10/29/2020 0 Comments
Falcon Age REview
Hello you all, it's that time again! My latest review is now ready to read, and this title was actually unknown to me until it's Switch teaser trailer was released. It instantly interested me with its concept, as it seemed to be a first-person action-adventure game, featuring the usual upgrades and powers that make the genre fun to play. It does have a twist though and that's what caught my eye. You're joined in your adventure by an ally, an AI-controlled Falcon, that can be used to collect things, help in combat, and aid in exploration. The idea of fighting alongside a bird of prey, and some of the gameplay that could go with that, had me rather intrigued with Falcon Age and I looked forward to seeing what it was all about.
Firstly though, a little history. You see this title was originally created for and debuted on, the PSVR before later releasing on the Occulus for PC. Obviously intended to be a VR title, it's port to Switch means it's going to lose one of the major features that it was designed around. Which leaves with a rather important question, will the gameplay hold up without its VR gimmick?
The game opens with your character, a teenage girl called Ara, being the only occupant of a work camp run by the robotic servants of the Outer Ring Corporation or ORC for short. She spends her days harvesting ore from the surrounding mountains, which she then deposits for the company to ship off-world. In exchange, she's given a few meager rations to keep her fed and strong enough for the next days work. The only thing breaking up the monotony is that every so often she'll be called into the robot overseer’s office for testing. They ask her questions, hoping she's broken or indoctrinated enough to comply and be shipped off-world to work for the company in other roles. It quickly becomes apparent though that Ara isn't likely to become a slogan spouting drone for the company, she's alone here because she's the last person who hasn't complied and it's slowly causing the robot overseer some serious wear and tear. As expected Ara doesn't give the required responses to the overseer's questions and she's sent back to her cell where she'll continue the cycle, all alone, until she does.
One day though she gets company from an unexpected source...
One of the native birds of prey, a falcon-like creature, builds its nest on the window sill of your cell and decides to raise its little chick, much to Ara's delight.
Unfortunately, though, things don't go well for Mama Bird. Before her chick can reach maturity, the nest is spotted by a patrolling robot drone. In defense of her baby, the mum fights hard, destroying the droid but resulting in her being mortally wounded as well. Ara takes on the role of mother for the tiny chick, feeding it from her rations till it grows big and strong. In a few months, that kindness is repaid when the overseer, his circuits worn out by time, finally snaps and attacks Ara only for the now fully grown falcon to come to her defense. The aftermath of this fight results in Ara escaping prison and returning to her tribe, who she has not seen in many years.
It is here that she reunites with her Aunt, who is surprised and intrigued to see Ara with a Falcon. It seems that Falcon raising and partnership was once a major part of your people's culture. Warriors of the past would often raise and bond with these birds and, although wary, Auntie also hopes that your appearance is a good omen. Perhaps if you can become a true partner with your Falcon, the people will see that their way of life can return, that you may be the key to fighting back against the ORC, and hopefully, you might even be the key to freeing your people for good.
Doing this will involve driving the Corporation from the surface of the world. You'll help Auntie as she tries to build and manage the meager resistance. With the help of your Falcon, you'll take out the robot army that runs everything for ORC. Your primary overriding goal though is to shut down the refineries harvesting the wealth of your world that are located on the best farmland your people have. It's a story that has potential and could have worked really well but, to be honest, it just didn't click with me.
