I screwed up while playing Falcon Age at PAX West. I didn’t realize an enemy turret had as long an effective range as it did, so the next time my bird came back, it had a bunch of painful-looking darts sticking out of it. I pulled out the darts with the Square button, and after I removed the last one, I discovered the same button was also used to play with the bird. My character reached up and scratched her bird under its chin, and all of the people waiting in line behind me, as one, let out a little “Aww!” sound.
If nothing else, then, Falcon Age has one thing going for it: it is perhaps destined to be the leading “pet a pretty bird” simulator in the virtual reality market. Also, the bird can wear hats. You can pet the bird and dress it up. It is possible—perhaps even likely—that this is all you needed to hear.
Falcon Age has been in production for about ten months at time of writing, built in Unity with a small distributed team, and made its public debut at this year’s PAX West, in the Indie Megabooth. The creative director Chandana Ekanayake is originally from Sri Lanka, and he’s brought some of that culture to Falcon Age’s story and character designs. Before this, he worked at Bethesda, and was the team lead on other VR games like Wayward Sky and Dino Frontier.
You play as Ara, a young woman who’s a member of the native population of a planet that, over the course of the last couple of generations, has been getting strip-mined by robots, made and sent by an invading army of colonizers. Ara gets thrown into prison on a minor infraction, and while she’s there, befriends a young falcon. With its help, she escapes, and decides to learn the ancient, nearly-lost art of falcon hunting from her aunt, in an effort to rally and help oppose the colonizers.
A big thanks to everyone that checked out Falcon Age at PAX. We had five different real life falconers stop by and play it. They were not disappointed. pic.twitter.com/vNqGGL4uLU
— Chandana Ekanayake (@Ekanaut) September 5, 2018
Ekanayake described Falcon Age to me as a sort of “Metroidvania” game. You begin in a big, open map, and by exploring it, you can gradually accumulate new tools, which are all upgrades for your bird. Those upgrades, in turn, let you get around obstacles and reach previously-inaccessible parts of the map.
There were two stations at PAX for Falcon Age. One was PSVR, where you played with a PS Move controller in either hand. The other switched it over to a non-VR game with a traditional controller setup, which felt like a typical first-person shooter on a console.
Either way, you can interact with the world either with your bird, or by using Ara’s baton. The latter serves as either a short-ranged melee attack, perfect for crushing pesky robot bugs, or can be turned into a sort of electric whip. The whip can short out electric devices or be used to open gates. Its range helps remedy the typical VR problem of buttons and interactable objects in-game feeling like they’re further away than they look.
For other problems, you’ve got the falcon. In VR mode, the controls are mostly linked to the controller in your left hand by default. You can keep your falcon perched on your shoulder or keep it orbiting above you; either way, you can point it at distant targets and send it out by holding down a button. The falcon can snag items from distant cliff faces, catch rabbits, or knock flying drones out of the sky. It can actually go a surprisingly long distance, but at the same time, the strip-miner robots you’re dealing with have some really accurate anti-air systems. As your falcon takes care of business in the air, it’s up to you as Ara to dismantle what you can from ground level. Otherwise, as noted above, your falcon’s going to end up catching a lot of stray fire.
To heal your falcon once it’s taken damage, you can forage in the wilderness for wild fruit and small game, then cook them up at your base into various treats. Naturally, feeding those treats to the bird requires you to call it back so it’s sitting on your shoulder, then pull the treat out of the virtual pouch on your character’s waist and bring the treat up to the bird’s beak.
The degree to which Falcon Age goes to make you feel protective of your bird really can’t be overstated. It’s got a certain amount of personality, your character is vocal about her affection for it, and again, you can make it wear tiny hats. The rest of the game in the PAX West demo was pretty straightforward stuff where you gathered raw materials for crafting and assaulted an enemy base full of robots, but the real meat of Falcon Age, from my experience, with it is in the bond it’s trying to create between you and your virtual bird pal.
Thomas Wilde is a freelance gaming journalist. You can follow him on Twitter for more of his work.