|Platforms||PSVR (reviewed), Vive, Rift|
|Release Date||October 18, 2016 (Rift)
November 8, 2016 (PSVR)
December 20, 2016 (Vive)
Eagle Flight is a virtual reality game that casts you in the role of an eagle in a sandbox the likes of which Ubisoft has made their speciality in recent years. It has been fifty years since Humans mysteriously disappeared from the face of the planet without a trace, and nature has been hard at work reclaiming the world. You take to the skies in a Paris that is now populated by various members of the animal kingdom, with buildings that are overgrown and buildings that are slowly starting to crumble.
There’s an innate joy to simply existing as an eagle and soaring above the once prosperous buildings and landmarks of Paris. Simply starting the game in free flight mode and taking in the experience is a joy in and of itself. Whether flying high above the landscape or speeding through the twisting streets below, flight is something that virtual reality was built for, and it’s brilliantly realised here.
What could have been a recipe for motion sickness is actually one of the most comfortable games I’ve ever played in VR thanks to well crafted controls and some restrictions on your view when you’re accelerating or making sharp turns, with the edges of your vision going black as you make faster maneuvers that could otherwise have ended with you chucking your guts up. The game also helpfully fades to black if you crash into something, which helps you to not throw yourself backwards off your chair. Plus having a beak is a great novelty.
Eagle Flight’s controls are mostly designed around PSVR’s excellent head tracking. The only thing you’ll need the controller for is velocity and combat (the latter of which I’ll get to in a moment), pulling the triggers on the Dualshock will allow you to slow down or speed up. Everything else is done with head movements – looking up or down changes your pitch and tilting your head, rather than turning it, allows you to turn, which is actually a fairly genius design choice. You can turn your head to turn the eagle, but that’s a shortcut to neck strain.
Were Eagle Flight just a flying simulator it would be a fun but ultimately hollow tech demo. Ubisoft, however, have built an entire game around the idea of soaring through the streets and the clouds by leveraging the one skill that they’ve honed throughout the years – populating an open-world with an enormous amount of content. While post-apocalyptic Paris isn’t as large or as densely packed as Ubi’s other open-world games, there’s a lot here to keep you occupied.
Aside from a free flight mode, Eagle Flight also comes with a fully featured single-player campaign. It guides you through the life of an eagle right from birth (it’s a strange feeling to be hatched from an egg with two massive birds looking down on you). Your main goal is to complete various missions in the different districts of Paris, eventually allowing you to build a nest on a landmark and “claim” it as yours. There are also a ton of collectibles for you to find scattered throughout Paris, such as feathers and fish.
There’s a nice variety to the missions the game throws at you. Flying through the rings dotted around the city on courses designed to show off the world is a highlight. So too are the specifically built levels that see you flying through the tight corridors of abandoned subways or catacombs. Other missions designed around combat, however, are less engaging.
It’s not that combat is necessarily bad, rather it just feels a bit basic and tacked on. Usually these missions task you with escorting a friend or guarding something or generally just defending yourself. You’ve got a single attack, a sonic-powered cry that obliterates your enemies, which you aim by looking at your adversaries and firing. Combat always boils down to flying around in circles, trying not to get one-shotted and wishing you could go back to doing cool flying missions.
In single-player combat feels like an obstacle, rather than a genuinely fun activity. It’s in multiplayer where combat makes the most sense and feels legitimately exciting. Two teams of three must work together and battle it out to collect and deliver prey back to their nests to score points. Multiplayer flips the slower paced wonder and awe of the story and free flight modes on its head, instead throwing chaotic and incredibly fast-paced matches into the mix.
It’s here that the idea of combat makes perfect sense. Not from a real world perspective (I’ve watched enough nature documentaries to know that eagles don’t blow each other up by screaming), but from a gameplay perspective it’s a delight to play. Working together to deliver some grub back to your nest, trying to keep enemies off your allies’ backs, attempting to shake the bad guys by speeding through some tight, narrow streets or building interiors…yeah, it’s pretty damn exhilarating.
Eagle Flight is a great VR title – letting players soar through the skies above a stylised, post-apocalyptic Paris is a great experience. As is letting them dive down and blast through the twisting streets and crumbling buildings. The game builds itself on a solid foundation of tight, easy to use controls before opening out into something with a surprising amount of meaty content. The various missions and challenges of the open-world do a good job keeping you engaged, although the combat in single-player is a bit lame, becoming excessive towards the end game. I can forgive Eagle Flight for shoehorning combat into their game, however, as it makes for a frantically fun multiplayer experience. And again, having a beak is a great novelty.
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