Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is a mixed bag of brilliance and blunder.
The game has a standalone story that follows a Na'vi orphan trained to be a soldier.
The game lacks the depth and emotional nuances of the movies.
Regardless of the jokes about Smurfs in space, there’s no disputing James Cameron’s Avatar is a mega-franchise that has made over $5 billion off two – yes, two! – films. Now, with even more movies on the way, the Na’vi and Pandora return to the world of video games in Massive Entertainment and Ubisoft’s Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora. The first-person action-adventure game seems like a natural extension that’s rife with endless potential, but it ends up being a mixed bag of brilliance and blunder.
From a narrative perspective, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora doesn’t require too much knowledge of the franchise beforehand. It’s a standalone story that follows a Na’vi orphan who was trained to be a soldier by the Resources Development Administration (RDA). The player takes control of the orphan, customising their voice and appearance, as they are freed and head off to the Western Frontier – a new part of Pandora. Here, the player discovers more about the Na’vi tribes as they battle the RDA for the fate of the Western Frontier and their natural resources.
While there are enough allusions and callbacks to the movies here, it proves smart to make this game’s tangential story far more accessible to the average player. All the important pieces and essential worldbuilding details are revealed early on, while the other bits and bobs unfold in an organic manner as the narrative develops. That said, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora lacks the depth and emotional nuances of the movies, as this feels like a standard good versus bad story. It also doesn’t reveal much about the Na’vi, choosing to hide behind esoteric and vague reasoning. Maybe James Cameron told the developers and publisher that he’ll skin them alive if they mess with his story – who knows!
What the game lacks in story, it more than makes up for in the visual experience. Expansive, beautiful, and otherworldly, the Western Frontier is a wonder to behold that will have players losing hours in the exploration of the flora and fauna. Much like the films, this world comes alive, as every sight, every sound adds to this unforgettable journey.
While Pandora looks as striking as ever, the cutscenes are hit and miss. Clear shortcuts have been taken, as these sequences don’t match the quality of the actual setting. It isn’t only the graphical glitches or random framerate jumps, but also the boring acting that could have been cut in favour of just getting down to it and smashing up the RDA. Some of these scenes cut into the flow of the game and could have been removed entirely.
From a gameplay perspective, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora draws a lot of comparisons to Far Cry, and it’s an accurate assessment. The game requires the player to explore and unlock sections of the environment to mine and secure more resources – whether this be for boosting health or crafting modified weapons. Thanks to the agility of the Na’vi and the environmental assists, it’s quite the treat to burst through the Western Frontier and let loose in this world. When it comes down to combat, though, it’s smarter to apply stealth. Scouting a surrounding, or climbing up trees for a vantage point, is an invaluable skill. Pick off enemies one by one rather than race into battle, since this poor Na’vi isn’t Rambo and the numbers game will overwhelm.
A player will need to make use of Na’vi sense – which is effectively the HUD – to find their way around the game. It’s a bit strange to get used to at first, since it feels like a neighbour giving directions and saying, “Turn left by that tree,” when there are 100 trees. Although, in the end, this does encourage more discovery and exploration, so is that really such a bad thing?
On the whole, Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora produces a visually addictive adventure that will appeal to fans of the franchise. That said, the lack of a gripping story harms in the long run since these bland characters in a by-the-numbers tale might not attract casuals. The year 2023 boasted an abundance of high-quality stories and compelling characters in gaming, and this game simply doesn’t feature in this conversation.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora nails the visuals but forgets the compelling story or characters.
Far Cry-esque gameplay
Pointless and glitchy cutscenes
Every character has an NPC personality, even the main one
Sergio Pereira is a prolific and recognised journalist and writer from Johannesburg, South Africa. His expertise encompasses the topics of comic books, film, television, and video games. For over 16 years, he has built up his reputation and knowledge in entertainment journalism by writing for and learning from the world's largest publications.
Sergio is also an accredited Rotten Tomatoes reviewer and has interviewed numerous celebrities, such as Andy Serkis, Ben Barnes, Idris Elba, Letitia Wright and Frank Miller. He is the author of the highly rated fantasy comedy novel The Not-So-Grim Reaper and numerous short stories. In addition, he is the co-writer of the South African crime drama film The Lifesaver. As a regular columnist, he contributes to Looper, Grunge, Screen Rant, Ranker, CBR, SYFY WIRE, IGN Africa, Thought Catalog and Fortress of Solitude.
For Sergio, all he wants in life is to see the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles eclipse the Justice League as the greatest heroes of all time. Then, he will sleep peacefully.