It is uncommon to come across two artistic works that complement each other as well as the Avatar film universe and the Far Cry video game series. Both feature lush yet perilous environments that invite exploration. They also touch on themes of rebellion and guerrilla warfare. However, their political commentary may be considered simplistic or even hypocritical. But don’t worry, they also offer intense combat scenes to divert your attention.
For its virtual spin on James Cameron’s preposterously lucrative movies, Ubisoft Massive sensibly follows the contours between Avatar and Far Cry, arriving at a perfectly capable video game about soaring through eye-popping environments and battling the industrial scourge of Avatar’s human colonists. Yet while Frontiers of Pandora is entertaining, it does little to move either Avatar or the open-world format forward.
In a twist on the original movie’s concept, Frontiers of Pandora follows a young Na’vi who was raised under the control of the human RDA group. Through a series of flashbacks, the game reveals the manipulative and oppressive environment in which you were brought up. As you break free from the facility, you embark on a quest to uncover your cultural roots and unite the Na’vi against human invasion.
What follows is a largely typical open-world adventure of resource gathering, settlement capturing and various degrees of errand-running for your Na’vi kin. But it’s given flavour by its environmentalist message, which Ubisoft Massive embeds within the game’s systems. Large swathes of Pandora’s environment have been polluted by human industrial installations, ranging from small drilling platforms to sprawling oil refineries. Much of the game revolves around sabotaging these facilities, using a blend of stealth and combat to circumvent troops from the military garrison.
The strategy of stealth is straightforward yet efficient, motivating you to elevate yourself. It may seem like a simple task to notice a nine-foot-tall alien with blue skin sitting atop a distillation unit, but it is likely that the helmets worn by the RDA’s soldiers hinder their ability to look upwards. In battle, you utilize a combination of bows, spear throwers, and human guns to defeat enemy troops, mechs, and aircraft. Similar to the movies, the fighting is non-violent but physically intense. The longer limbs and bigger weapons of your Na’vi character make it effortless to maneuver and overpower the smaller humans.
When a facility is disabled, the surrounding environment undergoes a transformation. The lifeless brown plants are revived into vibrant colors, and animals begin to return to the area. This change not only looks visually stunning, but also provides opportunities to utilize the renewed landscape. You can gather fruit and animal eggs from treetops to make meals that enhance your abilities, as well as collect resources like wood and animal hides to create new weapons and equipment. While these actions may not be groundbreaking, what makes Frontiers of Pandora unique is its focus on the physical and spiritual ritual of taking what you need from the forest. Gathering resources must be done at the appropriate time and in the proper manner to obtain the highest quality materials, and killing animals must be done with care to avoid damaging their hides and meat.
The game effectively promotes the concept of harmony with nature through its gameplay interactions. Navigating through the forest correctly can lead to increased speed and higher jumping abilities, making for exciting first-person platforming. However, I am not as enthusiastic about the way the Na’vi are portrayed in the story. While it is noble, it lacks intrigue. Their dialogue resembles that of a wise elder, constantly imparting words of wisdom.
The Na’vi, including the younger members, use similar dreamy and calming language, causing a lack of differentiation in their communication and behavior. This, along with the vastness of the game, makes it challenging to form personal bonds with the characters. This is a similar issue faced by Star Wars with its abundance of Jedi characters. While Obi Wan-Kenobi is a strong mentor, having an entire society of them can be overwhelming.
There are also other issues to consider. While combat and stealth are enjoyable, the options available are not as vast as those found in Far Cry. Your combat skills are limited and straightforward, and the thrill of cunning stealth found in Ubisoft Montreal’s series is lacking (although your Na’vi character does have a few tricks, such as the ability to hack enemy mech-suits). In terms of visuals, Frontiers of Pandora is often breathtaking, especially the stunning jungle landscapes. However, the game struggles to maintain this level of detail in more distant, sparser, and rougher areas. Additionally, I experienced various technical difficulties, including cutscenes running slowly and multiple instances of the game crashing or freezing.
However, this is a well-crafted game based on the Avatar franchise. Fans of the James Cameron movies will definitely be pleased, and even those who are not fans may find something enjoyable in the immersive world of Pandora. However, there are other games that excel in this genre, and if you’re not fully invested in the Na’vi culture, you may find their stories tiresome.