As you read this, James Cameron is preparing to rain all over the boy Jesus' parade with his own vision of world salvation, albeit of the alien kind. The director of Terminator, Aliens and Titanic is hoping to obliterate box office tills with Avatar, his 3D, CGI, intergalactic saga that has been ten years in the making. You've probably seen the trailers. Lots of gnarly space marine types locking and loading and shouting 'hooah!' and chewing gum aggressively. And then there's the second half, which depicts the other race of the movie, the bright blue Na'vi. Personally, we thought they looked worryingly like Jar Jar Binks. Even more worryingly, James Cameron's Avatar on Wii is based entirely from the Na'vi point of view. Meesa scared.
As it turns out, that first impression is deceptive and Avatar is not the squirm-fest it looks. In fact, the plot of the game is separate from that of the movie - being set two years earlier - and this is where the game comes unstuck in its claim to be a videogame version of Cameron's movie. It looks broadly similar and the Na'vi are present, bright blue and correct but the film doesn't quite cast the humans and the Na'vi as two warring factions. There's more subtlety than that, with as many questions as answers. In the game, you play as Ryuk, who sees things in black and white. Humans are universally bad and must be dispatched without question. Fairly standard stuff for a game, sure, but Avatar is opening itself up to accusations of dumbing down on Wii.
So you play as a vegetarian Rambo sneaking through lush bioluminescent foliage on a mission to rid Pandora of nasty Resource Development Agency troops. Imagine you're the Predator on a diet of mung beans, proud donator of a tenner a month to Greenpeace, master of silent bush-whacking, and you've got a clear picture.
Dressed in a loincloth and armed only with a big pole and an intimate knowledge of the planet Pandora's forests, stealth is Ryuk's best friend. He relies on it so much you don't even have to press anything to make him stalk - just enter a patch of tall grass and he automatically becomes hidden from RDA soldiers, every one of whom suffers from acute short-sightedness.
Most of the game's levels are not much more than glorified tunnels funnelling you from cut-scene to cut-scene. Ledges lead you to high vantage points, from which you can get the drop on the malevolent human invaders below. There's no stealth meter as such. Instead, an icon flashes up above an enemy's head which tells you whether someone is close enough for you to lock on to and then wallop with your staff. Later on you'll also pick up the Hunter's Bow, which is handy for taking out the only people in the game who aren't near-sighted - the sentries stationed up in watchtowers.
For bigger groups of guards there are handily placed wasps' nests. Taking control of a wasp using MotionPlus is a good idea in theory, but in practice it's both confusing and frustrating. They're used to stun and distract enemies so that you can sneak by, but if anything the controls are too sensitive. Other problems? The co-operative mode, in which Ryuk's sister joins the fray, is another good idea, but rather than splitting the screen both players are shown on the same one. If your mate is particularly duff there's an annoying hold-up as they catch up to you. That said, co-op play in the air is much better. Using the Balance Board to control a Banshee is very effective, while having a mate control shooting via the Remote is a common-sense option that works out to be a lot of fun.