You know that saying about movies, the "it's better to show, not tell" one? Well, Falcons Age could really have learned from that. You're constantly told in conversation that the company is evil and oppressive. You're told about how they don't provide food and medicine to the natives, and how life is so hard under their jurisdiction. The thing is though, you are ever actually shown any of this. In fact, it seems to be the opposite. Despite having a huge robot army you never see it used to attack, hurt, round up, or interact with the natives in any way. It looks like the robots are mostly used to defend company property from the native's attacks rather than to suppress them. It's also kinda implied that they'd be very willing to give food and medicine, they just aren't a charity. Go work for them and you can get a much better lifestyle. Even the work camp from the beginning has no violence involved, you're never threatened with a beating or anything, they simply want to make sure workers have the right attitude before leaving for the real job. It's more like training than anything. The creators seemingly want to push an "innocent natives VS big bad company" narrative but, for me, it just fell flat. I'd have like to have seen more obviously evil actions from the ORC with Stormtroopers doing the rounds and so on. Now don't get me wrong, the natives do seem to have a harsh life but this seems to more because the planet is a harsh desert than any company interference. Perhaps this ambiguity was intentional, that they were trying to show both sides, but I definitely didn't get that impression. It really felt like you were supposed to sympathize with one side and hate the other but, in my opinion, they didn't pull it off.
But a not-so-strong story can easily be forgiven if the gameplay is entertaining, right? Falcons Age has 2 modes you can play it in, and these boil down to be being "full combat" and "optional combat" with the only difference between the 2 being obvious, whether you need to engage in attacking enemies or not. I played in full combat mode and I found very little difficulty in dealing with the robotic opponents you'll come across. The option to turn the fighting off is there if you want it, but I can't imagine why you would to be honest as combat is hardly challenging anyways. Apart from this combat option, everything else will play out identically so don't worry about missing anything as you play through the game.
The actual world of Falcons Age takes the form of a harsh, rocky desert world. Vegetation is fairly sparse and few animals can survive here. You'll explore this world in first person (remember those VR roots) and your major way of interacting with the world is through your Falcon. You can pick things up close objects by yourself but to obtain anything out of your range, you need to use your bird. It's a tool and a weapon, one you'll be using the whole game to complete your objectives. Like falcon handlers in real life, your bird will spend much of its time with you by perching on your left arm. By tapping LZ you can send your feathery companion soaring into the air, where the AI will control it, keeping it out of trouble. Holding LZ will bring up an indicator that will show a straight line to whatever you wish to point at, and by putting this indicator over something of interest in the environment, you can send your Falcon to go interact with it. Point at a high up plant and your companion will go collect any fruit or veg it finds there. Point at any creatures you see scurrying around and your bird will swoop down to hunt it for you. You can even use it in combat with the robotic servants of ORC as you come across them and many will require you both working together to defeat them.
Combat is a little disappointing though, with every enemy (of which there are only a few types) being destroyed with the use of 3 basic moves. Firstly is sending your Falcon to knock them out of the sky, this is used for drones and is quick and easy or to hit or grab other opponents. Secondly is just clubbing them with your baton by hitting ZR. Thirdly is by using the lasso attached to your baton, activated with R, to pull things towards you. Using these moves, in different combinations, will overcome all opponents and combat becomes rather boring as enemies are so ridiculously easy. I never once was killed in combat, and enemies are so spaced out, that I never felt much challenge here. I'd have liked more opponents, maybe some boss battles (there are none) or something to actually increase the threat. Your main objective, to shut down refineries spread across the map, is also ridiculously easy. There will be a few enemies scattered around, quickly dealt with, a few buttons to press, and some things your Falcon should destroy, then you can access the main computer. Press a button to shut it down and the jobs done. Finding your way around these bases is easy too as they're little more than a few scattered metal buildings, with the occasional ramp leading to a second level. With no puzzles to work out, difficult enemies to deal with, or bosses to destroy, what should be a major event becomes mundane and again I was left with a sense of disappointment.
