What I love the most about virtual reality is that it can take a game that might just feel a little ordinary when played on a flat screen and turn it into something unique. That’s exactly the case with Falcon Age, a first-person adventure that sees you and a Falcon companion heading on a battle against robots that’ve taken over your homeland. Whilst the premise alone is pretty neat, it’s the way that it all feels in the PlayStation VR headset that’s so special – having your bird companion on your arm, interacting with it in different ways, and then commanding it with the flick of a Move controller just felt great and never stopped being fun throughout the entirety of my adventure.
Those who don’t have PlayStation VR headsets will be glad to know that they can play Falcon Age too, though it isn’t the same. To get the best experience you’ll want to play it in virtual reality – bearing that in mind, this review only covers the PlayStation VR version of the game.
Falcon Age puts you in the role of Ara, an imprisoned woman whose land has been taken over by robotic creatures led by the Outer Ring Company that want to drain it of all of its natural resources. If there’s one good thing that’s come out of being in prison, it’s the relationship you’ve formed with the little Falcon that had nested at your window. Like you, it was left in a struggle all alone but persevered through companionship.
It doesn’t take long before you escape your prison cell and team up with a resistance faction to try and take down the robots, with your aunt helping you on your charge – your Falcon joins you too, with your bond proving stronger than ever as you work together to survive. Once free, you head on a journey to not only help save your land but also the people on it, with their lives, culture and beliefs at risk if the robots aren’t stopped.
It all comes together to make for a deep and emotional story, and it’s easy to find yourself gripped in by the situation that the world’s inhabitants have found themselves in. There are plenty of colourful character to interact with throughout your adventure and you’ll even get the opportunity to respond to them in different ways, which adds a personal touch to proceedings too. It’s just a good tale that has its share of twists and turns, and whilst it can falter a little as you reach the end, for the most part it manages to convey the struggle of Ara and her people perfectly.
The main hook of Falcon Age is the special little bird that you’ve got perched on your arm throughout the journey. I’d seen plenty of images and videos of this in-action across Twitter in the months leading up to the game’s release and I’m glad to report it’s just as adorable in-game as it looked there. The way you interact with the Falcon is undeniably charming (whether it’s whistling to call it over, giving it a fist bump, or even seeing it play on its little skateboard) whilst the way that it’s actually tied into the gameplay itself didn’t feel like some tacked-on feature either – you’ll both need each other in order to survive the adventure and you’ll have to learn how to work together fast. Simply put, it’s one of the most meaningful and delightful companions I’ve encountered in any game.
You can play with the Falcon, pet it, tend to its wounds, and even dress it up in cute little outfits (the dragon one is adorable), so there are aspects to the game that’ll make it feel like you’ve just got a virtual pet. I spent a lot of time simply having fun seeing what antics we could get up to together outside of progressing through the story, and it’ll probably be an area of the game that most players will find themselves particularly absorbed in. More importantly though, you’ll be guiding the Falcon to help you gather resources and take out your enemies. All you have to do is point the Move controller at an item or enemy and it’ll get to work, with the Falcon then sweeping down on its target and showing what it can do.
This is pretty straight-forward when gathering items, but when in combat you’ll actually have to give a helping hand at times too. You’re armed with an electric baton which you can use to smash out some attacks, with the Falcon mainly acting as a distraction more than anything. It’s easy enough to get into a routine of sending the Falcon out to attack, approaching the enemy yourself, beating it down, and repeating, though new enemies get introduced as the game goes on that spices things up – you may have to have the Falcon take an enemy out of the sky for example, or just work on stringing an assortment of combos together on particularly tough foes. It’s a clever system that feels intuitive in-game with the Move controllers proving accessible and never holding the player back when trying to string together actions in quick succession, whether it’s guiding the Falcon to grab something for you or hitting at foes yourself.
Admittedly, some of the things the player has to do themselves in-game could feel a little bit ordinary, though that may just be because using the Falcon feels so fun. Bashing foes with your baton is just like the combat you’d have experienced in any other motion-controller based virtual reality game, whilst crafting and cooking is the sort of thing we’ve seen in plenty of other modern titles too – these kind of things did feel like more of a formality when compared to interacting with the Falcon or commanding it to complete tasks for you.
At least it’s never dull though, and it does open up plenty of new options for the player. There are a ton of toys and costumes to discover for your Falcon in-game, whilst you can even upgrade its abilities (as well as your own). Accessing new items like the bombs is a treat too, especially since you can guide your Falcon to use them in combat instances. There’s plenty to experience in Falcon Age when not guiding your companion around and it can make for an interesting time – you’ll just probably find that you’ll want to spend more time with your Falcon instead. In fact, I’ve already given the game a second playthrough on the Imprint Mode which allows you to completely bypass combat in-game purely so I could spend more time having fun with my new avian friend, so it’s certainly not short on replayability in that sense.
It’s worth mentioning that there’s a choice between free-movement and teleportation in the game, so even those who haven’t got their VR bearing will feel comfortable from the get-go. If your stomach can handle it I’d definitely recommend going for the former just for the extra immersion, though at the same time teleportation compliments the gameplay mechanics too – it really is down to player preference.
Visually, Falcon Age looks nice enough. The environments are interesting and look sharp in-game (even if they can feel a little vacant at times) whilst the character animations are on point. The Falcon itself looks wonderful throughout with each little head-bob or interaction it shares with the player feeling absolutely charming, so OuterLoop Games deserve some praise for managing to make it feel like you’ve really got this living, breathing creature accompanying you on your journey.
It did have a few technical flaws though, with pop-in and glitchy textures the most prominent of them all. There were a few occasions where I’d be heading across the landscape only to have some object appear from out of nowhere, whilst other times there’d be areas where the textures hadn’t quite loaded in yet. I even had one instance where I couldn’t move in the environment, though it was something a quick teleportation could fix – still, I couldn’t help but to find it broke the immersion a little bit. These are all little flaws that don’t really affect the core gameplay experience you’ll have in Falcon Age, but they’re noticeable nonetheless.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time playing Falcon Age, with the compelling narrative and enjoyable gameplay mechanics coming together nicely to make for a very entertaining experience. You know what makes it particularly special though? Just how endearing it is to have a Falcon companion, with the way it ties into the actual gameplay not only being clever in design but utterly charming too.
Falcon Age isn’t perfect with some aspects of the gameplay feeling a little ordinary and a couple of technical issues standing out at times, but those flaws are eclipsed by the fact that it absolutely manages to nail the sense of companionship you’ll feel with your Falcon friend. OuterLoop Games have really put together something special here and I’d really encourage all PlayStation VR gamers to take the time to check out.
Developer: OuterLoop Games
Publisher: OuterLoop Games
Platform(s): PlayStation VR (Reviewed), PlayStation 4