The problem I’ve had with my PlayStation VR lately is that it’s great to show friends, but not so much for gaming by myself. While there is a lot available, the launch line-up for the PlayStation VR is full of tech demos and ‘experiences’ that last from minutes to barely an hour – which is fine for parties, but doesn’t provide a lot of compelling regular gameplay for the headset’s owner. Eagle Flight could very well have been a glorified tech demo as well, and in some aspects it is, although its developers have aimed a little higher in providing a reasonably fleshed out, lower cost game, that actually turns out to be one of the best PSVR titles out at the moment.
There’s no surprise that given the title, Eagle Flight places you in first-person control of an eagle. Quite literally, in fact, as there’s a permanent ‘beak’ overlay all throughout gameplay as you actually see through the eyes of a bald eagle as you fly around the map. This overworld is where most of the game takes place – a peaceful, but abandoned and overgrown future version of Paris. We don’t learn what exactly happened to all the humans (the only clue is a crashed satellite you can discover), but all manner of animals have since broken out of the zoo and colonised the city. Zebras, wolves and elephants all roam the streets, and it’s all quite beautiful to see – making this a much more upbeat, positive look at a post-apocalyptic world than I’m sure many of us are used to.
Eagle Flight‘s story mode takes you right through the life cycle of a bald eagle in the Paris wilderness, from first hatching to finding your own mate. It’s narrated almost like a wildlife documentary, with a British voice giving you a few lines now and then to educate you about the eagle, the world it lives in and the other animals around. There are just over 20 main story missions to complete, along with a range of side missions, each a bite-sized challenge that only lasts a few minutes, though can be repeated again and again to gain a perfect star ranking. These missions include Starfox-esque ‘fly through a series of rings’ challenges, that avoid the frustration of the infamous Superman 64 with a great deal of leniency in how many you have to hit, and by rewarding perfect accuracy with a speed boost. There are also time trials through the city’s metro tunnels and catacombs, which split into several paths depending on how dangerous you want to fly – with small, winding vents for pro players, and large open spaces for newbies.
Controlling your eagle is pretty simple, as you always fly in the direction your head is facing. Tilting your head allows you to make turns, although simply dodging with your neck allows you to make quick split-second course corrections as well. It all works pretty wonderfully, in conjunction with the PS4 controller, whose main function is to handle combat elements and to activate your ‘boost’ speed. Like another Ubisoft property, Assassin’s Creed, there aren’t many occasions where you won’t want to be firmly mashing the R2 button to be at full speed all the time, especially during time trial challenges.
There are also several times you’ll have to fight, and this is where Eagle Flight adds the unexpected twist of dogfighting into the mix. There are several types of birds you’ll have to fight, from vultures to crows to falcons, who each have their own tricks and weapons. Much like the real birds you’ll see in any BBC documentary, the birds in Eagle Flight can project sonic shields, leave wind traps in mid-air, and fire screech blasts to knock you out of the sky – although, so can you. You’ll almost feel like you’re playing a Star Wars game at times as you dodge through city streets trying to land a sonic screech bullet on a bird you’re chasing, while waiting for your shields to recharge – and that’s hilarious and actually a really good thing, because it takes the game from just a vague ‘VR experience’ and makes it more of a game.
The multiplayer is built on this dogfighting action, allowing 3×3 matches of capture the flag online. The only problem here is that it’s incredibly difficult to find other players online at the moment, as the title does not yet support crossplay on other platforms, and the userbase for the game on PSVR must not be very high yet.
There are bugs here and there, as I’ve seen the tracking deviate much more on Eagle Flight than any other game. It usually comes at the end of a long session of combat, which means its possible it has something to do with the constant motion of the headset and the PlayStation Camera’s ability to detect it. When it does rear its head, it can be extremely frustrating to be trying to fight, having a crow in your sights, and then missing due to the tracking of the headset re-setting momentarily, jittering you around.
That said, the game looks and sounds pretty special – the music reminds me of other wildlife adventure titles like Afrika, and it’s really energising to listen to as you fly under bridges along the Seine. The graphics lack visual detail and realism, realising the limited resolution of VR headsets and trading those qualities in for smooth lines, chunky models and stylised representations of Paris’ famous landmarks, and it actually looks pretty nice. There’s everything you would expect here, from Notre Dame, to the Eiffel Tower to even Moulin Rouge.
Eagle Flight has actually kept my interest for far longer than many of the other PlayStation VR titles out near launch, and this is largely due to the good mechanics the developers have put in place to encourage replayability. It feels amazing to hit the sweet-spot in the middle of a ring in a speed challenge and gain an extra boost, or fly through narrow streets near Sacre Coeur in a dogfight, like something out of Star Wars. The groundwork they’ve laid here for VR flying and dogfighting games can surely be put to use for more fleshed out and deeper experiences down the line, but for now Eagle Flight is an easy recommendation if you’re looking for something solid for PSVR.
-Great sense of flight, accurate controls -Fun, bite sized challenges -Great dogfights
-Steep difficulty curve -Tracking can get a little dodgy -Not many players online