It was the surprise announcement of E3 2021: that Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment will be taking gamers into the world of the number one film of all time in Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora. What was most surprising about it was actually how out of left-field this came.
Avatar is an unusual property: the pet project of Terminator and Titanic helmer James Cameron, the film became the most financially successful of all time in just a matter of weeks. (It later reclaimed that title from Avengers Endgame after a 2021 re-release in China) However, once the initial excitement was over, enthusiasm for it seemed to dwindle more and more until it seemed largely forgotten.
However, the two billion dollar-plus returns allowed Cameron to pursue it as a franchise, though production on sequels stalled for years. In between a partnership was struck with Disney to create an Avatar-themed area for the Animal Kingdom theme park in Florida. Following that, Avatar 2 was finally earmarked for release in late 2022, which was followed by the E3 announcement of Frontiers of Pandora.
Of every form Avatar has so far taken, video games may well be medium where its effect is best optimised. For all his film’s flaws, Cameron has created a world beautifully designed and realised you will immediately want to inhabit. That is why we should be looking forward to Frontiers of Pandora – rather than passively observing these environments, there will be a game that will allow us to explore this space at our own discretion.
Some of this can be seen in the first game to take place in Pandora, which serves as a good pre-cursor for what Frontiers of Pandora may offer. The tie- in game of Avatar, or to give it its somewhat laborious full title James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game, was also made by Ubisoft and like the film released in December 2009 for Xbox 360 and PS3 among others. It received middling reviews and was almost universally agreed as being a standard part of the marketing.
The Game, however, while not without its flaws, is a striking visual experience and the effort gone in to re-create the film world is visible. Set before the events of Avatar, players start out as a human soldier assigned to duty on the moon of Pandora. At first the place doesn’t seem to friendly, but that all changes after participating in the avatar project of one Dr Harper. After swapping out the human body for one of the native Na’vi, new areas open up with much more of the planet’s unique flora and fauna to see.
After experiencing both sides, players then have a key choice to make: do they side with the RDA or the Na’vi? The former will see the game become a third-person shooter, while the latter will see more platforming and hack-and-slash action as a Na’vi. It doesn’t really matter which option is chosen because both campaigns have the same resolution and, more importantly, either way there is plenty of opportunity to experience the best part of this game, its environments.
The Game was as ambitious and audacious with its scope and visuals as the film itself was. Looking beyond the immediate action and you will see backgrounds with trees and mountains reach as high as the game camera will allow, vast landscapes reminiscent of those in Prince of Persia. A particular highlight is the bioluminescent areas, which are as graphically impressive as those of the film.
Frontiers of Pandora then should take a leaf out of its predecessor’s book and go a step further: with graphic capabilities now at its greatest levels of realism, the foundation works laid in The Game can be built upon to create an even more immersive experience. While the missions of the 2009 game are nothing special, they are worth undertaking as their setting is able to elevate the mundane.
The makers of the next Avatar game, Ubisoft and Massive Entertainment, have so far not divulged much about specifics of its contents. The first trailers for it suggest similar gameplay, exploration-based with plenty of chances to see all the sights of Pandora. Though only time will tell what the final product will feel like.
Say what you will about Avatar, it has made for some marvellous art work that Cameron and co. have turned into extraordinary environments. Previously its one video game has hinted at the possibilities of that world in a fully interactive form but was not able to completely explore them. If Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora can take what was hit on in the game of the original film and expand on them, it could be a worthy experience that will show what the world of Avatar is fully capable of.
Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora will be available on Xbox Series X|S, PS5, PC and Google Stadia.