Ubisoft loves the open world shtick. Loves it.
It just can’t help itself, and I’m imagining that during every company pitch, Yves Guillemot adds at the end of it “but yes, how can we make it open world?” Yet this time for its foray into virtual reality, Ubisoft opted to create something different, the first of which is Eagle Flight.
Eagle Flight (PC [reviewed with an Oculus Rift, also on HTC Vive], PS4)
Released: October 18, 2016 (Rift), November 8, 2016 (PSVR), December 20, 2016 (Vive)
As advertised, you’ll be flying through the skies of Paris as an eagle, set in an alternate universe where humans have been absent from the Earth for 50 years. But they don’t really go anywhere with that premise (perhaps they’re saving it for an Animal Creed franchise?), as the gist is that the player is in control of a lost young eagle who goes from challenge to challenge until the game runs out of levels.
Although they could have gone with the rote, grinding route, Eagle Flight actually is more about the journey. There are challenges (like flying through rings) to complete and new locations to unlock (basically five samey districts, like Notre-Dame or the Louvre area), but you only need to score the minimum amount to move on. Since flying around is such a rush it’s a good incentive to go back and explore without feeling obligated or pissed off by a ridiculous requirement.
That’s partially because flying is so easy to do, compliments of the VR setup. To turn you’ll tilt your head, and the controller does a number of ancillary actions like speed control. That’s it. Diving and turning is a cinch, and I love the feel of racing through a tight alcove or just generally soaring above the sky aimlessly. While it lasts, that is. After a few hours there really is nothing to do, and I found myself wanting more locations that weren’t just extensions of Paris. The seemingly at-odds visuals are just realistic enough to keep you in the moment though, and cartoony enough to differentiate itself.
Multiplayer has one mode, a 3v3 capture the flag-esque variant, which seems like a massive bummer at first. But once you really break it down, you realize that this is a complete risk, putting out a bigger-budget VR multiplayer game like this — if it doesn’t catch on, the playerbase is going to be completely dead anyway. So, having just one queue to line up for makes things a little more bearable, and I wasn’t having much trouble finding a match even before it was widely available. It’s also really fun, as grabbing a flag (prey) and trying to dodge and outrun enemies shooting you with a sonic squawk bullet adds a new dimension and urgency to the control scheme.
But there’s a Ubisoft-sized caveat. Uplay smacks you in the face after booting it up from Oculus’ proprietary home storefront, which is just strange and unwelcome. At one point after I logged in to the second service on top of my other service, the game “failed to authenticate” and prompted me to contact Ubisoft customer support, before I uninstalled and had it work on the subsequent attempt.
I found out later that it wouldn’t work with an Oculus reviewer account, and that I needed to redeem a code in addition to my privileges for Ubisoft to authenticate. You also need a Uplay account according to Ubisoft. I’m wary of the publisher forcing this system on its own games, much less another storefront. If it wanted to do it this way it should have just made Uplay VR compatible and been done with it.
Although it’s easy to fault Flight for having so little to do, I actually admire that Ubisoft had a little restraint here. It could have easily made this a shameless plodding tie-in to its next open-world project, and have the player fly from watchtower to watchtower, picking up tons of powerups and collectibles along the way. Instead it kept things simple, and has a nice little proof of concept that is past the “tech demo” stage.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]