James Cameron's Avatar: The Game
Whoa - nobody told me that this game looked this good. Avatar uses Ubisoft's proprietary Dunia engine, as used previously in Far Cry 2. Designed explicitly for the creation of stunning outdoor worlds, it's a perfect fit for the jungle-like environments of Pandora. Escape the confines of Avatar's initial ugly indoor level and prepare for a genuinely pleasant surprise: this game looks beautiful.
I talked a little about Avatar back in the stereo 3D article written in the wake of CES, where we saw how much of a performance impact rendering for two eyes had on both versions of the game.
The Xbox 360 game held up pretty well, while the PS3 version was impacted heavily with a hit of anything between 30 to 50 per cent on frame-rate in the move from 2D to 3D. Thankfully, the amount of people actually playing the game in stereo 3D makes this particular element virtually irrelevant, but it does suggest Dunia simply works more smoothly on Xbox 360.
In the 2D realm, performance is a lot closer. Both games aspire to run at 30 frames-per-second, but both will slip out of v-sync in order to maintain frame-rate. Similar to Far Cry 2, with which Avatar shares a lot of coding DNA, it is the Xbox 360 version that runs significantly more smoothly, dropping far fewer frames and tearing less often.
More than that there are clear image quality improvements for 360 too. First up there's the anti-aliasing. It's traditional MSAA territory for the Microsoft console, while PS3 gets the image-blurring quincunx variant. In games with lots of intricate, high-frequency detail, the difference between the two anti-aliasing techniques really comes to the fore. PS3 looks blurrier and indistinct compared to the crystal-clear 360 game.
Resolution-wise both games run at native 1:1 resolution on a 720p screen, albeit with slight black borders: 360 operates with a 1280x696 framebuffer, while PS3 runs at a slightly different 1274x692. You won't notice the borders on an overscanning HDTV, and even if your display renders full resolution, it is still barely noticeable.
Base texture quality - factoring out the quincunx blur - looks to be like for like, but it looks as though the Xbox 360 game features a small level of anisotropic texture filtering which is not present in the PS3 version. More noticeable is the different implementation of shadowing. Again, similar to Far Cry 2, the Xbox 360 game uses an interlace/latticework style of effect while PS3 gets "proper" shadows.
Bearing in mind that Avatar hasn't reviewed so well, I was pleasantly taken aback by the quality of the game. Once you're out exploring the jungle wilderness of Pandora, you're seeing a true technological showcase (certainly on 360).
What is immense about the game is just how fully realised that environment is. The scale of the world that Ubisoft has created is extraordinary. Take a moment to stand still and gaze up to the canopy of the forest, check out the sheer richness of the environment, the animation of the flora and fauna and just enjoy the sheer other-worldliness of it all.
While it is undoubtedly true that more could have been made of this world from a gameplay perspective (you can't argue with any of the points Tom brought up in his review), I still had fun playing Avatar. Well worth picking up as a cheapie, or at the very least as a rental.
Hats off to the engineers behind Dunia - personally I can't wait to see where it is next deployed. Far Cry 3 perhaps? Let's hope that the PS3 version of the engine gets the performance boost it deserves.