If you want to be taken seriously in the business world, it pays to keep one eye on the Next Big Thing – or rather, whatever you think the Next Big Thing might be. According to Microsoft, it’s Project Natal and the chance to high-kick Fulgore and your prized IKEA floor lamp simultaneously. According to Sony, it’s Blu-ray, or Home, or CELL, or telling your PS3 to put the kettle on over a PSP wireless connection. Nintendo is doubtless pinning its hopes on Wii Motion Plus 2 Multiplied By 3.41 To The Power Of 7.
And Ubisoft? Ubisoft thinks the future lies in making a computerised Sigourney Weaver’s wrinkles look like they’re protruding from the surface of the TV. That’s right folks, it’s the magic of three dimensions. The 1980s officially never happened.
I’m being more than a little facetious here, naturally. Today’s high definition 3D technology is to the kitsch paper glasses of Michael Jackson’s heyday what a jetpack is to a hot-air balloon. Shame then that we weren’t able to test the associated functionality in James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game, based on and produced in tandem with the long-awaited film of the same name, my trusty personal flatscreen being woefully short on firepower. A complimentary 3D-enabled set would be nice if you’re going to make a habit of this sort of thing, Ubi.
My first thought on firing up the Xbox 360 version was that Avatar looks absolutely fine without 3D, thank you very much. Ubisoft Montreal has transplanted the film’s Predator-esque, fruit-loops-on-gun-metal art direction to the humble confines of a DVD9 in spectacular style, with a color palette which puts the original incarnation of the Dunia engine, Far Cry 2, to shame. You’ll definitely get more pith out of those graphical melons if you pick the Na’vi, with their vibrantly cheesy tribal décor, over tedious old utilitarian homo sapiens, but whichever way we cut it this is a treat for the eyes.
The Na’vi and humanity, with player character “Able” Ryder ranking among the latter, are warring over the tropical fastness of Pandora, an extra-solar planet known for its carnivorous flora and improbable panoramas of dangling, vine-enmeshed boulders. Humanity is in it for the raw materials, while the Na’vi are in it because they happen to live there. No, it doesn’t take a genius to work out where the old moral compass is pointing, and real world analogies are only a Wikipedia page away.
To function more effectively in the toxic Pandoran atmosphere, the RDA have developed a method of downloading human brain patterns to the body of a genetically engineered Na’vi, letting their soldiers do battle from the comfort and security of a psychic link-up couch. This is oh so very meta, of course, and might have been expanded into a critique of the politics of commandeering a digital personality, but the script soon nosedives into that hoary old dilemma, cherished among action filmmakers, of whether to follow your conscience or stay loyal to your origins.