Some people would say that video games aren’t the best medium for invoking emotions, but nothing has made me feel connected to something as much as video games have. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons wrecked me, and I felt Joel’s rage and desire to save Ellie in The Last of Us—hell, I even felt bad for the companion cube that GLaDOS made me incinerate. When I was given the chance to cover Falcon Age, I thought it would be a similar emotional ride—but its execution left me with a different impression entirely.
Falcon Age is a first person adventure game that can also be played in VR. In it, you play as Ara, a young woman who is imprisoned by automatons who have colonized her planet. These automaton colonizers are exploiting the planet, and generally making everyone’s life miserable. Eventually she’ll befriend a falcon, fight her way out, and help reclaim her home.
I really appreciate the fact that this VR title is able to be played without an HMD—but I really wanted to bond with my falcon in virtual reality, so I opted to play with the Index. Well, at least at first.
Now, I don’t go into every VR experience expecting Half-Life: Alyx level of polish, but I really struggled to even play Falcon Age on my Index. My experience may be unique—I don’t see mentions of it yet, as Falcon Age has just released on SteamVR today. But using teleport in Falcon Age was a pain in the butt. I felt like I needed to adjust the deadzone on my thumb sticks so my position didn’t flip around randomly when trying to move. I even went into other VR games to see if I was having the same issue as I was in Falcon Age, but the problem seems unique to this game. It wasn’t just the movement that was an issue, either—using the whip baton felt imprecise. I also ran into quite a few strange collision and height bugs.
Obviously these problems made combat challenging. When I was tasked with destroying the first refinery—the first real test of combat in the game—I found the experience to be physically taxing, but mostly on my thumbs due to the movement issue. After struggling and feeling utterly uncomfortable, I eventually gave up and opted to play on my monitor.
It’s too bad I had to switch, because there are a lot of fun interactions you can have with your falcon in VR. Fist bumps, eye contact, and stroking your falcon don’t feel the same without making the gesture to do so. But I was already attached to my falcon, and didn’t want to give up on her—especially after earning her name. But even with VR, the way the story feels so lighting fast in the beginning, I didn’t get much of a chance for emotional attachment.
The gameplay on its website say you can raise your falcon from a baby, hunt, craft, and fight. These things are all true—except they’re all experienced within the first hour of the game, with hardly any build up. You go from having a baby falcon to a full-blown adult in almost no time. There’s a hat in the game that allows you to change your adult falcon back to a baby, but I would have really appreciated some of the story to be dedicated to that journey outside of a few combat experiences. You can farm, craft, cook food and more—but most of these activities feel like they exist solely to be able to say they’re in there. They are implemented in the most basic of ways.
Falcon Age had a chance to be a really poignant experience, but it has a strange tone. There are brutal planetary colonizers, but half of the characters I run into feel like they’re from a whimsical adventure game. You are thrust into this story, and these dangerous situations with little context, and when the world opens up and you start getting answers, they all feel like shallow clichés. There is a lot more that could have been done with a freedom fighter reclaiming her heritage against machine invaders, but it’s mostly done in a “tell” and not “show” fashion. Double damning if one of your main modes of play is VR.
I really wanted to like Falcon Age. Like, really really wanted to like Falcon Age. I just couldn’t. Even when I switched to flat monitor gameplay, I was stuck with a game with unsatisfying mechanics. True, the combat worked, and most of the irksome control issues I had with VR were gone, but I couldn’t find myself caring about the world. Underneath the clunky VR game is a clunky first person game, and even fist bumping a cute falcon can’t hide that.
Falcon Age is available now on Steam and Nintendo Switch.
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