I hate the Avatar movies but Frontiers of Pandora is my biggest gaming surprise of the year

Avatar Frontiers of Pandora
(Image credit: Future/Ubisoft)
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Picture the thing you dislike the most in the world. Heights! Spiders! Clowns! A clown atop the peak of Mount Everest with a pocketful of tarantulas stuffed into their baggy pants! Well, take all that hate, multiply it by 20 and that’s exactly how much disdain I have for 2009’s Avatar. 

Honestly, I’ve never been so close to walking out of a movie theater. I was over the gimmicky 3D after about five minutes, then it was a case of enduring another 157 mins of a sci-fi take on Dances with Wolves… just minus the awesome titular lupine and with way too many obnoxious blue aliens that would probably be dunking at least 300 in any given NBA season. 

So yeah, to reiterate: I hate Avatar. But I do like James Cameron as a filmmaker — I adore Aliens and Terminator 2 and have massively changed my opinion on Titanic over the years. But when it comes to all things Na’vi-related, I didn’t think I’d ever not loathe anything tied to the franchise.

Then I booted up Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora and within about 15 minutes I was full-on Team Na’vi. This open-world action-adventure has totally glided under my radar since the day it was announced simply because of my sheer resentment towards the franchise for stealing three hours from my life I’ll never get back. 

Within about 15 minutes I was full-on Team Na’vi

Developed by Massive Entertainment and published by Ubisoft, I genuinely can’t tell you the last time I was this pleasantly surprised by a video game. From a mechanical standpoint, it’s basically Far Cry on Pandora with a bit of Mirror’s Edge parkour thrown in to make navigating its world’s teeming alien jungles a tad easier.

On paper, that sounds derivative. Yet as soon as you get past 15 minutes of dull cutscenes — predictably, storytelling is not Frontiers’ strength — it’s easy to forgive the copy-and-paste premise. Why? Because holy smokes is the one good looking video game. Hell, I think it might just be the best-looking title of the year, and that’s really saying something during a 12 month period where we’ve been treated to Alan Wake 2, Hi-Fi Rush and Marvel’s Spider-Man 2.

This will sound hyperbolic, but it looks astounding. Although granted, I need to throw in a pretty big caveat: I’ve been playing Frontiers of Pandora on one of the best gaming PCs in the world. Turns out, when you throw an Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 and the AMD Ryzen 7 7800X3D together, graphical magic (at barely believable frame rates) can occur.

A truly amazing PC port 

Avatar Frontiers of Pandora

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

I think Frontiers of Pandora might just be the best-looking game of the year, and that’s really saying something during a 12-month period where we’ve been treated to Alan Wake 2, Hi-Fi Rush and Marvel’s Spider-Man 2.

Thankfully, you can tell a whole lot of work has gone into the PC version of Frontiers of Pandora. Not only is the UI experience great (there are a ton of different graphical options to tweak, all of which are accompanied with images showing you what each visual feature does), it uses cutting edge frame generation techniques to run like a dream. A very tall, very blue dream.

Massive Entertainment has clearly partnered closely with AMD on this project, because Team Red's FidelityFX Super Resolution (or FSR 3, for short) melds with other frame gen techniques to produce amazing results.

Playing on the Samsung Odyssey OLED G9 at the super ultrawide monitor’s native resolution of (5,120 x 1,400) at Ultra settings with full ray tracing enabled, I was able to regularly hit over 150 fps with relative ease. And let me tell you, doing Air Jordan style jumps while bounding between some of the most vibrant and colorful plant life I’ve ever seen in a game feels damn good.

As an advert for playing in HDR on one of the best OLED TVs or best gaming monitors, I’m struggling to think of a better (extremely) lanky poster child for High Dynamic Range than Frontiers of Pandora.

Let it glow

Avatar Frontiers of Pandora

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

While I can’t tell you how good Frontiers looks on the current-gen consoles, I can say I’ve had a lot of fun with the game, regardless of graphics. Yes, I’m playing at absurdly speedy frame rates, but I reckon I’d still be having a blast on Pandora at 30 fps.

Mechanically, there’s a lot to like here. Sprinting and jumping feel great, and the sensation of being a giant alien as you stare down at teeny humans still gives me a kick six hours in. Oh, and if you think peering down at them is satisfying, wait until you punch one of them 12ft through the air.

Your customizable Na’vi’s main weapon — a hunting bow you can pimp out with all sorts of upgrades — is also the most satisfying one I’ve used in a game since The Last of Us and Crysis 3.

Bottom line: this is my surprise gaming package of the year. A breezy, beautiful sandbox that fully respects there are a whole lot of passionate PC gamers out there craving well-optimized AAA titles, I’ve had such a giggle with Frontiers of Pandora, I may even give old Jimmy Cameron’s Unobtanium-obsessed movie another shot.

Spoiler: I won’t.

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Dave Meikleham
UK Computing Editor

Dave is a computing editor at Tom’s Guide and covers everything from cutting edge laptops to ultrawide monitors. When he’s not worrying about dead pixels, Dave enjoys regularly rebuilding his PC for absolutely no reason at all. In a previous life, he worked as a video game journalist for 15 years, with bylines across GamesRadar+, PC Gamer and TechRadar. Despite owning a graphics card that costs roughly the same as your average used car, he still enjoys gaming on the go and is regularly glued to his Switch. Away from tech, most of Dave’s time is taken up by walking his husky, buying new TVs at an embarrassing rate and obsessing over his beloved Arsenal.