Release Date: November 8, 2016
Platforms: PSVR (reviewed), Oculus Rift, HTC Vive
Ubisoft has a recent history of releasing some impressive experimental titles alongside their big, AAA yearly releases. Games like Valiant Hearts and Child of Light have been wonderful successes. So it’s not surprising to see Ubisoft being one of the biggest publishers supporting VR with three major titles to launch this year alone. Eagle Flight is the first of the bunch to launch and if the others are anywhere as good as this one, Ubisoft is set to become VR’s most successful publisher.
One of the things I have to commend the devs here for is making one of the most comfortable VR games I have played. Soaring through the sky, dodging and weaving through Paris’ ancient broken buildings and newfound wildlife sounds just like something that would be sickness inducing. But the way controls are handled by the game made it the complete opposite. I played Eagle Flight straight for hours without getting any kind of sickness or discomfort at all.
When the game starts you are dropped into the beautiful world of a decaying city. A soothing narrator walks you through the tutorial, and in no time you’ll be soaring through Paris. One of the major innovations that make the game so comfortable is that turning is achieved by tilting your head instead of looking to your side or using the analog stick. Games that let you turn by turning you head limit your speed and have you stretching your neck to the side to turn. Games that handle turning by the right analog stick are a major cause of sickness; some avoid this by splitting up the turn into scenes you flip through which just looks weird. The tilting-your-head-to-turn, on the other hand, works perfectly and makes sense considering you’re an eagle. It’s a little difficult to get used to in the beginning, but the game reminds you every time you turn with your head instead of tilting. It became second nature to me a couple missions into the game.
The rest of the controls are simple enough. You use the controller to speed yourself up, slow yourself down, and use abilities like attack screech and shield echoes. One of the disappointing things about the game is the ability you get all the way in the end. This ability lets you turn your head and look around, without actually moving in that direction. It’s a cool ability that lets you enjoy the sights of Paris as you fly or look around for enemies without turning. I guess it would just confuse players earlier in the game so they only let you use it after you complete the story. It’s much more useful in the multiplayer mode anyway, and there it’s unlocked from the beginning.
Although the world isn’t massive, it is an open-world. Some areas are locked earlier in the game as they are defended by superior birds, but a lot of the world is completely open. I guess it’s fitting that it would be Ubisoft that creates the first open-world game on the PSVR. The game follows the same format as other Ubisoft open-world games: You’ll be taking control of the city one district at a time, reminiscent of the structure of games like Assassins Creed and Far Cry. Just like those games, you’ll also be grabbing the collectibles scattered throughout the city.
One of the things I like the most about the game is the movement. It just works and it works very well. It reminded me of when I first played Assassins Creed 2 and loved the parkour movement so much that I would just run around the city. I spent a lot of time in the Eagle Flight just enjoying the views of Paris and weaving through buildings. It’s a lot of fun, especially if you challenge yourself and boost through narrow pathways. The two types of collectibles, feathers and fishes, aren’t particularly challenging to get but gave me another reason to just fly around.
The game’s story mode doesn’t contain much of a story, but what is there is promising. The story is set up like a nature documentary, with the narrator explaining what’s going on and how eagles behave. I honestly got into the story and rooted for my eagle as he fell in love and started his own family. But the story is too scarce and simple, and I would have loved more challenges and cutscenes in it.
The missions are separated into a couple different types. There are underground time trial races, where you can choose to take the difficult but shorter and faster path or stick to the easy ones without a lot of quick dodging; these are the missions where you truly get to appreciate the fun and fast movement of the game. Another type are races where you go through hoops, and if you go through the perfect center you get a speed boost. Then there are the fighting missions where you have to screech at enemies to kill them while protecting yourself and your partner from the enemies’ screeches. I found all the different types of missions to be pretty fun in their own way and there’s a lot of replayability to get perfect three stars on the mission or get on the leaderboards. As you collect these stars you unlock bonus missions for even more content. With all the story missions and bonus modes, I would say there is easily 4-5 hours of gameplay here if you do everything once and go for some collectibles.
The game also has one capture the flag style multiplayer mode that features 3v3 combat. There is only one map—the same city as the story mode—with objective locations constantly changing around it. One small thing that adds diversity is that the time of day can be different. The mode has two teams of three that have to grab a dead rabbit and bring it back to the eagle nest. A change from normal CTF modes is that the nest is the same for both teams. This adds a little complexity to the mode, if you die right before you hit the nest, the bird that killed you can easily drag it the rest of the way to score for his own team before your team can do anything about it.
This way there has to be a strategic approach to deliver the rabbit: You have to make sure all the enemy birds are dead or too far away to do anything before you make a run for the nest. As you can imagine this requires a good bit of communication with your team, because from your perspective you won’t really be able to see if the nest is safe. This is all fine, except that the game has no voice chat feature, which limits player communication. This is a massive disappointment, especially if you consider that the PSVR Headset has a mic built into it.
You might think that there’s an easy solution—find some mates online and party up with them, then you can use the PS4 voice chat system to communicate—but there’s another issue: the game doesn’t let you party up with other players. There’s only one way to enter matchmaking and it puts you with random people. I played the multiplayer before release and was given about an hour to test it. So maybe these features will make their way to the game after launch or I just couldn’t find them, but from what I could tell the multiplayer was severely held back because of these decisions.
Even without voice chat, there is a lot of fun to be had in the mode. In close matches, the game can get pretty intense and exhilarating. I remember moments where I was being pursued and having to dive straight into the city to try and lose them by taking them through tunnels and cracks. Sometimes I would end up crashing, but the times where I did lose them and see them crash into buildings was satisfying: I managed to maneuver around the buildings and make the score. It made me feel like Han Solo. It’s an epic experience and something that non-VR games can’t match. Apart from the lack of communication, the multiplayer works just fine and I can see myself going back to it again in the future.
Eagle Flight is my favorite virtual reality game I’ve played so far and it’s one of the few that just wouldn’t work outside of VR. Whether you’re flying freely through Paris or being chased through narrow corridors of the city, Eagle Flight just feels great to play. If you own a PlayStation VR headset, this is one game you should not skip