Falcon Age is one of those games I really wanted to like. A PlayStation VR adventure about commanding a falcon to help you defeat robots? What’s not to like? Other video games have made use of animals as characters that help the player both directly and indirectly. Falcon Age, though, is the first game centered around the real world practice of falconry. I was on-board with the concept from the start until I found out that very little exists underneath the game’s attractive surface.
As Ara, you’ll partner up with a magnificent bird to fight off The Outer Ring, an interplanetary conglomerate that harvests planets for their resources, turns the population into indentured servants, and enforces “re-education” practices against those slaves - Er, I mean the prisoners with jobs - that dare to rebel. Gifted with a rebellious and independent streak, Ara thumbs her nose at authority which has caused her to languish in a re-education camp for months on end. Marking the passage of time, Ara watches an adult bird tend to its young until it’s killed fighting off a sentry robot that threatened her nest. Nursing the baby bird back to health, it assists Ara in escaping the prison where she then meets up with her aunt and begins her journey as a planetary freedom fighter.
Falcon Age is a moderately fun adventure about a young woman trying to liberate her planet from the clutches of an unscrupulous corporation. Ara does the bulk of the work, using a baton that doubles as an energy whip to disable and shut down turrets and spider-bot dispensers, beat down robot guards, and shut down panels that keep the refineries up and running. The bird plays a support role and can be commanded to drop grenades, grab items out of reach, and assault more advanced machines to reveal their weak spots. Commanding the bird is easy as pointing at the object you want it to interact with and it will fly off at the press of a button.
Easy as it all is, the falcon has a tendency to get hung up on the environment. Its AI can sometimes be problematic and a lot of the issues stem from the creature having difficulty hitting its mark, especially in some of the more dense areas. This happens a lot after being introduced to the largest robot in the Outer Ring’s arsenal, a bulbous, laser firing, spider-bot spewing machine that can only be attacked by sending the bird to distract it before it fires its main gun. In every encounter, I had to send the bird out two, three times before it would attack the machine like I wanted it to. Because of this, combat encounters become more annoying than fun.
The bird can take damage from attacking these machines, though the damage it sustains from the robots is nothing compared to the nuisance the turrets represent. Armed with poisoned needles, they will attack your bird on sight if you don’t disable them or send your feathered friend to drop a bomb on it. The bird slowly flies down to the ground if it takes too much damage and won’t respond to any commands until the needles are removed and it gets a spot of healing. Gentle petting gives your bird twenty five percent of its health back while a rudimentary crafting system lets you turn onions, animal meat, potatoes, peppers, and fruit into biscuits of varying quality to regenerate its health further and faster. I don’t really understand the value in having to wait for health items to slowly refill the meter instead of just giving it back instantaneously. The mechanic ends up highlighting how Falcon Age suffers from an overabundance of downtime.
Falcon Age is easily completed in a couple of hours. It could be done faster were it not for the frequent and often needless backtracking to and from quest givers. Reaching the three refineries and visiting the only human outpost means crossing through a series of networked paths that offer very little in the way of things to see and do beyond respawning flora and fauna for crafting biscuits. There are too few people to talk to and those you can converse with repeat the same dialog. The one thing I really hated was having to make the long trek back from a captured refinery to Ara’s aunt’s tent because it’s boring and devoid of meaning. Why not include a fast travel? Or, at the very least, teleport me back after completing the objective? The long walks expose the emptiness of the game world. A few audio diaries or other meaningful collectibles would have gone a long way to give Ara’s home the character it deserves.
Falcon Age can be played with or without the PlayStation VR headset and both versions are almost fundamentally different. I spent the entire game up to the final mission in VR and only after completing the end outside of VR do I regret what I missed out on. In a lot of ways, Falcon Age is better played without VR. Movement is more comfortable and faster because you can sprint and the interface includes a map that makes getting around the circuitous world easier. In VR, teleporting is set as a default and I really disliked it because of the process. If you want to move, press and hold the Move button towards the area you want to go. Then, you have to wait for a dotted line to make its way towards the destination because... well, I don’t know why. It makes no sense to wait. You should be able to just click and go. Teleporting is not my preferred method of moving around in VR but I understand its use as a means to curb motion sickness. However, other VR video games don’t make you wait a couple seconds before you’re cleared for movement. It’s just weird. Going into the options and turning off the teleport function and enable Move-controlled strafing is the best and most comfortable means to play when in VR mode. To be honest though, you’re better off without it.
Falcon Age is built on a great concept that doesn’t go very far. There isn’t enough meat on its bones to satiate an appetite for bird-based adventure gaming. VR is nonessential and if you really do want to play the game, I’d advise leaving the headset tucked away. I liked having the bird around as a partner and changing how it looks with a fun assortment of bandannas, hats, and toys. It’s also fun to watch it lift robots off the ground and giving me the opening needed to bash their heads in with my baton. The thrill wears out quickly, though, and the lack of depth made Ara’s home a place I struggled to care about. And that feels wrong.
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.