I Am Over-Bird-Ened

HIGH Holding up a grenade for my falcon to grab on a fly-by.

LOW A whole lot of nothing out there.

WTF Why doesn’t my bird want to hang out with me?

One of the surprising benefits of VR gaming is its ability to establish a strong relationship between the player and NPCs. Presence, eye contact, and subtle animations can all work in conjunction to elevate a connection in a way that adds gravity to all of the successes and failures throughout the course of a game.  So, when I first saw Falcon Age, I was excited by the idea of a project that identified this connection and attempted to maximize its effect since it was clear that Outerloop Games wanted me to bond with the titular bird through fist bumps, cuddles, and tricks.  What wasn’t clear, however, was what they wanted me to do with it.

On a futuristic foreign planet, an evil corporation has seized control of the local economy. With a fleet of robots overseeing a dwindling native population, I was held captive in a prison work camp and made to mine ore.  In my prison cell, I befriended a baby bird from a nest in my window, and with the help of this bird, I escaped my captivity and became a falcon hunter liberating my people from the clutches of the overlords.

Falcon Age is a first-person action adventure that relies on one gimmick — the bird. 

Combat is predicated on sending my bird to stun enemies before I beat them with my mining baton.  Upgrades were temporarily acquired by feeding my bird special food that I had cooked up from scavenged ingredients. Looting was best done by having my bird fetch an item and drop it into my hand. Level progression occurred by buying new accessories for my bird, such as shock-resistant beak armor or digging claws.  Even though the bird plays heavily into nearly every aspect of Falcon Age, one thing became clear quickly — I did not care about this bird.

My ambivalence toward the animal began as a result of my initial control scheme choice.  Playing in VR, I used the Move controllers, hoping that my hand presence would lead to more believable interactions. However, when I used them, it was near-impossible to keep the bird on my hand and nearby. Any slightly quick movement resulted in my companion flying off and away in a random direction, meaning that I would have to wait for the bird to return before I could do anything of consequence.

Combat amounted to little more than desperately beating enemies in hopes that I’d stun them while waiting for my bird to return from wherever he’d decided to hang out.  That is, if he wasn’t near the one enemy that can hurt him by shooting flak cannons. While the bird can’t die, he can become incapacitated and unable to swoop and stun enemies for me to finish. 

While later upgrades like an ability to give the bird grenades to drop helped expedite the repetitive combat, fights were a toss-up between flailing ineffectually or trying to heal my bird by petting him, hoping that my movements wouldn’t startle him enough to make him fly off before he was mended.

Fortunately, even though the bird was randomly absent, I could still traverse the land, and the environments in Falcon Age benefit from an aesthetically pleasing and colorful art style. Discovering the flora and fauna is pleasant at first, but the variety doesn’t match the size of the world. and I’d often encounter long stretches of nothing. 

One location area was “infested” with bone-armored beasts, but upon arriving, I had to meander around aimlessly until one randomly popped up out of the ground. Other areas would have little more than a smattering of cooking ingredients to harvest, but the joy of harvesting ran dry the moment I realized the products are nigh-useless when the beneficiary neither dies nor hangs around long enough to enjoy the benefits.

About halfway through Falcon Age I discovered that the bird mostly stays put when playing with a standard dualshock controller.  I had hoped that this discovery would allay the problems I had and bring forward some latent charm, but despite the more reliable presence of the bird on my hand, I realized just how boring this game was.

The story felt largely nonsensical, with confusing dialogue and the appearance of a character that seems to disrupt the logic of the story’s entire premise.  The combat, now made easier by the bird’s presence, felt even more repetitive and inconsequential as the un-killable bird was less likely to be endangered. Then, with no real sense of danger, buying upgrades and cooking bird-boosts felt even more meaningless.

Ultimately, Falcon Age feels undercooked and under-developed.  While the basic mechanics mostly work (when using a controller) and the setting carries a bit of charm, it’s clear that the experience lives and dies on the connection the player has with the bird. Without that, there’s little reason to care about the bird, little reason to care about the rest.

— Alex Pegram

Rating: 5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Outerloop Games. It is currently available on PSVR.This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PSVR. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Fantasy Violence and Mild Language. Most of the violence is a result of magical fighting, with no real gore or reaction taking place.  Some environments are a bit unsettling with bones and tissue and overall demonic settings.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game has subtitles for all voiced situations. Audio cues are not necessary for any situations. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: This game’s controls are not remappable. However, there are ample comfort settings and welcome adjustments available such as turning and movement speed options.  The game also allows for smooth locomotion or teleportation, and can be controlled with Move controllers or Dual Shock. The Dual Shock handles similar to a traditional first-person shooter.  Left analog stick controls movement, right analog stick controls turning. Left shoulder trigger calls the bird. Right shoulder trigger allows you to aim the bird contextually at a target. Right shoulder button attacks with baton. Square button heals/interacts with the bird. Triangle opens up a map. X contextually interacts. O button cancels.

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