In terms of links to the movie, it's a prequel - set two years before whatever doo-doo goes down in Avatar's storyline. "Nobody wanted just a repeat of the movie," observes Shortt. "We're coming out before the movie, so we don't want to give it away for people."
The RDA and Na'vi are racing to find an ancient ruin - the humans to paw through it, and the big blue guys to protect it. While the humans seem pretty heavy on the pillaging regardless of which side you choose, they're not baddies - their leaders are doing what they do in the name of science, and of protecting the human settlements on Pandora. The moment of choice, in fact, has the Na'vi appealing to your cultural sensibilities, while the RDA point out that the Na'vi are sabotaging their bases, leading to messy human deaths.
"We didn't want to simply say, 'do you want to be the good guys or do you want to be the bad guys,'" says Shortt. "We wanted it to be more 'how do you want things to go?' and 'how do you like to play the game?'" Whichever faction you choose, you make it by shooting someone in the head. For all this surface grey-area moralising, this isn't a game in which anything is ever solved by doing something other than shooting someone or something in the head. It is based on a James Cameron film, after all.
Polished and colourful, that Avatar's been in development for some three years definitely shows. "Films don't normally take three years from pre-production," points out Shortt, "but because [Cameron's] was so technically challenging, it forced his window to be the same as ours. And he was smart to say, 'I need these guys on right from day one.' Movie-game collaborations don't have the best rep. I hope we can be the ones to change that. I have my fingers crossed - but you just don't know. Ultimately the fans are the ones who end up deciding that."
It has a gloss, a lushness that's such a near-absolute rarity in movie tie-ins. That said, it doesn't seem to demonstrate anything like the great ambition that we've been repeatedly told the film does. It's a go-there, kill-this action game - but in a vibrant, alien setting with expensive production values. "Our goal was to be as faithful to the world as we could, and I think we did pull it off," says Shortt. "Cameron brought us to see the film, so sometimes we were able to go 'we're completely on the right track and this is fantastic', or 'we have to change everything and go back.' That didn't happen a lot because they were giving us all the assets that we would want, but it certainly happened. But that was what was so great - because we were talking fairly regularly, we always ultimately got feedback from Cameron."
The Far Cry 2 engine handles the largely impressive look of the thing, once again affirming its aptitude for forests and fire. The vehicles and a veneer of free-roaming (the levels are self-contained maps, but pretty large - there's an instant travel system to hop between various waypoints on them) also hint at this shared heritage, but other than that it's really nothing like last year's divisive shooter. It's an action game on an alien world, with science-fictional vehicles and experience points, after all. Also, giant lizard-bull things. Avatar may not challenge your mind all that much, but it looks set to do a grand old job of lobbing insane wildlife at you.
Avatar is due out on 4th December.