You have to hand it to Ubisoft. As soon as a new piece of hardware is announced you can get anything on Ubi having a game ready for it. Sure, for the most part this can lead to a safe bet like a Rayman 2 rerelease or an annual addition to the Just Dance franchise but sometimes they do end up trying something a bit different like Red Steel or Zombi U. These different types of games are what I like to call concept releases, ones that may not necessarily not have franchise potential but ideas that could be fleshed out if the original does well enough.
Eagle Flight is the epitome of the concept release. It feels like it has been plucked from the big old raffle bucket of staff contributed ideas and given just a big enough budget so it sees release, but not too much so that they don’t have to worry about the stigma of the triple-A. Luckily VR is one of those platforms that thrives of these concept releases, considering it is designed for players to flit between short bursts of experiences rather than force players to sit with a monitor on their heads for hours on end.
The game is a simple idea. You play as an Eagle that has found its home in a desolate Paris after humans had vanished for fifty years. It is your job to live out the lifecycle of an American freedom bird while you forage for scraps, court other Eagles to join your brood and fight off those that challenge your dominance of the skies. You do this by completing various missions. Some will have you flying through rings in a miraculously less rubbish version of Superman 64, diving down to water level to catch fish as they fling themselves out of the water and then there are the basic collection based missions where you have to dip and dive through buildings to grab feathers to improve your nest.
In the story mode these missions and the overall narrative is presented by a voice over that sounds like a budget nature documentary. It gives little background into how the world was deserted but does give you some insight into the Eagles and their lives. It does border a bit too far onto the sedate side, however I will say it suits the general feel of the game which is quite serene at times. The desolate Parisian skyline is quite something to see from high up. You can see the entirety of the city below you with the Eiffel Tower standing prominent as the highest point while other landmarks such as the louvre sit below, surrounded by the descendants of escaped zoo animals and their prey. Weather effects add the dynamic nature of the city with rain storms restricting your viewpoint and bleached sunsets highlighting the curves of town houses and decaying fairground attractions. It is certainly one of the prettier VR games on the market, at least from a distance. When you dive closer to the buildings the textures don’t really show off that much detail. But you move so quickly that you wont notice half of the time.
Controls are basic and very simple to understand. The majority of your input will come from tilting and turning your head to dictate the direction of your Eagle while your controller allows you to increase/decrease speed and also attack. It does feel somewhat unnatural at first but it doesn’t take long to get to grips with. When you do it genuinely feels exhilarating to cut and weave between tight spaces, taking advantage of wind tunnels to propel yourself forward at an eye watering pace. You never feel truly out of control and as such it feels fantastic in this regard. Particularly during the underground race sections where you have to weave between incredibly tight tunnel networks and catacombs speedily to reach a three star rating.
Combat works well also. It turns out that Eagles have the ability to screech large balls of energy that can explode enemy birds into a puff of feathers. While being absolutely absurd it does mean that there is a workable shooting mechanic in the game that can facilitate multiplayer fun and combat/escort missions. All you have to do for combat is remember that square is shoot and circle is to operate a wind shield around you, the rest is evasion and using buildings for cover. This makes for some excellent moments as you pursue warring birds through the wreckage of Paris in an absurd , bird version of Ace Combat.
There is only one multiplayer mode in the game but it’s a good one. Two teams of up to four eagles have to fight over a rotting carcass that is laying in the streets. It is up for one of your team to scoop this up and return it to your teams nest while the other team has to focus on shooting you down and then picking up the carcass for themselves. Things can get quite hectic in the air so it is best that if you are carrying the prey to weave in amongst the city streets. This is where things get the most fun as you not only have to dive out of the way of incoming fire but you have to worry about crashing into the side of a building, this makes for some excellent emergent gameplay that not even Eve: Valyrie could offer with its more complex control system. Everyone can play Eagle Flight on an even playing field so it makes this a far more fun title, even if you are new to playing it. The only issue as I see it is that there is very few people playing right now, hopefully the lower price point and VR curiosity can change this however.
As for motion sickness reduction I do feel that Ubisoft have gone a bit too far with this. Every time you turn there is a black iris effect that restricts the view to the corners of your sight. This is great for those that worry about the effects of VR sickness however you are unable to switch this off should this not be a factor for you. At times I felt it a bit jarring, especially when trying to judge tighter spaces. Hopefully this can be improved or removed in a content patch.
Eagle Flight is a pretty good game then, but the biggest bugbear is the amount of content included in the package. As a single player experience it offers little other than the basic mission structure and some gorgeous views. Also as previously mentioned there is only one multiplayer mode to play with. This explains a lower price point however and as a concept game it is definitely one of the better ones. I would heartily recommend the game to anyone who dreamt of flight at some point of other, it is certainly one that comes close to fulfilling it.