..but in a good way!
I can hear the wind whistling past me as I fly headlong down an underground corridor at breakneck speed. The passageway I am barreling through suddenly narrows and cuts sharply to the left, and I quickly shift my body to compensate for the new direction and make the turn. Ahead, I see an air duct cut into the wall above the main passage. I slow briefly, then burst forward with as much speed as I can muster to slice between the spinning fan blades that block my way.
I quickly realize that I have made a tactical error. The air duct is littered with debris, and the air flowing through it propels me faster than I had ever intended. I find myself lurching madly from side to side, up and down, around barriers and blockages until finally I burst free of the confined tube. Too late, I notice that immediately outside of the air duct, the path of the main corridor heaves up dramatically towards the surface. I struggle to compensate, straining with all my might to shift my momentum to keep up with the sudden change in direction.
My efforts are too little, too late. An ear-piercing shriek fills my ears, and my vision goes black. I swear softly to myself, imagining yet another eagle carcass splattering against a wall at top speed and falling unceremoniously to the ground. If the virtual vermin in the Paris catacombs are hungry, I am providing them with an endless supply of carrion.
“Just one more time”, I mutter for the seventh time, and press the button to start the run again. I am playing Ubisoft’s Eagle Flight, and I am completely hooked.
Released on October 18th, Eagle Flight is Ubisoft’s first entry into a wave of full VR games developed for the PSVR (followed by the recently released Werewolves Within, and next year’s Star Trek: Bridge Crew).
While not quite what one would consider to be a “AAA” title, Eagle’s Flight nonetheless provides a good deal of content for the not quite “AAA” price of $39.99.
The bulk of the game is housed in the one player story mode. Players inhabit the body of an eagle, set adrift in a post-apocalyptic Paris, following some non-specified tragedy that cleared people from the city and let animals take over. While the “Life After People” theme is instantly apparent, this is no typical washed-out dystopia.
The colors of the city are lush and rich, with plant life growing on every available surface. While the streets are not exactly teeming with life, animals are regularly spotted milling about below.
They are mostly window dressing, glimpsed in passing as the player whizzes past. It should be noted, however, that purposely flying headlong into a zebra’s bottom does merit a Game Over screen. One cannot simply fly through a zebra. Experimentation, people.
Players can drift around the city freely, checking out the sights and gathering collectibles (feathers and fish). Progression comes in the form of story missions, which can be started by flying to specific destinations that appear around the city map. These missions range in complication and difficulty, from flying a simple line through some obstacles (think Pilot Wings), to complicated battles with “evil” birds like vultures and crows.
Mission results are scored with a three-star system, with earned stars opening more missions and “Expert Challenges”. While completing some of these missions with the full score of three stars is simple, others can require obsessive repetition, with the player focused on memorization in an attempt to find the perfect line. Precision matters in many of these challenges, as obstacles appear at a blistering rate, and it is very easy to lose focus for a moment and drop another eagle body into the dirt below.
The graphics are not terribly detailed, but in the heat of flight, it matters little. If you were moving slowly, you might think “Hey, this looks like a PlayStation 2 game”, but as the city heaves and moves about you, the quick realization is that the fidelity of the graphics don’t matter nearly as much as the speed and fluidity that they deliver. On those measures, Eagle Flight delivers in spades.
When the game is in motion, you simply don’t care that the graphics are undetailed. You don’t have time for detail as you bob and weave your way through the city streets.
Movement is dictated by the motion of the player’s head. While it is possible to steer by looking in the direction you want to go, this is a quick recipe for getting turned around in your seat and tangled in the PSVR’s many cords. It is far easier to adopt the game’s preferred method of tilting your head to move about.
The further the tilt, the sharper the turn. Speed is handled through the trigger buttons on the Duel Shock, and the only other button mapping triggers the “Eagle Screech”, which is your primary weapon in battle.
The control scheme does lead to something that I started thinking of as “Eagle Fatigue”. Basically, after a long play session, my neck got tired to the point where I was no longer able to control my eagle with the precision needed to succeed. I got tired, and that led me to get sloppy and somewhat frustrated. At that point, it’s advisable to take a break, or you will begin dropping eagle bodies willy-nilly all around the city.
Immersion and motion sickness
As a person who suffers from occasional VR discomfort, I am pleased to report that Eagle Flight is one of the most comfortable titles I have played. I was able to log several hours at a time, never once experiencing that dreaded hot rock that sometimes appears in my stomach.
For a game that is completely focused on flight and speed, this is quite an accomplishment.
The game darkens the edge of the player’s view when turns or dives become too sharp, and places an eagle nose on the middle of your face to keep you grounded in the illusion. I am unclear on the science behind what causes these two design choices to improve the player’s tolerance to intense motion, but I can attest that these will probably become standard VR procedure, as they are extremely effective at reducing nausea.
Additionally, the screen goes dark with a simple “You Crashed” message every time you fly into a wall (or chimney, or zebra bottom), which cuts down on flinching. It is, however, a shame that the designers did not see fit to include the sound of the eagle body flopping to the ground. But who am I to second guess Ubisoft?
The greatest source of disappointment that I experienced with Eagle Flight was the multi-player.
This is not to say that it was poorly designed. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation was that I was unable to find other players to play with. With the game released five weeks ago, I assume that the initial wave of players and curiosity seekers has dried up. I attempted to enter the multi-player on many occasions, at different times of day. I was only able to enter into a game one time, against one other player, who promptly cleaned my clock.
I am hoping that there may be a “Holiday bump”, with new players entering into the fray once they all unwrap their shiny new PSVRs on the 25th. But until then, it is unwise to purchase the game with the idea of playing hours of multi-player. Probably not going to happen.
Regardless, Eagle Flight offers plenty of single player content to make it worth the purchase at its lower price point. Unlike many PSVR launch titles, Eagle Flight is a full-featured game, as opposed to a glorified tech demo, and it provides hours of entertainment. It is also a great game to throw into the system for visitors that want to see what all the VR fuss is about, as they can quickly and intuitively start swooping around the city. The graphical shortcomings are inconsequential, as the sense of flight and motion is unparalleled.
This has become one of my favorite experiences on the PSVR, and I recommend it, with the caveat that multi-player is probably not in the cards. But not to worry. There are plenty of other ways to let the eagle bodies hit the floor.
Final Score: 8/10
A review by Eric Hauter and PlayStationVR.US.