It seems to me that the key to any good VR game is to accentuate the format’s strengths and hide its weaknesses. The strengths, of course, are an unprecedented level of player immersion and interaction, at the potential cost of all that tech and precise movement making the player feel far clumsier than the abstract set-up of a traditional controller. Pressing a button to do an elegant backflip is far more straightforward than actually having to attempt to do a backflip, whether there’s a VR headset strapped on your face or not! Unfortunately for Falcon Age, it never manages to overcome those weaknesses when compared to gaming on a flat screen.
You are a falcon handler. Your mission, should you choose to accept it? To overthrow an evil corporation with the assistance of only a few barely competent rebels and your pet falcon. Fortunately your falcon is very useful, being able to attack foes, retrieve items and solve simple puzzles. It’s also in the interaction with your bird buddy that the VR elements of Falcon Age are most successful. You can move your falcon around as it rests upon your hand, give it a friendly fist bump, hand it items to play with, and even pluck needles from its feathers… after it’s taken a beating from those pesky enemy turrets. It’s a gloriously tactile experience and one that is crammed full of charm. It’s an experience utterly absent when playing the game without VR, where you’ll perform all of those varied and distinct actions through repeatedly tapping the same button.
If bird handling was the game, if it was purely based around the interaction with your avian ally, then Falcon Age would be an unprecedented success. Unfortunately, Falcon Age also has all the other trappings of a first person exploration adventure game, and it’s here that playing in VR makes it less enjoyable.
By default it leans on teleporting as a form of locomotion through the world of red canyons and grey bunkers. Aim at a nearby location, like you would a slingshot, and then blink to that place. It works well enough, but it’s an incredibly slow and tedious way of covering the large distances you have to cross to get to your next mission, and it gradually starts to kill any sense of existing within the world.
Fiddling in the menus and you might discover that you can turn the teleporting off and move in a more traditional FPS style. While your mileage may vary, it’s at this point that everything went wrong for me. Now, I have to add the disclaimer that I’ve not tried free locomotion in other VR games before, so this was uncharted territory for me, but I do know that other games have pulled this off successfully, with numerous mitigations and clever tricks that make it feel better. For me, Falcon Age did not do the same, forcing me to play in VR with the fairly rubbish teleportation technique that made navigating the environment an utter slog.
Matters aren’t helped by the uninspired visuals. The environment is largely made up of red and orange rocks, textures are bland, enemies perfunctory in their design, and every edge has a blurry quality in VR that cheapens the visuals. Admittedly, the design and animation of your falcon is great, even more reason for developers Outerloop to have ditched all of the exploration nonsense and made a bird handling sim instead.
Combat is entirely forgettable as well. Perhaps the best evidence of this is that you have the option of playing the game in ‘imprint mode’, a setting that makes the combat optional. The things is that without combat the game experience feels even more vacant. What you do have is a club that you repeatedly wallop over enemy robots until they surrender or your wrist gets sore, whichever comes sooner. There’s a fairly nice whip function that allows you to use your controller to drag and pull enemies towards you, but then you still have to bash them on the head.
The game is intensely repetitive. From the opening section that sees you locked in prison and having to repeated the same task over and over, to being released from prison and having to repeat another task. This second goal is to clear out enemy outposts and, other than harvesting and hunting with your falcon, that’s your lot. Thank goodness it’s all over in a few hours then.