Review: Eagle Flight
The Ubisoft Game: fly like a bird edition.
Virtual reality games need mandatory demos. Developers have not yet mastered techniques to avoid motion sickness and publishers are charging such a premium for VR games that throwing cash down for anything you aren’t 100% sure won’t leave you retching is fraught with danger. Eagle Flight may not make you as sick as it made me, but $60 AUD is a steep price to find out.
What did me in was the “tilt your head” method of control, the controller only adjusts flight speed and engages an attack, leaving you to either tilt your head to turn or to look in the direction you wish to move. My experience differed from many others in that the tilt controls were what disconnected me from the eagle and sent my head spinning. I had two other people play and they found the free look directing far more nauseating; our editor Steve also had no trouble with nausea, but that’s been correct across the board for him (with the exception of Here They Lie). It was agreed between those impacted that sticking to one plane of movement was the key to avoiding motion sickness, unfortunately many of the race levels in Eagle Flight require sharp movement that only a combination of both can provide and caused nausea that the edge dimming did little to alleviate.
Those races make up around half the single player missions in Eagle Flight, either going through a Superman 64-style course of hoops or darting through the catacombs and abandoned subways of Paris in a straight race against the clock. Other objectives include defending or escorting a feathered friend while under attack from vultures and bats, rushing around the city skyline picking up feathers or skimming the waters of the Seine to nab fish that are foolish enough to leap from the safety of the waters. All are contested under strict time limits and scored on a three-star system, you will need quick reflexes and sharp aim to three-star missions beyond the first area.
There isn’t much variety in mission types but the races usually take you on an interesting, challenging course. Meeting the three-star requirements in feather gathering or fishing requires such a precise route they are pseudo races themselves but without the direct guidance of a track they prove more frustrating. Combat-focused missions can provide some moments of exhilaration when giving chase and cutting angles on birds of prey but I found too many situations where I was flying away from the targets to U-turn and make another attacking run when having to defend or clear out a nesting place and while escorts proved better for providing enjoyable combat situations they also include hard fails if your escort is attacked and in some situations you would only get one or two shots at an attacker before they pounced.
Missions are tied together by an open world recreation of Paris which is completely unlocked from the start but districts of the city are barren of collectibles (and thus anything to do) until missions unlock in that area. Open world flight is much more leisurely and offers respite from the rush of races though it is a real shame that free looking isn’t unlocked until after you complete the game, going on a sightseeing tour before then will see you flying down into buildings if you attempt to look around at the scenery below. Completing missions unlock fish in the waters and feathers peppered through the rooftops for you to collect, I’m not much for collect-a-thons to extend gameplay but having objectives to guide my exploration of the city was appreciated here. I enjoyed free flight far more than missions, though free flight not making me sick had a lot to do with that.
I’ve refrained from calling the single-player missions a story mode for good reason; there’s a distinct lack of narrative, both structured and environmental. A Paris abandoned to the elements and animals could have provided an interesting tale but most of the environmental features appear to be there for the sake of visual impact, hence herds of elephants converge around the Louvre. The opening scene of your parents pecking away your egg and welcoming you to the world set my expectations high but Eagle Flight is an open-world designed for exploration rather than explanation.
Eagle Flight also features a multiplayer mode that suffers the same issue that afflicts most VR multiplayer games; nobody is playing. Ubisoft has made a wise choice to support cross-platform multiplayer on all of its titles but even with that boost I found only a few games near launch. The few multiplayer games I found were promising, the sole multiplayer mode is a capture the flag variant that surfaces the best aspects of the single player game, dogfighting and the thrill of the chase. It is one of the more entertaining VR experiences I have had (albeit in small doses) but without assurances you can find a game regularly it is hard to recommend Eagle Flight on this aspect alone.
Technically Eagle Flight has some seams but you have to go looking to find them. Foliage is all 2D cutouts and the water effects come from 15 years ago but the art design is strong enough to overcome some shortcuts, particularly as you soar over Parisian landmarks or underneath the Eiffel Tower. The soundtrack is well balanced, soothing in free flight, inspiring and upbeat as you race through the catacombs, and voiceover is silky smooth.
I appear to be in a minority that is badly affected by motion sickness in Eagle Flight, but even without those issues, I couldn’t see myself playing sessions longer than 30 minutes. There just isn’t enough variety and the steep three-star requirements for races caused a lot of frustration. As a single-player game, Eagle Flight is best as a meditative exploration of nature’s Paris; races and timed collect-a-thons grow tiresome well before you reach the final mission. I don’t count motion sickness against the score of a game, but I do count monotony and Eagle Flight featured plenty of that.
Try as I might I couldn’t decipher the leaderboards, this is yet another VR game that does a poor job of surfacing the worldwide score challenge. Considering how tough it is to find a multiplayer game, decent leaderboards could have extended the life of Eagle Flight. Instead, I’m listed up against random scores in a division or league of some sort, I guess. Just tell me where I rank worldwide, whether that is 100th or 100,000th. It shouldn’t be that hard.
At launch, Eagle Flight doesn’t offer enough for the near-full price it charges. Single player isn’t enough to justify a purchase and multiplayer isn’t populous enough to get regular matches. Eagle Flight gets the basics right, flight is great and combat can be full of excitement, the game just doesn’t build much on that strong foundation.
Eagle Flight was reviewed using a promotional code on PS4, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.