Not so featherweight.
You’ve probably seen the Falcon Age tweets. It looks like a PSVR game, there’s a baby bird, and it’s doing a fist bump. Or putting on a little hat. Sometimes it’s an adult bird, which would look a lot less cute, except for the fact that it’s putting on a little hat too.
Having played around an hour of the game at DICE this week, I can attest that all of this is in the game, and all of it is as excellent as those gifs promised. There’s just a lot more to Falcon Age than that.
It’s got an anti-colonial desertpunk sci-fi storyline (penned by 80 Days writer Meg Jayanth). It’s got melee-and-falcon combat against a variety of Aperture Science-esque robots. There’s the hint of a Metroidvania structure. Also Breath of the Wild-esque cooking/crafting. And falconry-based hunting. Going into the demo, I just wanted to pet a bird in VR. Coming out, I wanted to dive into this campaign to see how deep it can go.
It’s worth pointing out that the game is playable entirely in or out of VR. Without a headset on, it plays like an (admittedly slightly odd) FPS: an energy whip weapon is tied to the right shoulder buttons – used for melee and longer range attacks – and your feathery buddy tied to the left side, used for attacking flying targets, picking up dropped items (which can be crafted into recovery recipes or stat-boosting items for your pal), or solving puzzles.
In VR, it’s a pleasingly malleable experience. Options are available for free walking, or teleporting for the more nauseous among us. Control of your falcon feels a little more skittish when using two Move controllers, but the tangible sense of it landing on your hand is pretty hard to beat. For studio director Chandana Ekanayake, it’s all about freedom. If you’ve got access to a headset, play for a little while in VR mode, and hop out when you need to, carrying on with almost no difference in gameplay beyond how you’re controlling movement.
As for what you actually get up to, my demo consisted primarily of me severing contact between a resource-sucking refinery and an invading mothership for the game’s indigenous Resistance movement. It’s pitched somewhere between a Far Cry outposts and an environmental puzzle. The objective is simple, break into the control room and break a switch – but there’s a host of spider-bot spewing stations, dart firing turrets (you have to physically pull projectiles out of your poor falcon, which is as horrible as it sounds) and charging androids. The latter show off the combat at its best, forcing you to whip them into the ground, then send your falcon to swoop in and smash off a back panel, before you move in to smash their now-vulnerable innards.
But the developer knows that people are going to get distracted by their companion, and allows for more sandbox-y play between these action setpieces. I spent as much time fighting off robotic aggressors as I did dressing up my falcon, alternating between baby and adult forms (which can be done at any time, with no stat changes), and searching for secrets littered around the game’s desert world.
Yes, there’s a lot more to Falcon Age than meets the eye, but it’s also a game where you can fistbump a bird wearing a top hat, and the developers know that you’re going to want to do that. A lot. I can’t decide which side of the game I’m more excited by, which seems like a pretty good sign.
Joe Skrebels is IGN’s UK Deputy Editor. RIP Bird Luger.