Perched high above the city, you survey your new domain with ease. Welcome to Eagle Flight, the newest offering from Ubisoft’s Fun House Studio, where you explore what it means to live as a raptor in the skies above Paris.
The Seine meanders with majestic grace through warrens of buildings. The Sacré-Cœur sits to the north, birds and beasts roam freely, and the Eiffel Tower rises to a pinnacle above the landscape. Humans have gone, leaving only their infrastructure behind, and nature has reclaimed Paris. In the air above the city, eagles hold precedence and you are one of the convocation.
Eagle Flight offers three modes of play: free flight, a storyline, and multi-player. The storyline plays like an extended tutorial, using engaging, incentivized gameplay. Through the tutorial the player learns the nuances of flight, the mechanics of the game, and the layout of the map. Multiplayer allows pitched, capture-the-flag style battles between teams intent on scoring points by any means necessary.
Free Flight provides the player with an opportunity to experience the Eagle Flight world in a relaxed and open environment. There is no agenda and no enemy. Use it as a no-pressure method of practicing your flying or just enjoy the sunset over Paris while soaring through the air.
Although I did not experience it, in a recent interview by Giancarlo Varanini for Ubiblog, Charles Huteau of Ubisoft Montreal said: “When you are in the game and you choose a Free Flight mode, you are seamlessly and automatically matched with five other random players who are free-flying at the same time.” Sounds like a lot of fun!
The story of Eagle Flight begins with your character, a young eagle, hatching into a nest where you live with your sibling and two parents. Your nest is in Paris in a time when the humans are gone and animals from the Paris Zoo and the surrounding countryside are taking over the city. The eagles wish to be the rulers of Paris and begin to expand their territory, taking on other denizens of the air. As you explore each zone, you encounter enemies who are also driven to prevail in the battle for the skies.
Without revealing too much, there are three types of enemies. Each of them have unique strengths and they use different fight tactics when attempting to overpower you. The whole shebang culminates with a boss battle that will determine whether you are worthy of being leader of the Paris skies. If you would like to see some footage from the end of the storyline, check out my gameplay footage here.
The campaign-style narrative is broken into 5 sections, one for each zone of the city, with each section comprised of several missions.
The missions teach new skills and earn the player points to unlock new abilities. Each mission is scored with 1-3 stars. Missions only need one star to pass, so theoretically you could advance through the levels rapidly, but some skills require a certain number of stars to unlock them. A careful player will be rewarded with earlier gains, but the ability to enjoy free flight at the end of missions without an immediate press to return to the storyline keeps the pace self-determined and without pressure.
The missions focus on different objectives meant to help the player learn both the section of the city they are in and the controls and abilities of their eagle. Missions include tasks such as general exploration, gathering collectibles, battling enemies, and speed-racing through areas of the city.
The above ground racing missions are measured by your time to complete a course of hoops spaced around the city and are scored on your accuracy in doing so. When you pass through a ring dead center you gain the advantage of an additional speed boost.
Below ground racing missions involve speeding through a warren of caves while dodging tree roots and other hazards.
Good gamification in the form of frequent rewards and unlockable opportunities encourage the player onward. A great example is Ghost Race, an unlockable ability to view and compete against a ghost of yourself doing a particular run.
The multiplayer mode is simple but addictive.
There’s a waiting ‘room’ (read: perch) where you await the other players joining the game, visualized as other eagles divided up between the red and blue team. Up to three vs. three players can battle each other. When the game starts, you receive the instructions: here’s a rabbit, try and grab it. Here’s your nest, try to bring the rabbit back to the nest. That’s right: flying capture the flag. With all the diving, attacks, and movement through 3D space it felt a lot how I imagine Quidditch would feel.
Ready, Set, GO!
The game begins and you all rush toward the prey. Typically, the first eagle to get there is only milliseconds ahead of others and is immediately shot down by the other side with a screech attack unless they can get up an echo shield at just the right time to block.
There’s an incredible rush when you have the prey in your possession and you know that everyone on the other team is rushing toward you with everything they have to bring you down. Definitely fun for the adrenaline junkies among us. When there are enemy eagles looking at you, your screen flashes red alerting you to their attention.
Score the rabbit at your nest
When you have the prey, you basically have two choices: make a mad dash directly for your nest in the open air, or get down at street level and weave through the maze of streets, alleys, and tunnels in hopes of your enemies losing track of you.
Both options have their own risks and rewards; weigh them against your enemy’s play style and strengths to come out ahead.
Also, like the days of yore with Goldeneye on Nintendo 64, this is all a one-shot kill. Despite the panic, when you can dodge everyone’s attack and return the prey to your nest, scoring a point, the satisfaction is enormous.
