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‘Eagle Flight’ Review: Own The Skies With A Tilt Of Your Head

by Joe Durbin • December 20th, 2016
Platform: Oculus Rift, PS VR, and HTC Vive
Positives

- Immersive controls
- Well designed mechanics
- Innovative use of VR
- Enjoyable gameplay

Negatives

- Not a ton to do
- Limited gameplay modes

“The tilt is a way of life.”

This is a line pulled from the original review guide we were sent for Eagle Flight when it first released on the Oculus Rift. The slightly-awkward French translation is fitting coming from the Montreal offices of Ubisoft, but it is also the perfect summation for the game itself. Since then, the eagle flying experience has also released on the PlayStation VR and HTC Vive platforms.

In Eagle Flight you take control of a young eagle with the simple goal of building its nest on the tallest point it can find amidst the overgrown ruins of Paris in the far future. This may sound like a story book premise, but it’s really just a loose narrative thread that allows for some truly remarkable gameplay.

Even though it doesn’t take place in a plane or spaceship, Eagle Flight is one of the most enjoyable entries yet in the increasingly crowded ‘cockpit shooter’ genre of virtual reality games. It earns that title through adrenaline packed dog eagle fights, tightly tuned flight mechanics, and memorable exploration.

Some games are built around interesting stories and others are born from unique mechanics; Eagle Flight falls firmly into the latter category. Flight direction in this game is completely controlled through the movements of your head. The left and right triggers on your gamepad will slow you down and speed you up respectively, but the hook of Eagle Flight is all about using natural motions to determine a flight path. If you’re playing on Vive, the motion controllers are not supported at all — you will be required to use a standard gamepad of some kind, such as an Xbox One controller.

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The result of this innovative movement system is a wonderful feeling of both immersion and control. My brain never truly believes that the minor twitches of my thumbs on a gamepad are enough to pilot a massive spaceship or a WWII-era fighter plane. But it embraced wholeheartedly that I had become an eagle and this notion was reinforced with every movement of my head.

The now foliage-covered buildings, alleyways, and canals of Ubisoft Montreal’s take on a futuristic Paris are a delight to explore with this movement system. You feel truly impressive each and every time you thread the needle through a narrow gap or pull out of a steep dive at the exact right moment. The environments themselves are also beautifully designed and its a pleasure just to fly around and explore.

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The head tilt steering is not the only innovation that Ubisoft Montreal packed into this package. It also designed a special narrowing mechanic for combating motion sickness. Essentially, the full field of view in your headset is never fully utilized in Eagle Flight. A portion of the screen always remains darkened. As you turn, these shadows will shift dynamically along with your viewpoint. The purpose of this system is to combat motion sickness during gameplay.

The shadows do their job perfectly. Motion sickness is essentially a non-issue for Eagle Flight, which is saying quite a bit for a game that wants to make your brain believe it is flying, even though your body knows that it is not.

All of these carefully crafted mechanics are put to good use in Eagle Flight’s two main game modes: single player and online multiplayer.

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The story mode is fairly elementary. You, as a young Eagle, glide around Paris, completing missions and unlocking more of the city. These challenges may test your flight precision or your combat ability but none of them are very hard. You only need a basic, one-star rating to “beat” any of these challenges so difficulty is never really a problem and progression happens almost automatically. There are also “expert challenges” which are a bit tougher and require more stars for you to achieve a victory.

The single-player campaign may be a tad basic, but — much like Call of Duty or other modern games — it is merely the wrapping paper around the true present: online multiplayer.

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This mode is essentially capture the flag. Two teams of opposing eagles race to pick up a “prey” that they then must carry safely back to their base to score a point. It sounds simple until you realize the other team will be barreling in to attack you with ultrasonic squawks that can knock the prey out of your beak and force you to respawn before getting back in the game.

