I really like James Cameron. He seems like a courageous director, with very clear ideas and eager to break the rules whenever he can. The Avatar saga is proof that, with money and talent, you can achieve things that were believed to be impossible.
And like a good creator, James Cameron has always liked his works to transcend the medium, trying in all possible places. Because a good story can be told through many formats.
And Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is precisely that. Telling new stories of Pandora through a medium that is not its original one. Obviously, here we have to thank Ubisoft, the great French video game developer, for taking up the challenge. It’s never easy to adapt epics of this magnitude.
The story of Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, the most powerful aspect
Set in the never-before-seen western frontier of Pandora, you play as a child of two worlds, born Na’vi but raised by the RDA. Fifteen years later, you are free but find yourself a stranger in your birthplace. Reconnect with your lost heritage, discover what it truly means to be Na’vi, and join other clans to protect Pandora from the RDA.
Set after the events of the first Avatar movie, you will embark on a journey through the Western Frontier, a continent of Pandora never before seen, while uniting with other Na’vi clans to shield Pandora from the formidable forces of the RDA.
What follows is largely the typical open-world adventure of resource gathering, capturing settlements, and various levels of tasks for your Na’vi kin.
But its ecological message, integrated into the game systems by Ubisoft Massive, gives it a special touch. Large expanses of Pandora’s environment have been contaminated by human industrial facilities, ranging from small drilling platforms to extensive oil refineries.
Much of the game revolves around sabotaging these facilities, using a mix of stealth and combat to evade the military garrison’s troops.
Gameplay that might not convince everyone
To adapt James Cameron’s worlds into the video game, Ubisoft Massive sensibly follows the boundaries between Avatar and Far Cry, resulting in a game perfectly capable of traversing stunning environments and fighting against the industrial scourge of Avatar’s human colonists.
However, while Frontiers of Pandora is entertaining, it doesn’t do much to advance either Avatar or the open-world format.
Stealth is simple yet effective, encouraging you to take the high ground. You might think it’s easy to spot a two-meter-tall blue alien perched on a distillation unit, but the RDA helmets limit their troops’ ability to look upward.
In combat, a mix of bows and human firearms is used to take down soldiers, robots, and enemy aircraft. Like in the movies, the fights are non-bloody but very physical. Your Na’vi’s longer limbs and larger weapons allow you to easily strike those wicked little humans.
A powerful and necessary ecological message
When a human installation becomes disabled, a very common occurrence in the game, the environment transforms. Dead brown flora springs back to iridescent life, and animals repopulate the area.
This change not only looks splendid but also allows you to take advantage of the rejuvenated landscape, picking fruits and animal eggs from tree canopies to cook meals that enhance your abilities. You can also gather resources like wood and animal hides to craft new weapons and equipment.
None of this is particularly radical, but what’s interesting is how Frontiers of Pandora emphasizes the physical and spiritual ritual of taking what you need from the forest. You must gather resources at the right time and in the right way to receive the best quality materials, while animals must be cleanly killed to avoid ruining their hides and meat.
The way the game reinforces being one with nature through its interactions is compelling. Even navigating the forest correctly can help you run faster and jump higher, leading to an exciting first-person platforming experience. However, as The Guardian‘s colleagues note, the Na’vi aren’t written particularly well; they all speak like your melancholic grandpa, incapable of going five minutes without imparting wisdom.
Final conclusions: Is Ubisoft’s new game worth it?
Although the combat and stealth are enjoyable, the game’s possibilities are lesser compared to what’s seen in the Far Cry series. Combat abilities are fewer and simpler, while stealth lacks the intricate joys of the Ubisoft Montreal series.
Visually, Frontiers of Pandora is often stunning, especially its exceptional jungle environments. However, the game struggles to maintain that quality at a distance, which becomes an issue in sparser, rugged, and rocky areas.
Nevertheless, it’s a well-made Avatar game. If you’re a fan of James Cameron’s movies, you’ll have a blast, and even Avatar skeptics will find something to enjoy amid Pandora’s dense foliage.