James Cameron's Avatar: The Game
James Cameron's Blue aliened movie tie-in didn't use active shutter technology, rather it used the more comfortable, more effective (and hugely more expensive) polarising tech. Of all the games we tested Avatar was the most convincing, with the branches of its alien jungles appearing to reach right out of the screen and poke you the cheeks and eyes - which is to be expected, really. Allow the camera to clip some grass or hanging vines and you'll be accosted by giant pixels floating inches from your face. Shoot and bullets sail into the screen.
The game itself is unlikely to be anything particularly magnificent, a Lost Planet-style third-person action-shooter with fantastic giant creatures and bizarre and colourful flora. No, what's astounding is just how impressive and deceptive the 3D imagery is, to the point where you can't help but reach out and paw clumsily at the air in front of you while muttering "it's like it's right there!
This is, we're told, the same tech being used in the Avatar film - itself a 3D CGI extravaganzoid, meaning that to get some idea of why these last few pages have been filled with gibbering, wet-eyed descriptions of what a fully-realised third dimension looks like on a screen, you've only got to visit your nearest overpriced IMAX cinema.
After 15 minutes of play the effect becomes less pronounced, but at this point we're invited to remove our Jarvis Cocker specs and view the game running on a regular monitor. The difference is honestly surprising - we had difficulty discerning the edges of objects in the now entirely flat world and simply moving the character felt disorientating. It's like stepping back into the Vaseline-smeared hell of standard-definition TV, having been given a glimpse of perfect clarity of high-definition. So thanks for that Ubisoft Montreal. Thanks for making everything else we play look shit.
Download James Cameron's Avatar: The Game
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Any praise directed towards the Avatar mod has to be constantly filed under "What might have been" because it's so badly optimised there's no way anyone, bar those owning the most powerful PCs on the planet, can get a reasonable frame rate out of it. This problem can be solved by putting Crysis' visual settings to their lowest notches, but that makes the point of the mod -the visuals - irrelevant. So let's talk about it as if it did work.
Barguss has spent three months piecing it together. Ninety percent of this time was spent on creating the lavish visuals, the likes of which you'll never have seen in a game before. As one succinct poster on the mod's home page notes, "I had to slap myself to believe that this was an actual mod". High praise indeed, and a comment nobody could disagree with too much. But in essence Avatar is just vanilla Crysis with a great new look.
But of course, you'll never see things as Barguss intended, because most of your time will be spent grinding your teeth into stumpy little pegs as you nudge the mouse slightly to the left and watch the whole thing grind to a halt, as everything is redrawn criminally slowly. It seems that Barguss has forgotten the first rule of development: make sure your players can play the game.
There's pretty much no way you'll be playing Avatar properly any time soon. However, there's always the hope it'll get tweaked and optimised to a playable degree. If this does happen this will be in any essential Crysis mods list, and the new "look console friends, this is what my machine can do" showing off thing.
You could use it for that now, but consolers will laugh as you freeze in place for the umpteenth time. Barguss, don't let this be the case forever.
Every Now And then a movie tie-in game comes along that bucks the trend of movie tie-in games that buck the other trend of movie tie-in games being rubbish.
James Cameron's Avatar tumbles through this Mandelbrot of trend-buckage and emerges, sadly, on the rubbish side. It's a technological marvel, certainly, having - like the movie - been built from the ground up to be a fully popping-out-of-the-screen-and-into-your-face 3D experience, but beyond the illusion of depth the game itself is flatter than a pug's face.
You're one of the soldier men, shipped out to the mystical world of Pandora, a place in which the flora and fauna attempt to tear you limb from limb at every turn. Living on this planet is the equally mystical Na'vi tribe, a bunch of blue-skinned, cat-faced ladies and gents who tower over the invading human forces.
They're naturally opposed to the imposition, and so the conflict calls for an over-the-shoulder, third-person action-adventure across several different zones on Pandora. You can move freely from place to place, collecting side missions and discovering cell samples, but primarily you'll be driving the plot onwards along the main quest line. Not far into Avatar, you'll choose whether to ally with the Na'vi by permanently assuming your alien form (your consciousness can be transferred into the body of a Na'vi, which isn't very well explained, particularly if you've not yet seen the film) or having it speared to bits, never to be seen again. Whichever route you take, most of the same problems will find you.
Foremost is that combat simply isn't fun on any level. Enemies move in strange, unpredictable patterns, not reacting to your attacks in any way. They don't take cover or employ tactics, instead opting to run at you repeatedly before doubling back on themselves and retreating to a safe distance.
No matter which path you choose you'll have to contend with either natural or mechanical transports, the horrendous handling of which defies belief. As a marine you can wield a near-useless flamethrower, and as a Na'vi you're left to defend yourself with rudimentary tribal nonsense mixed with some useless acrobatics. Playing Avatar is a hollow experience compounded by a two-dimensional, linear string of objectives delivered to you by a soulless cast of rigid actors. This is only worth playing in 3D, so that you can flick them in their stupid floating faces.