Imagining What Avatar Games From The Biggest Triple-A Developers Would Look Like
In a recent interview, Obsidian CEO Feargus Urquhart revealed that the Fallout: New Vegas studio had talked with James Cameron about potentially developing a game based on Avatar: The Way of Water. The meeting happened years ago and the project was never anything more than an idea. But, what did happen as a result is me thinking about what an Obsidian Avatar game would even look like. And now here I am writing about what Avatar games from other triple-A developers would look like.
Ubisoft is the developer that actually landed the Avatar license and its Frontiers of Pandora is due out some time in the next 16 months or so. The French company is a very safe choice, and though we haven't seen much of the game so far, it's easy to imagine what an Ubisoft Avatar game could look like. Huge open map of Pandora's Western frontier, climbing trees to unlock the map, racing against other Na'vi on Banshees or Skimwings. The most exciting aspect in the trailer is the aerial fights between the Na'vi and the humans, which could offer something different from traditional Ubisoft fare.
That's the game we're likely to get. But I'm more interested in the games we could have gotten (and still might get given that Avatar is now a key series for Disney going forward). Obsidian might be the strangest fit for Avatar of any of the major studios, given that the sci-fi series is driven by action and spectacle, and those are things that Obsidian isn't really known for. Obsidian's games tend to revolve around dialogue and character-driven roleplaying. But, Obsidian games are typically good at factions, which may have been the draw for Cameron, given the different tribes and affinities on Pandora.
It's easier to picture Rockstar helming an Avatar game. The way the GTA developer has typically written its antiheroes isn't all that different from the way James Cameron writes Avatar's human villains. It's easy to picture Giovanni Ribisi's Parker Selfridge fitting right in with Michael and Trevor; easy to picture Miles Quaritch defending against a heist on a military compound. In terms of gameplay, Red Dead Redemption 2's camp could serve as a model for how Rockstar could approach the Na'vi clans, with the player returning to the Omatikaya or Metkayina villages between missions to build relationships with other Na’vi. Plus, Rockstar has already proven it can do any and all vehicles; airplanes, cars, bicycles, and jet skis are all usable in GTA 5, and that experience would map pretty neatly to Pandora's natural modes of transportation.
Of course, Naughty Dog's take is the one I would be most interested in. I wrote recently about how much I would love to see a sci-fi Uncharted game, and Avatar would be an interesting inversion of the Uncharted formula; the Na'vi want to protect their resources rather than looting treasure from others. This would be the most distinct approach, as Ubisoft, Rockstar, and Obsidian would likely create fairly open takes on Pandora. But, Naughty Dog could come the closest to replicating the splendor Cameron brings to Pandora in video game form.
I would play all of these games, so please Disney, spread the wealth around. Don't repeat the Star Wars mistake of giving one developer exclusive access to a valuable license for ten years. Let's get indie Metroidvania Avatar, roguelike visual novel Avatar, turn-based tactical RPG Avatar. Pandora is a vast world, and one developer can only capture so much of what makes it special.
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