These suped up bird calls can be fired like cannonballs. They actually require a good bit of skill to aim and that — combined with all of the dodging and diving you’ll be doing — adds up to a multiplayer experience that nails the sweet spot of being “easy to understand, but difficult to master,” that most online games are striving for.

Capture-the-prey is also Eagle Flight’s only online game mode, which feels a bit disappointing in light of the also sparse single player. It’s fun to play, but after a few rounds you do start to wish there was something else to try with your friends.

The lack of interesting directives is Eagle Flight’s biggest overall problem. The mechanics are innovative, it’s pioneered a very effective movement system that other VR games should absolutely pay attention to, and the combat is well thought out and fun, but the end result is still a title that leaves your plate feeling slightly empty.

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Update: Since its original release on the Oculus Rift, Eagle Flight has also released on the PSN Store for PlayStation VR and will be available on HTC Vive via Steam. The game plays virtually identically on all three platforms, as it requires a standard gamepad regardless of your headset of choice. The visual fidelity feels slightly higher on the PC-based headsets, but the PS VR version is fully-featured and capable. Multiplayer is cross-platform across all devices, hopefully alleviating much of the low population problems that plagued the game at launch.

Final Score: 7.5/10 – Good

Eagle Flight is a great game that deserves to be celebrated for its many innovations and unique approach to VR. However, these core ideas would fly a lot higher if there were more ways to utilize them. What is here, however, is a real treat to play and shouldn’t be overlooked by anyone aching with an urge to soar through the skies.

Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrived at this score.

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  • Morality_Mortality

    I was worried Eagle Flight was going to resort to using a teleportation mechanic for the primary movement of the eagle which would have been horrible. Glad to hear this isn’t another nerfed title in order to accommodate the vocal minority of people that experience #VRComfort issues.

    • Buddydudeguy

      Noone at any point thought this game would use teleport.

      • Morality_Mortality

        Sarcasm.

        Too many VR titles resort to teleportation which breaks immersion.

        • Buddydudeguy

          OIC. Yes, I agree.

      • djnforce9

        He’s not suggesting that anyone was; just relieved that the mechanic wasn’t used in this game; I feel the same way about teleport breaking immersion.

    • Tomas Polcic

      Sarcasm?

      • Morality_Mortality

        100% Sarcasm. Glad you got that unlike the 3 Einstein’s that upvoted Buddydudeguy

      • Morality_Mortality

        Teleporting Eagles = sarcasm

    • Paulo

      Actually the “vocal minority” are people like you that complain about comfort modes. Through lots of player testing you learn that A LOT OF PEOPLE GET SICK. I don’t get sick in 85% of titles but when I do it fucking sucks.

    • The VR Pill

      I would pay to see a video of Eagle Flight using teleportation. That would be some funny shit.

    • glennjridge

      it makes me so happy…..to see so many people pushing back over this undercurrent notion by alot of game designers to make games teleport only…I think so many of us hate the notion that we are going to be able to step into realistic virtual worlds and dont want limits on movement. include BOTH movement models for all of us who dont get sick. talking to a designer for budget cuts, this guy made it sound like teleportation was just going to be the industry standard. or…make everything a cockpit game where you essentially are always IN some kind of flying ship with controls. just include both movement models…teleportation for those who get sick AND regular locomotion for all of us who dont.

      • jlschmugge

        This can become an issue where gameplay is involved. The only game I played so far that has the option for either traditional game pad/PC movement or teleportation is Solus Project. I only played in VR with a gamepad and haven’t tried teleport, however they have a teleport item in the game that is a big part of the gameplay in VR or not.

  • Jaxon Holden

    All I want to know, is can you disable the limited field of view during turns? Please tell me this isn’t a forced mechanic. RIGS offered it as an option, as it should be. I bought a VR headset to play in virtual reality and when you start shrinking my field of view it ruins the immersion. The whole motion sickness thing is way overblown. After all the horror stories I’ve read I was expecting to be throwing up after trying VR, but as it turns out I only felt slightly disoriented for the first day or two, and after that I completely adjusted. Now I’m flying 160mph into walls in DriveClub in first person view and doing all kinds of 360° barrel rolls in Eve Valkyrie, no problem.

