It’s kind of crazy to think that Falcon Age is Outer Loop Games’ very first project as a developer. Designed and produced in its Seattle-based studio, the experience demonstrates a level of maturity, understanding, and respect that games even in the AAA space could only hope to achieve. The headline-grabbing falcon is most definitely cute, but there’s so much more going on here.
This is a story about the attempted pushback against colonization. As main protagonist Ara, you’ll lead the fight against the Outer Ring Company – colonists who have bled the planet of its resources and culture. After escaping her jail cell, Ara meets up with her aunt Erangani in order to aid the resistance in a bid for their freedom and to rid the planet of its invaders.
It’s a narrative bursting with courage and hope that ultimately concludes in a rather sincere manner. After all, we don’t always get what we want – or if we do, we may have to let something go along the way in order to achieve progress. The plot explores these themes with sequences that’ll throw a curveball into the mix and twists that feel genuine as they become caught up in the lure of off-world deals. The journey to that endgame is just as important, though, with a cast of characters sure to charm, please, and excite those of varying backgrounds. People of colour receive strong representation, while the culture of those last remaining bastions thrives in a safe environment. Proceedings won’t always go your way, but there’s sure to be a captivating reason why at every turn.
While its effects on the story are debatable, conversation is driven by an intuitive dialogue tree within PlayStation VR. You’ll be able to interact with the majority of characters you come across, all of which have something to say about their past, present, or your current objective. Responses can be chosen by twisting a PlayStation Move controller, and this will allow you to select different replies. It’s a small mechanic in the grand scheme of things, but it feels notably natural for a feature that has been done a lot worse in the past – an impressive feat for a developer making its VR debut.
Okay, we’ve been putting it off for long enough: the falcon that quickly becomes your companion is quite simply the best. The novelty of having a fully-grown bird of prey perched on your arm never wears off, and the game complements that by giving you a variety of ways you can take advantage of your beaked buddy.
The entire title takes place in one expansive, rocky stretch of land and within its plains and crevices you’ll carry out fairly simple tasks such as taking over refineries and gathering certain resources. At any time, you can call the falcon to your side by holding the Move controller up to your mouth and pressing the trigger button, as if you were whistling it over. Hold out your arm and it’ll perch itself on top, opening up further interactions. From here, you can aim the peripheral at a certain target in order to direct the falcon in that direction. Perfect for picking up items out of arms reach.
That’s all well and good, but it’s during combat where the falcon really comes into its own. Ara comes equipped with an electrified batton, but she’ll need more than that to take down the robotic foes standing in her path. Using the aforementioned mechanic of aiming the falcon at a specific target, the bird can be used to distract enemies so that you can quickly close the gap and take them out at close range. Alternatively, you’ll need to time the falcon’s attacks to a precise second to take down tougher combatants as further mechanics add some much-needed depth. They make encounters a little more engaging than simply knocking the robotic adversaries across the noggin.
There’s more to the bird of prey than just its violent assaults, though. The falcon has a soft side, too, allowing you to show it some love and attention by stroking it and pulling off fistbumps with your free hand. Upgrades are aplenty as well, improving its durability with an enhancement that increases health or claws that’ll dig up hidden loot. Furthermore, cosmetic items let you customise the look of the bird, with the likes of cowboy hats, western-themed balaclavas, and even neat items that tie-in with other games such as Transistor.
One more mechanic that makes up the experience is cooking. Performed back at your aunt’s base camp, you can cook up recipes using herbs, vegetables, and meat you find out in the wild to give you and the falcon certain temporary buffs. Aiding Ara in defeating more menacing foes, it’s another neat mechanic that gives you something else to think about in and out of combat.
As its defining feature, the falcon absolutely nails the landing. The bird brings an unparalleled level of intractability to the table – letting you tend to its wounds when injured, joining it in the highs of celebration once a refinery is taken over, and engaging in the surreal nature of equipping it with helmets and formal attire. Serving as a welcome distraction from the bullets and explosions of bigger titles, there’s nothing else quite like it in video games right now.
The title was developed from the ground up for PlayStation VR, and that becomes immediately apparent as soon as you take the headset off and play it like any other game. To put it bluntly, Falcon Age probably isn’t worth playing outside of VR. It cannot be stressed enough how much PSVR adds to the experience, from the level of intractability achievable with the falcon to the simple act of rummaging through your belongings. Using the DualShock 4 controller is a far clunkier undertaking, while playing around with the bird is restricted to a couple of pre-determined actions. You can play the game from start to finish in this manner, but it’s going to be a lesser experience as a whole outside of virtual reality.
One minor stumbling block can be found in its presentation. The falcon itself looks wonderful and animates beautifully, but the environments you’ll explore throughout the five hour playthrough are all very samey. The game never breaks free of its orange, rocky setting in order to mix environments up a little. You can tell a good amount of research went into studying how a falcon acts in the wild, though – it’s really quite impressive how believable the on-screen creation is.
Falcon Age is a genuinely impressive achievement in the VR space. The unprecedented amount of interactivity between you and the bird plays host to the build-up of a worthy friendship, as well as an essential partner once the going gets tough. Alongside a deep and meaningful narrative, this is yet another PlayStation VR experience that belongs among the elite.