Falcon Age’s starring feathered friend is a fitting analogy for the game at large. She’s often majestic, soaring above you with grace and picking off targets with lethal efficiency. Then, by your side, she’s playful and friendly, bumping your fist with her own in celebration and welcoming your petting with doughy-eyed affection. And yet she’s also scrappy and erratic, throwing her head violently from side-to-side and emitting piercing screeches as an unnerving reminder of her predatory nature.
Like Falcon Age itself, she has a rough side, but wins you over with charm and determination.
Outerloop Games’ likable debut just about bucks a VR trend of ambition outweighing achievability. It is, for VR, a meaty adventure with numerous foundations to back up its claim of being a ‘full game’. It’s got side-missions and crafting systems, combat agency and even a light Metroidvania structure. And, though it often threatens to buckle under the weight of its generosity, Falcon Age just about keeps it together.
That core hook, of caring for and fighting with your titular companion, is the game’s real thrill. Outerloop gets the important things right; calling her to your side is as simple as holding a Move controller up to your mouth and pressing the trigger button to whistle. She flutters down and perches obediently on your hand, ready to be fitted with new armor, equipped with weapons or, yes, just to be played with.
She’s something of a technical marvel. The way her steely claws bounce between your fingers as you move your hand seems like a small miracle. Her ability to keep her head still as you jostle her around, meanwhile, feels supernatural. It’s enough to make you long to feel her weight on your arm and her grip around your wrist, let alone the texture of her feathers as you reach out to stroke her. I suspect, too, that Outerloop had a little too much fun designing outfits to adorn her with. It was probably a little more painful, though more rewarding, animating ridiculous interactions with miniature skateboards and juggling balls.
Perhaps my favorite action, though, is simply throwing your arm forward to send her flying off. It’s a simple movement but a cathartic one. On the occasions Falcon Age breaks down the barriers between you and your companion it echoes the memorable links you build in games like Moss and Astro Bot.
For all these splendid interactions, though, there are other missteps. Early on in the game you’re told you must work hard to build a bond with your falcon and earn the right to give her a name. This will not be an easy task, you’re warned, and you must be committed to each other. Then you nod off to sleep and are greeted with the message “A Few Months Later”. ‘Well done,’ you’re told as you awaken, ‘You’ve worked really hard and can now name your bigger, better falcon, with whom you are best friends.’
Suffice to say it’s a bit of a missed opportunity.
In fact, once you’ve tamed your companion, Falcon Age treats her more like an accessory than a character. The plot, which sees a resistance group rebel against a colonizing robotic corporation, is more concerned with the world around you than developing that bond. Its themes and representations aren’t often approached by the gaming industry, but I couldn’t help but wish it had done more to reflect inwards at the link between the two central characters.
If your falcon takes a backseat in the story, though, she at least makes up ground on the battlefield. Combat in Falcon Age is process-intensive and methodical with a welcome touch of strategy. Liberating industrial refineries usually requires you to disable a set of ground turrets before your falcon can take flight. Once they’re offline, you’re free to fight.
Enemy robots often need a specific mix of falcon strikes and whacks with a melee weapon. Like a lot of VR combat, it’s at its best when it’s manageable. In the desert, sand-worms need their armor removed with your whip before your falcon can swoop in for the kill. Flying drones, meanwhile, need to be brought down to your level before getting a whack on the head. Teamwork flows smoothly thanks to simple point-and-click commands.
Encounters can quickly succumb to a madcap scramble, though. Any more than two enemies on screen and it’s easy to lose track of which needs what kind of beating. It didn’t take much for me to feel overwhelmed and simply flail my weapon about, which often got me out of a scrap in a somewhat clumsy fashion. The more the game hones in on combat, the messier it gets, culminating in a rather shambolic final mission. The combination of Move-based traversal and 180 degree tracking just can’t keep up with the action at times.
It’s offset somewhat by keeping stealth as a legitimate, and often preferable, option. Better yet, the game will let you completely ignore combat if it isn’t to your tastes. In fact Falcon Age is wonderfully accommodating in general; even squeamish monster jumps (something of a VR pet peeve for me) are cushioned by audio cues.
Less forgivable are the bugs, some of which have proved more than troublesome. I would have preferred to play the game with smooth locomotion, for example, but my falcon refused to sit on my hand when I moved unless I was using teleport. It makes stealth virtually impossible. At one point I respawned from a death completely unable to move. Interactions with characters, meanwhile, are hampered by several typos.
Falcon Age clearly suffers from being overstuffed, and there’s weight it could shed. The crafting system is more of a nuisance than an aide, requiring you to trudge back to specific points on the map just to cook food that gives you temporary buffs. The map is open-ended for exploration but is pretty unsightly, with blurry textures and visible seams (on a standard PS4) throughout. Every time you pass through a minefield, you’ll have to spend five minutes clearing out the same path you made on your way in.
And yet, for all these mounting issues, the core of Falcon Age keeps you afloat. Every time I felt flustered by the game’s issues I’d call my falcon back to my hand, fit her with a new hat, pet her head and tell her she was doing a great job. In those moments of respite I’d remember that what Outerloop has built here goes beyond flawed action and technical jitters.
Falcon Age nurtures a soft spot inside of you, one big enough to overlook many of its technical shortcomings. It’s a sentimental game, one that knows VR’s ability to build relationships is as compelling as and additive to any other feature. It never fully capitalizes on that connection in the way you might expect, but it’s a spark of companionship to be cherished all the same. That’s something the industry could use a little more of.
Falcon Age is available now on PS4 with optional PSVR support. Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrived at this score.