The Avatar demo is out so I though it was time to strap on some space marine gear and dive into the neon jungles of Pandora to take the fight to the tall gangly blue Na’vi on their own homeworld. Imperialism, hurray!
This is a console game through and through. The right mouse button spins your character 180 degrees. Your powers are arranged in D-pad formation and clumsily mapped to the 1-4 keys. It also adopts the now fashionable 3rd person viewpoint that sees your character lounging around on the far left of the screen shooting towards a central reticle. Fighting the lithe dog like creatures that frequently dart out of the undergrowth makes for a pretty sluggish and irritating experience even with the mouse sensitivity ramped up. This is a first person game, it just hasn’t realised it yet.
Avatar flexes the Dunia engine’s considerable muscles (Dunia is responsible for Far Cry 2’s luscious world), rendering a gorgeous jungle absolutely packed with detail. It’s disappointing that the glowing plantlife simply serves to hide the fact that the environments are a series of corridors. To give Avatar some credit you can pick and choose the order you take on your objectives in a given area, and certain sections have localized missions that can be triggered for a bit of extra variety. In the demo most of these involved wiping out Viperwolves (read: wolves). Exploration is punctuated by some pretty explosive scripted events to keep things interesting. The flaning wrecks of human crafts crash around you, friendly troops swarm across the forest floor and there’s a pretty impressive scrap with the Na’vi which sees you fighting alongside a squad of men and several stompy war machines.
Oh, there are ‘RPG elements’ as well, in the loosest sense. Completing your objective nets you a load of experience. When you level up your equipment is all automatically upgraded. There’s no evidence of any different character builds in the demo, so the experience systems seems completely moot at the moment.
To sum up I was left thinking: Lost Planet, prettier, with more irritating enemies. It even has sections that let you strap yourself into a deathbot to temporarily wreak havok on the local fauna. Add in the scripted action and the cinematic direction and it’s fair to say there’s a bit of Halo in here as well. This is only a glimpse of the human campaign, but if anything the platforming vibe of the Na’li sections seem even more geared to a couch based play session with a control pad. Nothing wrong with that of course, but the console hangovers in the control system will only serve to irritate those of us who do our gaming on a PC.