James Cameron's Avatar: The Game Updated Hands-On

We got a chance to play the first few levels of this epic sci-fi adventure and saw what it's like to be a state-of-the-art soldier and a Na'vi warrior.

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Based on James Cameron's upcoming sci-fi blockbuster of the same name, Avatar puts you in the shoes of Ryder, a signal specialist. Ryder is a soldier in the employ of the Resources Development Administration, and he has been sent to the lush moon of Pandora to protect its mining operation. Unfortunately, this process is destroying the native habitat of Pandora, which brings the RDA into conflict with the Na'vi, a species of indigenous, 10-foot-tall, blue-skinned warriors. Avatar gives you the chance to play as a human and a Na'vi, thanks to the ability to transfer your consciousness to a hybrid clone known as an avatar.

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Early on in the game you have to choose between playing as a human or a Na'vi, and this branching storyline gives you two very different experiences thanks to each species' unique weapons, skills, and abilities. The RDA campaign is essentially a third-person shooter featuring loads of heavy firepower, whereas the Na'vi campaign's gameplay is action adventure with rudimentary, yet brutally efficient, weapons, such as maces, swords, and bows and arrows. As an RDA soldier, you have access to a high-tech arsenal that includes assault rifles, machine guns, and shotguns. You also have four special skills that you can use to turn invisible, to sprint, to repel enemies for a short period, or to restore some health. The cooldown periods are short, and these skills become vital to surviving Pandora's dangerous flora and fauna. Traversing through the forbidding jungle is risky at the best of times, and thankfully we were able to use a dune buggy and motorboat to travel between locations. In addition to introducing you to the game, weapons, and vehicles, the first few levels give you a taste of what your career as an RDA soldier on Pandora might be like, with glimpses of some of the more advanced military hardware, including helicopters and mechs.

It seems Ryder has been personally assigned to Pandora by a local RDA commander called Falco, and after five long years in hibernation during the journey, you finally touch down on the moon at the RDA's main compound, called Hell's Gate. The base is under imminent attack by viperwolves--nasty canines that can easily rip a man to shreds--and it's not long before you get the pleasure of using a mounted turret to thin out their ranks. Falco reveals that there's a mole within the RDA who's feeding intel to the Na'vi, and he sends you off on a mission to the front-line Blue Lagoon base to find out more.

Once we arrived at Blue Lagoon, we got a chance to see what it's like to be a Na'vi through the RDA's avatar program. In addition to giving the RDA forces the Na'vi's physical prowess, avatars allow the RDA forces to explore Pandora's unbreathable environment without the need for a gas mask. Within a few moments of playing as a Na'vi, you're instantly aware of their benefits. For a start, Na'vi are able to jump much higher than humans and perform an extremely fast dodge move thanks to their 10-foot frame and athletic ability. Na'vi also have slightly different special skills to the RDA, and rather than having a skill that repels wildlife, you can perform a powerful ground stomp that damages nearby enemies instead.

While it essentially plays as an action game, Avatar is imbued with some role-playing elements. You earn experience points for killing, collecting items, and completing objectives, and these automatically unlock more-advanced weapons, skills, and armour as you progress. In addition to earning experience points, the other RPG element in the game is that your progression is through completing quests.. There are also additional side quests that you can complete at your leisure, such as collecting culture samples from native plants.

You have to earn the trust of the Na'vi before they welcome you as one of their own.
You have to earn the trust of the Na'vi before they welcome you as one of their own.

James Cameron's Avatar features an intriguing story, the ability to play as two distinct species, and some great graphics that show off the lush, exotic moon of Pandora. The game is hitting all major platforms in early December, just in time for Avatar's big-screen debut.

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