You wake up in a prison cell, in some arid and orange-hued wasteland. A young falcon hatchling is perched on a nearby window ledge. Through the persuasive properties of a prison snack dispenser, you befriend it almost immediately – and thus you’re introduced to the games core mechanic; Falcon puppetry…or…Puppet falconry.
The first 10 minutes is slow, establishing prologue that has you repeating basic mechanics, labouring the point that you’re a slave prisoner consigned to banal prison duties under the occupation of a single robot prison guard. It could be just drab enough to make anyone requiring an instant hook to possibly concede defeat under the disclaimer of “it’s not for me”. But hang in there… it opens up.
Falcon age at it’s core, is an action adventure game set in a largely one-tone rock and sand, semi open world post apocalypse. It carries the tropes of a society attempting to re-establish itself through primitive means, while a rogue robot corporation holds it under duress.
Your character’s name is Ara, and with the assistance and allegiance of your feathery companion, you inevitably escape the prison and sally forth into this bright but barren world.
From there it’s mostly routine missions, but it’s the falconry mechanic that provides the point of difference.
Your falcon autonomously circles you in close proximity, but by bringing your left hand up to your mouth and hitting the move controller trigger to whistle, you can summon your new pet to your glove. Here you can interact with it in a number of ways, some for gameplay benefits, and some purely to establish a bond. It’s immediately clear that outer loop games have put effort into making your companion, and the relationship you’re set to develop with it front and center. The animations and movements, from reacting to strokes and fist/talon bumps to the way he shuffles his posture as you move your arm around, is really, genuinely fantastic and makes the falcon feel like a real character.
However when these small details are so well crafted, it makes some of the typical VR immersion breakers, such as clipping, a bit more jarring. It would’ve been nice to have the falcon fly off your hand if you apply to much “pressure” rather than clipping through it. It’s not a deal breaker, but was noticeable considering the detail elsewhere.
Your falcon has a variety of useful gameplay tricks that you gradually unlock mostly through interactions with NPCs. Initially, it can be ordered to retrieve objects that are out of reach, catch and kill some of the scurrying fauna for their meat, and stun enemies to make them vulnerable to attack.
Furthermore, you’re given an electrified night-stick / whip that provides a variety of functions such as opening gates, chests, breaking wooden boards and, as a weapon, bludgeoning enemies.
These all loop into completing missions that on paper are incredibly pedestrian, such as finding and retrieving lost objects, attacking specific enemies and harvesting their resources, finding ingredients for recipes. A core part of the mission structure has you decommissioning “robot” occupied outposts that are then reclaimed by the world’s displaced inhabitants, allowing you to then pick up new missions or farm for new resources in these areas.
Shutting down these outposts is fine, but very rinse-and-repeat affair that can get a bit stale. Ultimately you head into the area, shut down “bird targeting” sentry dart turrets by hacking them with your electrified night-stick, then send in the falcon to help you clean up the robot overstayers.
If your falcon is hit with a dart, it will never die but will be injured and unable to assist until you call it back to you so you can manually pluck out the darts. It does feel weirdly cruel if you’re momentarily neglectful and end up having to apply emergency triage to your distressed companion. This a testament to the games ability to maintain a tangible bond with your bird.
Completing rewards earn you rewards that are cosmetic or useful in combat, and there’s some fun to be had dressing your falcon up in the various hats and scarves you’ve scavenged along the way, beginning the question – why has this oppressed society been stockpiling novelty apparel for birds? Meh – who cares.
You can also acquire recipes, and with the right ingredients, can be combined and cooked in specific cook stations, then fed to your falcon to replenish its health or other effects boosters. Outside of health, I never found these combinations useful enough to warrant a trip back to a cook station for a specific booster.
Graphics are a mixed bag. Everything in your immediate surroundings looks great, such as the textures on your glove, satchel and weapon holster and bag. All this including of course your bird all have high def polish. The environments themselves however can look very rough texture wise, despite the Saturday morning cartoon style. The rock edifices can look woefully under resolved in detail and some of the NPC’s look like the rejects from Santas workshop, all having a slightly unsettling elf-puppet conceit. But you learn to chalk this down to a stylised compromise of hardware limitations and settle into it.
Sound is good – though oddly only SOME of the NPC dialogue, such as the first line, is audible spoken with the rest relegated to subtitle boxes. It was an unusual design choice and I’m left to wonder why they didn’t eliminate dialogue audio altogether if they couldn’t commit to it entirely.
The music is mellow for traversal but crescendos into sweeping soundscapes when the action cranks up. It’s fit for purpose, and despite the repetition doesn’t ever feel intrusive or unwelcome, which means it blends in perfectly to the general atmosphere.
All in all, the game is fun, interesting and unique enough to be entertaining for a while. Though once this wears off, the repetition of missions and the largely uninspired landscape may not be enough to bear the slog. The bond you are encouraged to maintain with your companion though may be a fascinating enough mechanic on its own to overcome this.
Released: April 2019
Platforms: PlayStation 4 / PSVR
Genre: Virtual Reality
Developer: Outer Loop Games