I found it very satisfying as well to play a supporting role. My teammate has the prey? Guard him against foes. Evil eagles just happen to be near me? Smash directly into them with my echo shield, or fire a bunch of screeches.
Because the screeches move so much slower than ammo in a traditional FPS, aiming takes some getting used to, but when you score a long distance hit, it’s thrilling. The audio shield comes in pretty handy as well, and not just on the defense. You can kamikaze right at another eagle and put up your shield to take them out when you hit them….BAM!
The length of the multiplayer matches is just right, and I think the team sizes feel correct. Anything more and it would just be utter chaos.
Ah, the satisfaction of a well-fought battle.
Not only were the controls natural-feeling, but the visual cues were well thought out. Swirling winds provide speed boosts, rings appear in the water before a fish jumps, and the flight patterns of your allies are marked by disruptions in the air, like air currents an eagle might feel.
There is careful attention put into the details that make the game immersive and not just a play experience.
The Head Tilt: How Optimized Motion Tracking Heightens Immersion
The controls for Eagle Flight are intuitive, an extra step being the use of head tilt instead of head turns to enact steering. Tilting the head to steer not only feels very natural, it limits the inclination I have noticed in other games to spin my chair about. Very soon I found myself flicking my head and swooping my neck as I ducked and dived around obstacles and through tunnels. The swooping head motion combined with banking through tight spaces heightens the illusion of reality – I can practically feel the wind lift me!
Using a head tilt for movement also limits the quantity of hand controller use. The controller is only used to govern speed, screech attack, free-looking, pausing, and progress checks. The minimal need for a controller enhances the simulation of flight because the focus leaves what I am doing with my hands and centers on how I am guiding myself with my head. This is a phenomenal game mechanic, and one we’ve never seen used before.
Limiting Motion Sickness
Another gameplay mechanic I personally appreciated was the careful use of the tried and true methods of preventing motion sickness:
- showing you your nose
- wind streaks give you a sense of direction
- when you crash, the wind streaks continue even when you fade to black so you never feel like you’ve stopped moving
- black at the edges of the screen when you tilt your head
Ubisoft made a sincere effort to limit the motion sickness that has plagued many VR games, and I felt the difference. This is especially impressive considering the rapidity and range of motions the player is engaging in all the while you are sinuously twining yourself through the air.
Sound Effects and Music:
The sound effects are clearly carefully considered and add to the realism of the game. I noticed them from the very beginning of the opening animation when you hatch into the world to your parent’s chirps: welcome to bird-land little eaglet! From there the audio continues to support the story with appropriately leveled noises for interactions with the environment and the utterance of other animals. Swoosh through the trees! Woosh along the water! Zoom through the air currents!
The most fun I have had with the sound effects so far is the weaponized eagle screech. It still cracks me up every time I use it to scatter my enemies before my fearsome being. I am, after all, the ruler of the sky.
The background music grew on me as I played the game. At first I found the music a little limited and it seemed like a missed opportunity for flight-enhancing epic scores. As I advanced through the story, however, I realized the story didn’t need to be told through a soundtrack, the gameplay itself does a fine job.
The music does change to suit the actions of the game, like when you’re in battle it is percussive, while soaring through the air there is a light, ambient soundtrack. The music provides great support for the game but does not impose itself over the game experience.
Artwork and Graphics:
The art style for Eagle Flight combines an immersive atmosphere with rapid gameplay. While not photo-realistic, the feel of the visuals leans away from cartoony, especially compared to many other VR games. There is an impressive amount of geometry being rendered considering the speed at which you are flying.
Light and Shadow
The light patterns are beautiful, with dawn and dusk lighting up the sky, and the real time shadows just add to the overall experience. Watching animals leap across the landscape with their shadows tracking beneath them adds a detail of realism that further immerses the player in the world.
The small details in the environment add another layer of enjoyment to the quality base of the game visuals. These touches not only contribute to the feel of the world, they build upon the rest of the game to enhance the feeling of flying. When you swoop up through a tree and burst out into open air, leaves fly out around you. When you fly low over the river, water shoots up on either side of you.
One visual choice I found strange was that the cut-scenes are pre-rendered, fixed point (no motion tracking) 360° video. I was surprised the cut-scenes were not rendered in game, as the jump to 360° video is jarring both in how it removes depth perception, and in how the pre-rendered video is just different enough from the in-game graphics to be noticeable.
Where to Find Eagle Flight
You can purchase Eagle Flight at Ubisoft’s game store. It is available now for Oculus Rift. It launches this year for Playstation VR on November 8, and for HTC Vive on December 20th.
The gameplay for this review was conducted using:
- Oculus Rift CV1
- Wireless XBOX controller
- NVIDIA GTX 1080
- Windows 10
- RAM: 16gb
- AMD FX-8350 4.2Ghz