Everyone has had that dream where they’re flying. You know, the one where you’re walking along and then you step off the earth into the air, taking flight as the ground zips by. In some ways Ubisoft’s Eagle Flight is the closest I’ve come to that sensation outside of dreams, and while its rendition of a post-apocalyptic Paris set at a resolutely gentle place, it also boasts a range of swifter challenges for you to sink your beak into.
You play a bald eagle – an announcement that produced titters from those watching me play – whose nest is in the middle of a reclaimed Paris. Set fifty years after humanity’s extinction, the city is overgrown by trees and bushes, and boasts various fauna that have clearly escaped from the local zoo. It’s a mostly non-threatening locale that serves as the perfect haunt for a rambunctious young bird.
Eagles tilt their heads to turn, and as such the direction of your flight is also controlled in a similar manner. You’ll travel whichever way you’re looking, and you’ll soon get a sense of what the game wants from you, with tighter turns controlled by the degree you tilt your head. Your speed is still controlled by your DualShock 4 though, with the triggers speeding you up and slowing you down, control of which is crucial to beating the best times in a the various challenges you’ll find set for you during the game’s story mode.
Those challenges range from flying through hoops in the fastest time to catching fish as they jump from the waters of Paris’ rivers and waterways, with later challenges seeing you engage in aerial combat with vultures. In classic Ubisoft fashion there’s even a batch of feathers to collect, and while the context makes sense here, it doesn’t feel like it was much of a creative stretch for the studio to include. In the case of the feathers and the fish, completing the requisite story challenge opens them up in the wider open world, turning your exploration into one of the company’s familiar collect-athons.
There are also expert challenges, which follow a similar vein to the standard ones but with more exacting time conditions. As the difficulty ramps up, so to does the chance of you crashing, and due to the precision you’re looking for in your head movements the game loses some of that ‘one more go’ mentality that non-VR entries in the genre have. It’s that bit more crushing when you fail at a task, and it sometimes feels like your avatar’s size isn’t necessarily consistent.
Though I had the occasional twinge, Eagle Flight does a remarkably good job of preventing motion sickness by limiting your field of vision when you travel close to other objects or scenery. During the speed challenges you’ll be moving your head around a great deal which could be enough to put people off, but it seems as though Ubisoft Montreal’s extensive research into the causes of motion sickness has paid dividends.
Though it could be part of ensuring player’s comfort, there is a lack of life and motion to the eagle you’re role-playing as. It may as well be a plastic beak they’ve stuck on your head, and there’s no sound or animation to capture the sensation of wings moving. The motion as a whole is very smooth, which sometimes makes it feel more like a rollercoaster ride that you’re directing rather than becoming a bird of prey. Funnily enough, it feels as though you should stick your arms out to the side and flap away, and maybe that’s what it needs to really sell the fiction.
However, the sense of speed is excellent, and once you give yourself over to the role of a bald eagle you’ll find some very tense moments as you try to navigate through cramped, half-collapsed buildings or small windows. As with some of the other early PSVR games, it still remains a shock to the system when you crash, and that comes down to just how immersive the experience is.
The stylised rendition of Paris itself looks solid enough, but the other creatures you see, including bears, giraffe, and herds of zebra, look like cardboard cutouts from the PlayStation 2 era. There’s also some pop-in apparent – even on PS4 Pro – and annoyingly that includes some of the collectibles, which could hinder anyone aiming for a full set. Mind you, it’s very often zipping by at a rate of knots so you may not notice too much.
Eagle Flight boasts a 3v3 competitive multiplayer mode, and it’s actually a heck of a lot of fun. The capture the flag objective play is fast, fun and frantic, as you try to grab prey and take it back to your nest while enemy eagles trying to take you down with their screech shot. It’s remarkable that it doesn’t become disorientating even during the most hectic moments as you try to evade your enemy.
What is a shame though is the limited range of content on offer, and while part of it is undoubtedly due to the concept, it still feels like there could have been something more done with it. Beyond the story mode you can fly around the city in free mode with up to five compatriots or indulge in the multiplayer, but overall it’s a slim package considering its £30 asking price.
Eagle Flight is a well-conceived proof of concept whose purity of vision is unusual, but more than welcome. Its intuitive controls and convincing sense of speed make it a VR title that other developers will surely be borrowing from. While the multiplayer mode’s thrills will provide some longevity, it’s ultimately only a lack of content that keeps Eagle Flight from being essential.
Version Tested: PS4