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Avatar: Frontiers Of Pandora Review

A Far Cry from a fresh experience

While the computer-generated visuals are unquestionably impressive, I’ve never been particularly drawn to Avatar as a franchise. James Cameron may have plans to release sequels until humanity invents half of the tech seen in his fantasy future, but my appreciation for the 2009 original and its aquatic follow-up has always been skin deep. In many ways, I have the same relationship with Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, as beneath the beautifully imagined alien world, lies an all too familiar formula and a central plot that wants to be greater than it is.

Unlike the Avatar piloted by Jake Sully, played by the unmistakably Australian Sam Worthington, our unnamed protagonist is a true blue Na’vi. Ripped away from their home by the RDA (Resources Development Administration), you and your fellow captives are raised by humans in their metallic facility with the sole purpose of being native soldiers, a thinly veiled, invasive push from the RDF in the shape of TAP, The Ambassador Program.

Following the events of the first movie, the RDA is turning tail and withdrawing from Pandora. With the base crumbling around you and a handful of other TAP candidates, you are put into cryosleep in hopes of keeping you alive. After a short 17-year nap, you’re thawed out and immediately told the bad news; the RDA have returned to Pandora.

The forests of Pandora are particularly beautiful at night

The core premise is a clever one, allowing your character to be a true native to Pandora, while also acting as the audience surrogate, as they’re introduced to countless foreign creatures, plants, and customs throughout the game. As a member of the long dormant Sarentu clan, you’re tasked with uniting various Na’vi sects to fight back against the oppressive invaders.  Much like the films, there’s also a strong environmental message that underpins the entire plot, as you witness the destructive nature of man, corrupting and sullying the beauty of the world.

Sadly, outside of a handful of noteworthy highlights, the narrative treads through all too familiar territory. The RDA is despised by the Na’vi and can be seen polluting the planet with its bases and installations, but it never feel like a present threat. John Mercer, the head of the TAP program and all-round white male asshat, is seen committing a vile act at the beginning of the game before disappearing almost entirely for the duration of the campaign. Liberating outposts and seeing the world heal is effective, but it wasn’t enough to truly make me care, especially after the thirteenth time.

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I did, however, want to preserve the natural order of Pandora, simply because it’s so visually stunning. Rich in bright, vibrant colours and teeming with alien lifeforms, the world of Pandora is faithfully recreated and filled with interesting sights to slowly pan over. I couldn’t help but feel like a third-person perspective would better suit a game where you control a near ten-foot blue alien, but when I stepped out into the Western Frontier for the first time, I understood the choice.

The supporting cast looks amazing, but their stories are a bit plain

The forest where you spend the opening hours of the game is incredibly dense and vertical. Various flora and fauna that many would be familiar with from the films are present, including the fun spiral plants that retract upon contact. The wonderful soundscape further adds to the authenticity and immersion, every direction of the forest feeling as if it were alive and breathing around you. . The areas that proceed this impressive biome are far less interesting, with natural playgrounds being substituted by open and largely barren plains, but they do manage to be visually distinct.

Pandora is a sight to behold, but what exactly will you be doing when you’re not running through the multi-coloured forests at the pace of a small sedan? Outside of traversal, our Na’vi native raises arms against their oppressor, both their own and those of the enemy. As a bridge between the two worlds, the protagonist is willing and able to wield both native weapons and armaments brought to Pandora by the RDA. Na’vi weapons include numerous bows, slings, and spear-throwers that can utilise various alternate ammo types, such as exploding tips. Each of these weapons is versatile and has a significant weight behind them, which is felt more so with the haptic triggers of a DualSense. The human arsenal, filled with assault rifles, rocket launchers, and ludicrously overpower shotguns pack more of a punch, but they’re less interesting to use.

Much like the game’s story, the enemy engagements will feel like a case of déjà vu for those who have dabbled in a Far Cry title in the last decade. A majority of the time fighting the RDA is done so when liberating outposts and clearing out enemy bases. Much like the aforementioned Far Cry, you’re largely given the option to use stealth, or take the more human approach of going in loud, but if you choose the former, it will almost always turn into the latter.

