Birds are okay. I mean they scream at obscenely early hours and poop on my car, but otherwise, they're pretty cool. The best birds are those big ol' falcons that look like they can pick you up. They're both adorable and majestic, which is not an easy combo to pull off. After hearing about Falcon Age's premise of taking care of an adorable yet majestic falcon while also fighting robots, I knew I was in. The fact that you got to take care of it in VR was even better. Was bonding with a falcon all it could be, or is this just another bird that screams while pooping on cars?
You play as Sarangerai, a young woman who's trapped in a cell and doing slave labor for the Outer Ring Company. One day a baby falcon lands in her cell. Sarangerai raises the falcon while doing her work and, eventually, manages to break out. However, outside of the cell walls aren't much better, with a small resistance group fighting against the Outer Ring Company. It's up to Sarangerai and her falcon to join the resistance and fight back against the evil corporation. The idea is fine, but there really isn't much else to say about Falcon Age's plot. It works in the context of the game but doesn't excel in any particular way.
Before you start actually playing Falcon Age you have to decide how you want to do it. You can play either with or without VR, with the game offering options for both. If you chose to play with VR then you also have to choose if you want to use the regular controller or a pair of Move controllers. Personally, I found using VR with a regular controller to be the best combination. The Move controls feel awkward, and the ability to actually pet the bird or swing a weapon to attack didn't make up for iffy movement or the loss of the amazing interaction animations. If you don't have VR, playing the game on a regular Ps4 is a perfectly fine alternative. Or, it would be, were the game much fun to play.
That's where the real issue is. Falcon Age isn't much fun. At the start of the game, you're given an electric baton and an adorable falcon, and these two tools will be what you use to solve basic puzzles and fight robots. At first all you can really do is ask your falcon to down flying enemies so you can smack them around, but eventually, she'll be able to help open up weaknesses on robots, dig up buried treasures, and airdrop grenades like bombs. Your baton also eventually gets the ability to convert into a whip, allowing you to pull open gates or pull down flying enemies. These really should be more interesting than they actually are. Basically, every enemy in the game falls to the same tactic: ask your falcon to distract it then smack it a few times.
Sadly, things quickly become frustrating despite this ease. Since so much of the combat relies on your AI-controlled falcon, it's annoying when she can't perform her tasks. More than once, I asked her to dive bomb an enemy only to watch her wander around confused, rubbing up against walls and taking her sweet time to attack. She also has a bad tendency to take shots from anti-air guns. She makes little effort to avoid them despite her dwindling health bar. It doesn't help that you can't assist her in any way. While you can order the falcon to attack things, you have no ability to ask her to move away from danger. I was thankful she couldn't actually die, instead falling into an inactive state until I pet her enough. Still, it quickly made combat feel like it took way longer than it ever needed to.
In fact, many things in Falcon Age took way longer than necessary. The amount of backtracking involved was almost shocking at times. Worse, there's nothing to ever really make this backtracking worth it. The map has a vague fork shape and you have to walk from end to end several times. There's no fast travel or shortcuts to make this journey any less terrible.
Sometimes there are minefields in the way, which means attaching a sonar backpack to your falcon and holding on to them so you can avoid the mines. When you can't avoid them, you have to ask the falcon to dig them up. This leads to a five-second digging animation that can't be skipped and plays for every mine. The mines respawn once you leave the field so you have to do it on the way back too. If you save up enough you can buy an item that quickens the animation. By the time you can afford it you don't need it.
It also doesn't help that the game's objectives are often bizarrely obscure if they even work. Early on I got an objective that said: "cover your hand". What does that mean? Because I was playing the game in VR at the time, using the move controllers, I tried literally covering my hand. It turns out the actual goal was to pick up a piece of cloth from a nearby table. One objective tasked me with collecting fruit from a certain character. What I actually needed to do was pick up grenades and drop them on rocks to clear the farmland. Another section asked me to collect two robot parts from an outpost. However, the outpost was somewhere I've been already, so I had shut it down. Because the outpost wasn't spawning robots anymore it was impossible to actually collect these robot parts from the said outpost.
The real issue is that it's a "side quest" in the sense that the item you get (a rubber beak so your falcon can attack lightning enemies without losing health) seems required for later stages. Because I couldn't get this item, every attack on an electrified robot would claim half her hit points. So, after every attack, I had to call her back and heal her. This, in turn, exacerbated the earlier issues of annoying combat that took way too long. Eventually, I discovered all the combat was pointless and it was just easier to run past all the enemies, and that was the end of that. I can't say I really missed iffy combat encounters were enemies clip through walls and fall off the map. At least Falcon Age offers up a mode that makes all combat optional, for those not interested in it. I suggest playing that way.
Falcon Age really only has one thing going for it, and that's the titular falcon. This falcon is seriously amazing to interact with. You can perform goofy tricks by holding down the square button, letting you fist bump the bird, make hearts, pick her up and swivel her around, and more. You'll get toys along your adventure, and they allow your falcon to skateboard or juggle. I tricked her out with a really cool bandana and bells for her feets. She is a good bird and the highlight of an otherwise bad video game.
It's a shame that this is what Falcon Age reduces down to. I love the falcon and just wish she was in a better game. However, when I order her to dig up more mines only to watch guns shoot her down effortlessly, I just feel terrible. Both because I felt bad for the bird and because of the common feeling of frustration. It's simply not fun to play Falcon Age, making it an age I wish I skipped.
TechRaptor reviewed Falcon Age on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation VR using a copy provided by the developers.
The titular falcon in Falcon Age is awesome. Sadly, it's also about the only good thing the game has going for it.
- There's a Really Good Falcon
- Boring Combat
- Tons of Backtracking
- Everything Takes Too Long
- Iffy AI