Pets are an important part of most people’s everyday lives, providing friendship and company, becoming part of the family in the process. The same can almost be said for their digital version, from the ‘90s Tamagotchi phase through to modern-day equivalents like Nintendogs or even Untitled Goose Game. In virtual reality (VR) there’s Outerloop Games’ Falcon Age, which unsurprisingly teams you up with a falcon to go on adventures with.
That initial premise should be an instant winner in anyone’s eyes. How often do you get to hold a falcon in your hands, let alone go hunting with it whilst adorning the feathered hunter with nifty apparel like a cowboy hat or an entirely impractical monocle? Never, plus you don’t have the issue of trying to keep the thing actually alive, just go out and hunt some rabbit.
Falcon Age is set on a dustbowl of a planet which some mega-corporation is slowly destroying by removing all the resources. It’s a powerful, poignant narrative touching on topics such as the environment, displaced peoples, the need for resources, the corporate greed that drives destructive decisions and those that choose to fight back. Those that live there have almost given up the fight to reclaim their home from the robots programmed to carry out their master’s orders until, of course, you do something about it.
You play Ara, a young girl who whilst imprisoned befriends a falcon chick, helping her escape back to her Aunt who reveals there’s a long history of falconry in their culture. Even though it’s a single-player this partnership almost makes Falcon Age feel like a co-op adventure, both your fates firmly linked together.
This friendship isn’t solely the core gameplay mechanic it’s also the most rewarding part of the entire experience. You really do get that sense of connection to your avian buddy, sat there on your hand ready to fly off and hunt for food or attack a drone that’s in your way, quickly coming back with a shrill whistle. In fact, it can be nice just to do that rather than a campaign objective, simply hanging out with this majestic animal, adding the occasional garment to give it some style.
But there is a story to complete and to get the best upgrades for your bird you’ll need to put the legwork in, a lot of leg work. Falcon Age’s world is fairly compact with the entire story taking around 4 hours depending on how hard you look for secrets. As such there’s a fair amount of backtracking involved, great for hunting certain animals which only appear in precise locations; not so much when it comes to variety.
On your journey, you’ll have to deal with several enemy types, from little crawling drones to ones that fly and even a mini-boss with lasers. As this is a team effort Falcone Age isn’t just about sending your mate in to get the kill, you’re equipped with an electrified baton with a secondary whip function to cause some damage. This is great fun to use, whipping and flipping the smaller robots around. Yet it’s one of the few features that that has a nice immersive VR action, the falcon on your hand being another.
This is where Falcone Age does start to falter. Elements such as looking through your inventory are finicky as you have to line a small dot with arrow indicators rather than swiping through. Or opening the cooking machine requires highlighting then a click, instead of grabbing and opening. Little things yet they all add up the longer you play. On the subject of cooking, recipes can be located so you can make food for your falcon, regaining health or improving stats like defence or speed for a limited time. But there’s no consideration for yourself, at no time do you need to eat or drink anything, even with the drinking fountains – a save point mechanic which was a nice touch.
There were also some technical issues which popped up along the way, quite literally. Porting any videogame to Oculus Quest is going to be tricky with Outerloop Games doing a tremendous job on the falcon’s feathery detail. Yet the environment suffers from continual popup, both close up with rocks changing shape as well as background elements. Other issues saw one of the mini-bosses not attack at all, even standing right in front of the thing, and possibly most annoying of all was the ‘Hold Baton in Receptacle’ message not disappearing after performing said action, on multiple occasions.
Falcone Age is one of those little VR adventures which has bags of character, easily able to charm even the most hardnosed of gamers. The co-op companionship and storyline are certainly its two best features, calling you back into tie-up any missed secrets. There are some areas which aren’t faultless and at points, the locations can seem sparse of things to do but they don’t make the title a bad game. One to consider if you’re looking for a nice, narrative-driven experience where you can raise a falcon.