With VR becoming more prominent in the gaming industry, more developers are devoting their time to making games for the fresh new medium. Most VR projects are short interactive experiences, minigames, or small sand boxes where the player interacts with the physics of the world. Outerloop is trying the break the VR stigma with its new action-adventure game, Falcon Age, and it succeeds… mostly.
Set in a dystopian future on a distant planet, Falcon Age begins in a small penitentiary that confines the protagonist, Ara, and restricts her interaction to two robots that patrol the prison. During her time in the locked up, Ara befriends a young falcon, and, as their friendship blossoms, the two flee their confinement as soon as they are able. Immediately, the player is hit with strong themes of oppression, which strongly sets up the remainder of the game.
The story of Falcon Age is not groundbreaking, but the theme of oppression is an interesting factor. The ways in which the characters talk and act show how this type of political environment affects small communities. Falcon Age really captures the helplessness one can feel when going up against a mega corporation. Some parts of the lore are not explained particularly well, but the game does not waste time with long exposition dumps. Sometimes, the narrative feels as if Outerloop intended for story to be bigger and longer, but had to cut it down. Regardless of the flatness, the plot provides a believable drive for the player and their beloved bird companion to progress through the game.
That avian accompaniment is the key feature, and Outerloop captures the feeling of companionship rather well. That is certainly the main reason to play Falcon Age. Ara’s falcon can do a large variety of activities, including hunting, fighting, and playing.
Hunting in the game is oddly brutal, but the best way to gather food for Ara’s falcon. The mechanics are relatively simple: the player points out the animals they want their bird to murder and it happens, usually. Sometimes a rabbit will retreat underground, and the player can run over to where it disappeared to scare it. Supplies caught and found are used in a simple, effective crafting system to heal the falcon or provide buffs for it in combat.
Fighting is an optional mechanic that is chosen in the main menu and can be completely bypassed if the player wishes. The combat mechanics are simple and effective, where the player and bird must work together to take down opposing robots. Some enemies the bird can attack but the player cannot, and others the player can attack and the bird cannot. Once the distinction between what can and cannot be attacked is made, the player and bird can work as a cohesive team. The game even takes a family-friendly approach, with all characters having non-lethal weapons. Working with the falcon to take down enemies is fun, and it certainly adds to the overall experience.
Playing and interacting with the bird is a delight. The player can partake in fun handshakes and adorable poses with their beloved companion, as well as give them a variety of fun toys and outfits to wear and interact with. These animations clearly show that the developers are animal lovers and understand what bonding with a pet is like.
While the connection between player and bird is the strongest mechanic Falcon Age has to offer, the biggest downfall is the amount of backtracking. The map is small and relatively linear, therefore walking back through the same areas over and over again can get dull. Thankfully, the player can always call their bird down to entertain them while they walk. However, problems arise when obstacles (such as landmines) that the player already cleared on their way through respawn. Removing them gets tedious and takes up a fair amount of time, especially considering the player only directs their bird to one and watches as it digs it up then flies off. While a small issue, this process takes up an inordinate amount of the short play time. The game, despite a few graphical and technical issues, runs well on the Playstation and through the VR headset. However, Falcon Age was clearly designed to be played in VR, and the overall experience is better with the move controllers, through which the player can more directly interact with their bird and the menus are much easier to navigate. Although, the consistency with the motion controls vary making combat particularly frustrating on occasion. Both VR and the Playstation versions of the game work fine, but each comes with its own downfalls, unfortunately.
Although Falcon Age is far from perfect—with an overly ambitious story and an annoying amount of backtracking—it has a lot of heart. Outerloop captures the themes of oppression and captivity well and creates an ending that reflects this while keeping the game light-hearted and friendly. Falcon Age is a short, but sweet, experience for all ages that pet lovers will particularly enjoy.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4.