    Please…. tell me you can disable it.

    • jlschmugge

      Unfortunately there is still a small, but large enough segment of players that can get sick easy, and we don’t want any of those people bad mouthing VR to their friends and prospective VR players that might not have an issue, but never play VR because of vomit stories. VR is still too young to risk that. As VR was first coming out, I was also just as frustrated games will be nerfed because of motion sickness fears. The best comment that I got back then to put me in perspective was, “just because YOU don’t get sick…”. We just have to be patient for more full fledged games to hit the market, then there will be games for the timid as well as ones geared for the more extreme. Well I hope anyway.

      • Asheasheashe

        hence why it should be an option…..

      • We don’t need to wait for some distance point in the future before games don’t cater exclusively to the nausea clan. Croteam are leading the way by being the first big name developer to deliver the option for full locomotion in a game. If you give people the choice then there won’t be the “vr makes me ill so I will never buy” mentality. Nausea hysteria has actually hurt VR gaming leading people to become sick and tired of “comfortable” teleport and “comfortable” incoming wave shooters. The poor choices for VR gaming is far more damaging than a percentage getting sick and falling over. I read enough comments across forums to know how sick people are not from VR locomotion but from limited game types.

        • jlschmugge

          I definitely agree that comfort modes can hurt the perception of what VR can offer as a game. It feels pretty limiting to be stuck in one little room till you’ve played with every single virtual bobble available. The industry has to work up to it, I think we are on the cusp of them figuring it out.

          Been playing Windlands and I think they do a good job at throwing the book at every comfort mode minus teleport, yet making it all optional. I let my wife–a non gamer who can’t use two thumbsticks at once play it. She did well for five minutes, but spun the wrong way one time and was ripping the headset off. She’s completely fine with standing/roomscale experiences however. ‘Comfortable for everybody’ will require specific mobility options, such as the roomscale/teleport model. Gamers are used to moving with thumbsticks, it’s intuitive for them, but that is a disaster in VR with someone who can’t wrap their head around it. However, kinda like the Wii did, VR can be a new medium that brings in non-gamers if the controls are intuitive. Motion controllers do that right now in standing/roomscale. Making games that all this comfort stuff is optional is the way to go, I imagine the difficulty is in making sure the fun is also equal on all comfort modes.

          Some of the Windlands comfort modes spoil the game for me, even though someone else couldn’t play without it. Does that mean they won’t get as much out of the experience because they can’t handle more? It’s not a rhetorical question, I’m actually curious, and I imagine that’s what developers have to decide when making a game.

          • I have issues with blink teleport in particular. I think it’s the ugliest and most disruptive of the different types of teleport I’ve seen in VR games. It’s nice to see how happy people are at being given the chance to play Doom BFG and Serious Sam VR in full locomotion. Great if games can accommodate both. I also realise that teleport + room scale can be an efficient means of getting around in a game world so long as it’s not a fast action game. Onward at least seems to have solved the problem of full locomotion and nausea.

            My wife wants to try sickness pills to see if that will enable her to try VR… she hasn’t spent much time on any of my Vive experiences thus far.

    • Ubisoft is considering the possibility of letting you disable it, but for now it is forced – https://uploadvr.com/ubisoft-eagle-flight-comfort/

    • Ozzy waffle

      Been looking forward to this, but would likely give it a miss if you can’t disable the limited view. If motion sickness is something developers want to take seriously then the only way to really make everyone comfortable is to give as many options as possible. A limited view that is forced benefits only a certain person, why not make us all happy?

    • Kardes21

      Actually, the limited field of view isn’t too much of a distraction after 15 minutes of play. I like this game a lot.

      • iUserProfile

        You don’t really notice it but I think it still breaks immersion on a subconcious level. I never felt that strong flying sensation. I think all the comfort builds a barrier to the feeling of presence in the game – at least for me.