Outside of the main "take down the refineries" missions, things can be a little more fun as you explore the world. Just a little though. Using the bird to hunt animals, gathering fruit and vegetables, and then cooking the resulting ingredients into stat-boosting food showed promise. However the bird rarely gets damaged and I never really needed the stat boosts as the game is, again, ridiculously easy, so I found myself not bothering to collect ingredients except for side quests. Most of these side quests are, unfortunately, of the "collect X Lizard tails" variety and didn't excite or feel more than busywork. Only one quest actually entertained me, a quest where you search out landmarks for an artist, but even that was rather easy and not particularly thrilling. While exploring and advancing the story, things take on a slight Metroid "new powers allowing access to new areas" feeling. You get new equipment for your birdy buddy to wear, which grants it new abilities that were previously unavailable. You get a set of metal claws that attach over the natural talons and allow your Falcon to dig up previously hidden treasure caches hidden around the map. You also get a little sensor backpack for it to wear, allowing your Falcon to detect mines and giving you the ability to cross the dangerous minefields blocking you from new areas. There are also grenades you can give your Falcon, who will then drop them onto destroyable rocks so you can pass through. All these upgrades have the same problem though. They're just so basic and aren't used in interesting ways. The claws for instance just give you another thing to point your Falcon at. You'll indicate the location and it'll fly over and dig it up. You then simply use your lasso to tear it open and collect the basic supplies within. The mine detecting is simple too, just call the falcon to perch on your glove and the mines will glow on the ground, indicating where you should avoid. All the abilities feel undercooked and are never used in a way which surprises or makes you think, and are all rather forgettable.
One part that showed some initial promise, and I was looking forward to, was the numerous ways you can customize and play with your avian ally. Throughout the adventure, you come across various little items to dress them up, and some were quite cute. You get little hats for it to wear, colours to change its plumage, masks for it to put on, and a host of other things. You can get bells that jingle cutely and let you know where the bird is as it soars above you. You also get a host of little toys, a bike it can ride, balls it can juggle, swords it can swing, and a million other things too. Initially quite cute, the novelty wears off when you realize how basic the interaction is. Cosmetics are fine, dressing animals up is always fun but the toys were more disappointing. Give them to your bird and you get a quick 2-second animation of it using the item and that's it. These toys don't have little minigames attached, which would have been fun, and there's no bond meter or bonus powers to unlock by playing with the animal. You quickly realize these interactions are only cosmetic too and you'll stop using them soon, and quit going out of your way to earn money to buy more. I was hoping for a virtual pet type mechanic here, where you raise the bird, play with it and build trust for new abilities, but like much of the game, it was left feeling like a missed opportunity.
The art style chosen is a sort of oil painted claymation style and it works well in some areas but looks really basic in others. The bird for instance, as the main focus of the game, looks very good. It's well animated and seems to move rather life-like as it preens, flexes its wings, and moves around. Definitely a highlight and a bit of a joy to watch. The various human models though aren't as well done, they move rather stiffly and sometimes have weird proportions and wooden animations. Some of the environmental details though were downright bad. Some of the rocks completely lacked texture and looked flat, plants and trees are basic and fruits, veg, and food items looked like lumps on clay. Very out of place next to the Falcon and found the difference in levels of quality very strange. It doesn't affect gameplay, and we are talking about a budget game but, when remembering the VR origin, I found this inconsistency worth noting.
Falcon Age is a game that I felt had much promise but in practice felt underdeveloped in every area. The story, trying to be a tale of oppressed v oppressors, could have told a serious narrative with something important to say but doesn't go far enough to establish the details. There's also the ending which, without going into spoilers, undermines a major part of the relationship the game tried to establish. While playing and working with the Falcon initially had some charm, a lack of variety and advancement leaves the gameplay feeling very basic and uninspired. By reading the shop description you'd also expect some bonding with the Falcon, which really would have improved things, but that too simply feels superficial and unengaging with no reason to even do it. With a budget price and an around 6-hour playtime, those looking for something short and who like the idea of being a Falcon tamer might find a few minutes of joy. Anyone expecting anything more though will probably be sorely disappointed. Supposedly a better experience in its original VR form, with that gimmick removed it's left feeling undercooked and underdeveloped. A middling game that's hard to recommend and rather disappointing.
Note: A copy of the title was provided for the purposes of the review
FINAL SCORE: 5/10
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