned earlier, you have to see the game's 3D in action to appreciate it. We're looking forward to more concrete information on this as winter nears.
Avatar will be released on various formats come December 2009.