        • Kardes21

          As long as you’re not confusing the strong flying sensation with the onset of VR sickness, they really are one and the same. I also feel like they dialed down the stereoscopic effect a little too much for my liking…

  • jlschmugge

    So now that this is out, does anyone know if I can steer with a thumbstick if I wanted?

    • Don’t believe so, the entire premise is predicated off of head movement.

      • jlschmugge

        I have the game now and no, it doesn’t have a thumbstick option. Still wish it did. The head tilt works pretty awesome when flying through tunnels, but when I am just slowly gliding over the city, it feels a little awkward to keep swinging my head around where thumbstick movement would be simpler.

  • LIV

    Why not a 9.5 Joe?

  • Doctor Bambi

    Ah yes, the Eagle Flight review re-surfaces; such a great game. When I first got it, I was under the impression that I would be spending the majority of my time in the 3v3 multiplayer. I was pretty disappointed to find the lobbies practically barren. In actuality, I spent most of my time enjoying the simple storyline and blissfully scouring the city for feathers and fish on my own. My hope was renewed when Ubisoft announced they’d be bringing cross-play between Rift and PSVR. But alas, even after the update was released, the lobbies were only slightly less empty. The best match I could get was 2v2 and that still took a couple nights of trying.

    I was so confused as to why this was. After giving it more thought and after talking with a few people over on r/oculus, I realized it’s because the multiplayer doesn’t really give you anything to invest in. You can’t build up your eagle in any way. There’s no new abilities or items or maps to unlock. There’s only one game mode. It results in a multiplayer with no staying power, and the lobbies show it.

    My hope is that Ubisoft continues to build upon the solid foundation they have; the multiplayer is ridiculously fun when you can get a match. I think Eagle Flight has the spirit of a game like Rocket League, with it’s deceptively simple controls paired with deep gameplay possibilities.

  • Joe Dert

    Great, yet another VR title force gimped by nausea hysteria. With these sufferers of motion sickness I’m surprised there are amusement parks with people on the rides or people operating vehicles to even get anywhere. How are cruise ships even a thing? I am about sick of hearing all the whining about motion sickness and comfort. If you just can’t wrap you brain and body around it and enjoy the VR illusion then call it a day and sell it to someone that can and let devs make the intuitive full control games and experiences the majority of us want. Otherwise keep trying or just take some Dramamine if you want to play in your comfort zone. Is it really that hard to surrender to the illusion you are somewhere else and let sights and sounds suppress physical feelings beyond the gravity of sitting or standing? All we can ask devs for is to stop only catering to the few that are the weakest links and give us the option to choose. Onward has it working great and so does the Doom 3 mod and now Serious Sam VR: The Last Hope (of more full locomotion fps and less coddling) Yeah and I understand being seasick that’s why I don’t just eat the Dramamine when I go on the ocean, I let them dissolve under my tongue despite the bad taste so they work faster and I can enjoy the snorkeling, sailing or fishing fun. And that’s how I found out they somehow have a topical numbing effect too. lol

  • iUserProfile

    I really enjoyed eagle flight at first but it went stale for me quick. In fact it is so confortable that there’s no excitement in the flight for me. No tingling in the stomach, nothing impressive about flying up high and swooshing down. On the one hand I whould want to congratulate them for making an potentinal sickening experience so confortable but on the other hand I could call it an epic fail to make the one thing that most people dream of at some point in their life so utterly boring. It really does close to nothing for me. Maybe this is in part due to the world – it’s size, it’s looks: It feels all a bit off – wrong sized. None of the mission were intriguing as well. Racing, pseudo dog fighting, collecting stuff and more collecting stuff off mission – typical for Ubisoft this already feels like work again for the completionist in me. So I decided to leave it at that and I will trade it in next chance I get.
    I consider it my worst VR purchase so far.

  • Octogod

    One of the best games in VR.