Avatar Hands-On Preview and Video

Avatar is now available for $9.99! Now that the game’s out, we can share with you our hands-on video of the game’s horseback riding and quest-taking segments. Fans of giant blue aliens, rejoice!

Well, it was out briefly, and has since disappeared. Still, our video is here to stay. We’ll let you know when the game’s back. [Late update] And, it’s back.

James Cameron’s upcoming sci-fi action flick seems tailor-made for a videogame. The movie’s trailer features giant blue creatures swinging through the jungle, humans in mech-like walkers, and plenty of other exotic creatures and heavy-duty weaponry. Gameloft’s iPhone take on the story mainly features the big blue guys, but we were surprised at their range of moves, like climbing, shooting, and riding a six-legged horse.

The story of the game takes place over twenty years before the events of the movie. You play as a Marine named Ryan, who is taking the very first Na’vi Avatar (a virtually-controlled body resembling the locals) out for a test drive. He’s not in the movie, but the Na’vi Neytiri (played by Zoe Saldana) is, and she lends her voice to the game as well. Also, we’re told that Sigourney Weaver’s character will make an appearance in the game, but not her voice.

In the very first training level, we took our giant new blue body out running and jumping on an obstacle course. While the game appears similar to Hero of Sparta, it’s in fact quite a bit more detailed. Gameloft told us that there are more textures in any one level of Avatar than there were in all of Hero of Sparta. The first level is interesting visually, because of the way it lets you run around near pint-sized humans and fantastically huge, building-sized mine carts.

Scrambling over obstacles is fairly straightforward, with a character who automatically pulls himself up ledges and a context-sensitive button that lets you drop off of walls or netting. In the second level, combat is introduced, with a pointy stick that you can swing around to beat up a few crazy-looking wolves and a giant hippo monster, natives of the planet Pandora.

Later in the game you’ll get to use machine guns and a bow and arrow, which have a melee attack as well as the long-distance attack. A linear upgrade system will let you cash in glowing collectibles for better attacks, including some special attacks like an area stun effect that will require a cool-down period before using again.

Besides the initial training course and a few early jungle levels, Avatar will also take you into a war-torn dreamscape (called a Dream Hunt), with giant eyes floating in the sky and some very freaky enemies. A level midway through the game called The Valley of Origins will let you take quests from Na’vi villagers, including a ride on a six-legged horse through a series of checkpoints. Later, you’ll also get to fly a giant pterodactyl-like creature called a Banshee, as you fight off enemy helicopters.

From this playthrough, we’re now genuinely looking forward to a game that we had previously written off as a mere Hero of Sparta retread. The combat is actually only part of what makes this game interesting. Mixed with lots of platforming, a unique storyline, and a few exotic creatures to ride, Avatar looks like a worthwhile companion to a huge-budget movie. It’ll be out in December, around the same time as the movie.