Eagle Flight has the benefit of being one of the first games I played in VR. Its simulated sense of flight sold me on virtual reality as a platform with which to deliver unique gaming experiences . This new form of video game tech is hard to sell because the fact of the matter is, you have to try it yourself to believe in its potential. It’s easy for me to sit here and talk about how exhilarating it is to swoop through grass covered streets of Paris and fly like a daredevil through trees, crumbling houses, and around the spires of the Notre Dame cathedral. Even in light of its shortcomings, Eagle Flight is cool and makes a great test case for VR immersion.
When I first tried Eagle Flight at an Ubisoft event last E3, the studio was just showing off its online component: a three on three eagle-based variant of capture the flag (or in this case, capture the rabbit carcass). The retail release keeps multiplayer game and adds a story mode in the life of an eagle (you) is narrated Planet Earth style as animals forage a life and companionship in a weird, post apocalyptic vision of Paris. Nature has completely taken over the city with homes and famous architectural landmarks being covered by lush overgrowth (al la Enslaved or even The Last of Us). There’s no explanation for why humans have disappeared nor does the game need one. Animals rule what is left of the Earth and as an Eagle, you’ll be led on a journey of subsistence.
This human-free Paris is merely a backdrop to what amounts to a free roaming playground. There are missions to play in the single player story mode, though they are just a collection of self contained stages that involve racing through French catacombs, hunting birds of prey, flying through a circuit of glowing rings, and escorting a fellow eagle, all from a first person perspective (complete with eagle beak for an added adorable touch). The story is divided into multiple chapters, each containing progressively difficult missions, collection quests, and side challenges. Speaking personally, missions centered around races and collecting items are far more entertaining than anything else. The race and rings challenges are fun because you get to spread your wings and soar. As someone who would easily choose flight as their superpower, getting to do so - even virtually - turns this 36 year old gamer into a kid again. The sense of speed is thrilling, which increases whenever you steer into the direct center of a ring (noted by a golden leaf). Sometimes the experience gets a little too much at such speeds, especially when asked to perform tight turns in close quarters, like the catacomb and subway races.
What isn’t as fun are the combat missions. Armed with the ability to send a debilitating “screech” that explodes enemy birds in a shower of feathers on contact, you’ll be expected to take down vultures, bats, and falcons. The initial set of combat stages aren’t too bad but later ones introduce enemies that are faster, more maneuverable, and can protect themselves with shields. That in itself isn’t what makes them difficult, it’s the precision and the timing of your attacks that make later parts of the game frustrating. Leading targets with your head takes a lot of practice, especially against the agile bats and falcons, and there’s little forgiveness in aiming. Screech attacks are restrained by a short cool down, which can get annoying if you miss at the last second and lose the best moment of opportunity.
Combat wouldn’t be as bad if there were no ticking clock. All missions are scored based on the time it takes to complete them. Perform quickly and you’ll get the highest number of stars. Later missions make this task far easier said than done. That said, replaying levels to get the maximum number of stars (and unlock new challenge levels) along with ghost races with other players gives Eagle Flight some good replayability - which is great, considering I have yet to get into a multiplayer game due to, I assume, a lack of players.
Be it bird, spacecraft, or result of a horrific radiological accident, I’ve long held my childhood dream of flying through the skies. With such things physically out of reach, Eagle Flight for PlayStation VR is the next best thing. It’s a total thrill, even if the simulation is very much a straightforward, no you don’t mate in first person, no you don’t push X to vomit food in your young’s mouth experience. What it does really well is let loose your inner daredevil. Flying around Paris is incredibly fun because it is densely populated with obstacles to duck and weave through. One of my favorite things to do is to reach the top of the Eiffel Tower and do a sharp nose dive towards the ground only to pull up at the last possible second and zip through the thin, open space between tree branches and housing archways.
Despite the generic design of Eagle Flight’s story missions and the inability to reliably play online, it’s still a thrilling thing to experience in VR. It would be easier to write off were it a tradition, VR-free PlayStation game, but the immersion the headset offers makes it all the more fun and a good way to destress from the day.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.