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James Cameron's Avatar: The Game First Impressions

Avatar is being touted as the legendary director's magnum opus, and the game was on show at E3 2009 behind closed doors in stereoscopic 3D. We snuck in to discover just how epic the world of Pandora is.


There has been a lot of talk about Cameron's latest project but little walk, at least until now. The Hollywood veteran spoke at length about the movie and game during Ubisoft's E3 press conference, but, unfortunately, guests weren't shown any footage from either. Thankfully the movie's producer, Jon Laundau, was at a behind-closed-doors briefing at Ubisoft's E3 booth to introduce the game, which is being developed alongside the movie. Not your average movie tie-in, the game will feature a completely separate complementary storyline and characters.

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The science fiction epic takes place in the far future on the small moon of Pandora, where a mining corporation is seeking an all-powerful adamantium alloy. Pandora is inhabited by the 10-foot-tall blue-skinned indigenous Na'vi people, and its air isn't breathable by human lungs. Thankfully, the corporation has developed a process to create hybrid human/Na'vi avatars, empty bodies in which they can embed the consciousness of a human. Cameron wrote the script for the movie 14 years ago but was waiting for the technology to support his concept. Stepping up to match his grandiose ideas, Ubisoft is developing Avatar: The Game in stereoscopic 3D (seen in movies such as Beowulf 3D and Monsters vs. Aliens). Ubisoft showed the game on a massive 130-inch prototype Panasonic plasma 3D TV; however, you'll be able to play the game on regular displays as well.

We've seen 3D game tech demonstrations in the past, such as Gran Turismo 5 and Motorstorm: Pacific Rift at CES 2009, but the concept never gets old and really has to be experienced to be fully appreciated. Characters, heads-up displays, weapons, debris, particles, and the environment feel like they literally pop out of the screen at various degrees, and the heightened sense 3D creates is amazing. Grass pops up inches away from your face, and carnivorous plants burst into a floating gas cloud that you feel like you're in the middle of. Text commands hang in front of the TV, making their presence feel more immediate. Bullet cartridges fly past your head when you empty a magazine. If only every game, and indeed every movie, were viewable in this format.

Avatar supports a branching storyline, and at some stage in the game your character will be able to side with either the Resources Development Administration (RDA) or the indigenous Na'vi by becoming an avatar. If you choose the RDA side, you'll have access to a range of technologically advanced weaponry, including an impressive mech. One member of Ubisoft's dev team ran us through a level playing as an RDA character. The jungle of Pandora is both stunning and deadly, with hostile fauna and flora. We saw plants that release swarms of wasps, a giant rhinoceros-like beast, and several packs of viper wolves. Your character will earn effort points and can spend these on weapons, items, and unlocking new areas.

You'll also be able to learn new skills, such as the ability to dash or push enemies away. The goal in the demo is to traverse through the jungle to reactivate three repulsor pods, used to clear the area from hostile life-forms. You will encounter other RDA troops who will help attack bigger enemies, such as the huge hammerhead beast, which looks like an oversized rhino with the head of a hammerhead shark. You can use a mech suit to do battle with the hammerhead until you're flung from it during a scripted sequence. Thankfully you can take him down on foot using a grenade launcher. The next area takes place at night, where the jungle comes alive with bioluminescent wonder. All of the brightly coloured plants appear with glowing blue and green auras after dusk.

Finally we got a glimpse of playing as a Na'vi warrior. The Na'vi are a tribal people, and their weapons lack sophistication, but they are no less formidable. Weapons such as the battleaxe, bow and arrow, and mace will be accessible, and Na'vi characters can level up and be customised just like the RDA. After travelling for a bit on foot, our Na'vi character jumped on a nearby creature that resembled a pterodactyl and took to the skies. Flying though canyons and wide-open areas, you can really appreciate how big and detailed the world is. After gliding peacefully above Pandora's canopy below, we ran into an RDA aircraft at the end of the demo. Thankfully the creature has some pretty powerful skills and swooped down to make mincemeat of the ship.

James Cameron's Avatar: The Game is coming this fall. For more on the game, watch our interview with James Cameron and catch all of our E3 coverage at

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