I find myself dreaming of world without humans. Where we have fought our wars, done our damage and in the process been eradicated entirely. No more than we deserve. Eagle Flight [official site], a VR birdflight simulator from Ubisoft, offers an idealised glimpse of that world – where only animals occupy our cities, running and flying free. It called to me today.
Obviously the main draw is pretending to be a bird as you wing it about an attractive environment, and Eagle Flight is well-suited to just mucking about and taking it all in – not just the Eiffel Towers and Notre Dames of its world-without-us take on Paris, but also the elephants, giraffes, wolves and flamingos that have come to inhabit it since the fall of humanity.
They’re a little on the boxy-toony side (that telltale hallmark of so many VR games until such time as we all have super GPUs), but they’re a delight to see there, hanging about, living unfettered in the shadow of beautiful buildings.
There is also Game here, in a way that is both gentle and heavily informed by the familiar Ubisoft model of highly-detailed open world city overlaid with icons. Even the eagle theming seems like a nod to Assassin’s Creed – as, of course, does the appearance of a large and pretty Paris.
You can do time trials against yourself or others, you can collect feathers strewn on rooftops (also very AssCreed), you can fly through hoops like that infamous Superman game, you can do hazard runs through collapsed, wolf-haunted metro systems. You can also fail by crashing into a flamingo. This feels like some sort of first, though I look forwards to being proved wrong.
There isn’t much to it, perhaps: though the city is large, it can be traversed within minutes, and your only interaction is to fly over and around it. But that’s enough, at least by what seem to be VR standards. It’s a game you put on your headset for in order to pretend the world is OK for a while. There is a multiplayer racing/chasing/hunting mode in there, which provides more reasons to go back, but while solid enough it’s not my preferred way to play the game – particularly because I can only play it in short doses anyway.
This is a rapid motion VR game, with fast-changing scenery, and with that comes the eternal bugbear of nausea. Controls-wise, this is an odd but accessible hybrid of motion sensing and physical controls. A gamepad controls speed of flight (on the triggers) and menu interactions, but turning is dictated by what you do with your head. This means constant and fast camera movements.
Eagle Flight has tried to get around this by making turning faster and more responsive if you tilt rather than turn your head (the Oculus sensor can tell the difference), thereby in theory sparing yourself rapid, belly-distressing sweeps. Also, the tilt blacks out the side of the image to further reduce the disruptive dissonance that comes from rapidly moving a body that is not, in fact your own. It’s clearly been thought about, and if you can stick to tilting you’ll be able to play for much longer.
Trouble is that turning is still in there, yes it is sick-making and, unfortunately, it’s a massively more instinctive action than tilting your head coquettishly. Though the game pops up regularly reminders, it’s so hard to battle the urge to just look at where you want to go and feel your birdbody gracefully incline right over to it. To be honest, I prefer to play Eagle Flight that way even though it places stark limitations on how long I can stay in there before needing a breather.
Is it a must-have VR title? No. But there are precious few of those. It is a pretty decent VR title though, with a strong conceit and pleasant scenery. That makes it notable enough. To be honest, what it really needs is support for sticking your arms out at your side and flapping around like Big Bird, but perhaps the later Vive version and/or Oculus Touch support might let us live out our Michael Keaton mid-life crisis fantasies.