Since its original announcement, Eagle Flight has enjoyed a reception from me that I have applied to almost every experience made for virtual reality. The concept is cool, but just how well will it translate across to a full game is questionable and yet to be proven. Now that the finished product is in my hands (soon to be wings), I can safely say that Eagle Flight is a bit all over the place, and while it’s not yet Playstation VR’s killer app it does feel like it’s appropriately priced for the very modest experience it provides. But one thing is for sure – virtual reality is a platform that an experience like Eagle Flight could only work on. Playing this plain with a controller would be plain boring.
Eagle Flight takes place 50 years into the future, humans have disappeared from the planet and nature has reclaimed many cities – one of which is Paris which is the main setting for the game. Vines, trees and wild animals have reclaimed the city and factions of airborne animals have claimed their own territory. It sounds like one of those off-brand Dreamworks Animations films but the story is told rather subtly (with an Attenborough-esque narration) that it doesn’t feel too ridiculous. I’d wager most wouldn’t be playing Eagle Flight for the story anyway.
Eagle Flight is exactly as it sounds. You are an eagle. You fly. That’s it. The game begins rather fittingly with you inside your VR headset as your parents pick open your egg. That’s right, you literally hatch when the game begins. It’s a very nice piece of window dressing that instantly gets you in the mood for the lofty heights that Eagle Flight will take you. From the get-go, there’s three main ways to play. Story Mode takes you through a (very light) story from child to adult. There’s a free roam that just lets you explore the rather barren Paris. And there’s a multiplayer mode. But more on that later.
Story Mode is a way to teach players how to fly in Eagle Flight. It’s a good introduction to the mechanics and it slowly and gradually eases you into things, but don’t expect any grand moments or any spectacle here. It’s much like the campaign in any major shooter these days – a primer of sorts that gets you ready for multiplayer. That’s not to say it wasn’t enjoyable, as the journey that Eagle Flight takes players on is amazing. It’s just the destination that falls a bit flat.
The story mode itself takes you through twenty or so missions that progressively introduce you to the different districts of Paris. Each district is anchored with a unique landmark (ie. The louvre) making it easy to orient yourself while free roaming. Each district has a few collectables to find and missions to complete, each of which has a rating. If it sounds like a typical open world Ubisoft game – that’s because it is – but Eagle Flight’s restraint means it has just enough to do without being incessantly overwhelming.
While it sounds like a bizarre design choice, Eagle Flight doesn’t use much of the controller at all to control yourself. Instead, you steer purely with your head movements. Tilt slightly to angle your eagle left or right. Tilt harshly to turn sharply. It sounds like a headache-inducing flurry of movements but it works surprisingly well. And even better, it lends itself to an experience that is largely nausea free. Obviously, your mileage may vary with regards to VR sickness, but this control scheme is surprisingly intuitive.
There are some combat sequences here and there but these feel largely out of place. While I appreciate that the developers have found a way to make things a little bit more action packed, the combat here makes no sense. Different birds fit into the aerial combat archetypes and fire at each other by “screeching” at each other or casting magical barriers around themselves for protection. It plays fine, it just makes no sense.
Perhaps the biggest bid for longevity with Eagle Run is the game’s multiplayer mode. Some will be disappointed to find there is only one mode available, but personally for me I find it a relief. This is not a game that will have a huge install base so fragmenting the player base means tougher times finding a game. It’s a difficult but smart design choice. In these hectic 3-on-3 battles, teams will vie for a piece of meat in what is essentially capture the flag. I didn’t manage to find many games, easily only in the single digits in this barren pre-release period, but what I did play worked well and was without a doubt the most frenetic of what Eagle Flight had to offer.
Visually speaking Eagle Flight takes cues from less realistic games to provide a more scaled back and stylised rendition of Paris. This is not a to-scale model of the City of Light but keeping it smaller keeps things much more manageable. Similarly, given that virtual reality doesn’t lend itself well to rendering ultra-realistic visuals, the choice to give Paris this look plays to VRs strengths rather than weaknesses. There are some very basic and simplistic rough spots, but you’ll be soaring past them pretty quickly anyway.
After spending some solid time with Eagle Flight it’s so, so hard to put into words just how I feel about it. The game itself, as an entire package, is an admirable effort. Eagle Flight obviously started out as a tech demo of sorts but the developers have done a great job of expanding it into a full (albeit, lower priced) experience. Eagle Flight does have its fair share of issues – namely whether it’s truly worth the price of entry and whether it’ll have longevity.
But it’s hard to ignore just how much Eagle Flight brings the joy of flying to virtual reality. Make no mistakes, this isn’t your typical flying simulation. This is a game that manages to distil the soaring feeling of real flight. You don’t move a large jet in a direction using complicated controls. You use your instincts. You use your neck and head with no controllers and no delays. It’s easily one of the most organic flight experiences available in gaming. And it’s something that I think everyone should experience, but with slight caution.