Mounts in games aren’t a new thing. A number of them let you ride horses, dragons, or other creatures around worlds at a quick pace. However not many feel integral to how a game’s surroundings unfold or worlds are built. Penny Black Studios’ How We Soar goes in the opposite direction and makes the phoenix you fly the main way to uncover the story within the game. From the very first moment you are sitting atop the majestic bird as you fly towards a plot that contains a tale of success and sacrifice.
You use the Dualshock 4 to turn, speed up, and slow down across the game’s environments. There isn’t an option to use head tracking for turning. The DS4 acts as the reins though the only real sense of that comes from when you flick them to take advantage of the small boost ability. At first learning when to turn, decelerate, and accelerate can be a little bit of a challenge but soon enough you get used to the phoenix’s turning curve allowing you to judge the angle at which you need to approach objectives.
In How We Soar the gameplay pattern remains the same throughout most of its levels. At first you guide the phoenix through hoops which starts the process of the papery world folding and reshaping into a scene. As you fly through more of the hoops more of the scene is revealed to you. But the paper constructs only have words printed on them and look like folded pages out of a book. It isn’t until you fly close that things change.
The phoenix is not just a mount to explore the world of How We Soar but as mentioned an integral part to telling the story. As the bird flies colour is restored to the objects and some of them come to life, such as leaves blowing away. Some scenes already contain movement but telling you what they are would ruin the wow factor by a huge margin. Due to the size of the environments it is likely you won’t colour in every part at first, though there are trophies that are awarded to those who do.
While I played through I did try to paint as much as possible but I likely didn’t even reach 50%. My completion time was approximately 4 and half hours, but if you choose to go for full coverage in every level then you can easily add a few more hours. I will admit to feeling that a couple of the areas were a bit bigger than they needed to be, and wanting to move forward.
Along with the hoops are orbs to collect. Depending on the size of the level there may only be one colour type of hoops and orbs, going up to four. These colours correspond with the DualShock 4’s face buttons, and when you press one of them it’ll tell you how many orbs of that colour are left to collect. Once you’ve collected the orbs a bird spawns which you need to catch, effectively turning you into a hunter. The Orb Birds – as I call them – start off easy enough to catch but the further in you get the more of a challenge they provide. The birds can pull off moves that you can’t on your phoenix, like barrel rolls or sudden dives, and you have to read their movements a little to guess what they’ll do. The early ones can be caught in a minute or so while the latter take a little longer.
Once the birds have been caught they’ll act as keys to the focal point of a scene bringing it together and moving the story forward. The plot of How We Soar focuses on an author and his life as he chases success from his work, along with the sacrifices made to get them. It is a journey that explores different emotions and situations ranging from joy, anger, sadness and loneliness.
How We Soar is one of the best looking games to experience using VR, soaring through skies as these majestic artworks unfold in front of you. Amongst the good looking levels there are two absolute standouts that made me say wow, with one location set in Space while the other in the ocean. These were the levels I spent extra time on because they were so engrossing. The phoenix itself has a papery texture to it and its movements look quite natural. If you look from side to side most of the view will be the wings beating up and down slowly, or spread out as you glide along.
Another key element of How We Soar is the music. I’d go as far to say that the soundtrack is one of the best of this year, each track complimenting the level it’s part of. It never feels intrusive or repetitive either, matching up perfectly when the moment calls for it. The sound work in general is very decent though a few times the phoenix’s cry could get a touch annoying. The voice acting though is well done and puts across what the characters are feeling during scenes.
When it comes to motion sickness some may feel it a little bit, especially as some stages can be a bit disorientating. As someone who plays RIGS a lot and is used to that due to the comfort settings I will say there were a couple of moments I had to to take the headset off, and at the moment there are no options to adjust settings to make the experience more comfortable.
How We Soar is a title where you can take as much time as you like to explore it. While the story is serviceable as a backdrop, it’s actually the environments that steal the show. Gliding around and exploring the levels is relaxing for the most part, apart from a couple of moments of disorientation. The artwork throughout is sublime and the music fits it all perfectly, though it sits along titles like Bound, where the art and experience also outshine the plot. If you have a PSVR and are keen to play something that doesn’t take too much effort while providing some great visuals then How We Soar is a worthy pick.