Ascending the rookery is a standout moment 

Enemies, who predominantly come in the human or human in a mech flavours, are almost omnipresent, being able to spot you from a mile away and instantly inform all their friends. Once one grunt lays eyes on you, wave goodbye to your silent tactics, grab out the rifle and start running. Early encounters will have you torn to shreds, as your squishy Na’vi body isn’t too fond of bullets, but thankfully there are a handful of unlockable abilities that make direct combat slightly more enjoyable, as you eventually rip the polluting pricks out of their mechs with the press of a button. All told, I was more often than not waiting for a combat scenario to end so I could get back to exploring.

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Roaming Pandora on foot is exciting enough, but it’s when you take to the skies that the game’s true potential clicks into place. A short few hours into the campaign, you’ll be tasked with taming your own Ikran, a deadly flying reptile that looks like it could make you a meal in seconds. After climbing the rookery, scrambling up vines and leaping across floating platforms, you’ll make a bond with one of these creatures, before taking flight.

Soaring through the open sky on the back of your Ikran is freeing. Controlling the majestic creature is simple and effective, and its handling is graceful and snappy. Diving towards the earth, only to pull up at the last minute and level out with the horizon is a wonderful feeling, and it’s one that you can experience at your own leisure as, to my surprise, your Ikran is available to you at any time, with the press of a button. Oddly enough, there are other, land-based mounts that are introduced later in the game, but the Ikran is so enjoyable to ride that I all but ignored the others as soon as they appeared.

I spent most of my time atop my Ikran, for obvious reasons

Not only is the beast a screenshot magnet, but it’s also a devil in combat. Able to hover in midair, or swoop down upon a squadron of RDA, you’re able to loose arrows or fire a volley of bullets while mounted. While the overall combat didn’t excite me, the Ikran’s involvement did manage to get my blood pumping.

Final Thoughts

Spirting through the undergrowth, sliding under branches and bounding over streams on a truly alien world while the score swells in the background is a wondrous experience. That’s what makes Frontiers of Pandora’s otherwise uninspiring, cookie-cutter gameplay design so disappointing. Many dismissed the game as being Far Cry with blue aliens before launch, and I wanted them to be wrong, but a paint-by-numbers narrative, unengaging combat and a truly tired approach to open-world gameplay make it hard to deny. If you’re an Avatar superfan who hasn’t watched the genre homogenise into a single shade over the past ten years, then you’ll find plenty to enjoy here, I just don’t envision many will fall into that category.

Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher

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Avatar: Frontiers Of Pandora Review
The Definition Of Insanity
While Frontier of Pandora's open world is an audio-visual feast, the formulaic structure of its gameplay and the tools it give you to wade through it feels far too familiar to make it worth visiting for long.
The Good
A faithful and stunning open world
Authentic music and sound effects
Mounted gameplay is fun
The Bad
The Far Cry gameplay loop is here and it's tired
Uninteresting combat
Dumb, yet all-seeing AI
Predictable, uninspiring story
6
Has A Crack
  • Massive Entertainment
  • Ubisoft
  • PS5 / Xbox Series X|S / PC
  • December 7, 2023

Avatar: Frontiers Of Pandora Review
The Definition Of Insanity
While Frontier of Pandora’s open world is an audio-visual feast, the formulaic structure of its gameplay and the tools it give you to wade through it feels far too familiar to make it worth visiting for long.
The Good
A faithful and stunning open world
Authentic music and sound effects
Mounted gameplay is fun
The Bad
The Far Cry gameplay loop is here and it’s tired
Uninteresting combat
Dumb, yet all-seeing AI
Predictable, uninspiring story
6
Has A Crack
Written By Adam Ryan

Adam's undying love for all things PlayStation can only be rivalled by his obsession with vacuuming. Whether it's a Dyson or a DualShock in hand you can guarantee he has a passion for it. PSN: TheVacuumVandal XBL: VacuumVandal Steam: TheVacuumVandal

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