Why Ubi’s VR debut is pretty flocking great
Turn into a majestic bird and soar over Paris in VR. That’s one way to avoid buskers.
As we find ourselves looking down on a future Paris reclaimed by nature, we feel a conspicuous absence. No, not the lack of humans, but the fact we can swoop down from above the trees, zip through narrow alleys and dart through holes in crumbling buildings, and not feel even a little bit sick. Ubisoft Montreal has somehow captured the exhilarating sensation of flight without making your stomach spin like a washing machine – and it’s central to a VR experience that’s equal parts relaxing and intensely challenging. A free flight mode is the peaceful part. Here you can simply enjoy the sights, with nothing more than a beak and a fringe of feathers to spoil the view. It’s not the most detailed rendering of the French capital Ubisoft has ever brought us, but it’s a thrill to soar over the Basilica and then plunge at speed towards the ground, perhaps snatching a fish as it leaps from the water. The controls could hardly be more instinctive: you fly in the direction in which you’re looking, tilting your neck for sharper turns and squeezing the right and left triggers to accelerate and brake respectively. Before long, you’ll find you rarely need the latter.
Mid-flight in Paris
You’ll have to master the art of airborne manoeuvring to succeed in story mode, which takes the form of a series of challenges spread across five districts. You’ll be asked to explore the vicinity by racing through a set of rings, gaining a speed boost if you pass through the very centre. Elsewhere, you’ll find yourself whizzing through overgrown metro tunnels, using jet streams to pick up the pace as you race against the clock. The three-star par times are extremely exacting, though you’ll only need one to progress. Unsurprisingly, there are collectibles – this is a Ubisoft game, after all – but at least floating feathers make more thematic sense this time around.
For the most part, your biggest danger is crashing headlong into a stone wall. But the threat level rises as you engage in a range of aerial dogfights with vultures, bats, and fast-moving falcons. As luck would have it, you’re blessed with a screech attack that can disintegrate opponents on contact, though you’ll need to lead your shots as projectiles don’t exactly move at bullet speed.
These quests are useful training for a fun but scrappy multiplayer component, a three-on-three capture the flag mode where the flag is a dead rabbit and you can be killed within a few seconds of respawning. With no voice chat, effective teamwork is difficult, and it highlights a potential sticking point with all multiplayer VR games – when the world completely surrounds you and you can’t turn on a sixpence, you essentially need eyes in the back of your head. An alarm that sounds when you’re about to be hit from who knows where isn’t quite enough to compensate.
Still, between those lazy glides through Parisian skies and the pulse-quickening races through dangerous environments, Eagle Flight establishes itself as one of the most absorbing VR experiences to date. Though it falters the more it relies on conventional ideas, when it embraces the simple joy of flight, it positively soars.
“as luck would have it, you’re blessed with a screech attack that disintegrates opponents”
Complete a district and you can build a nest there – the perfect spot to rest your wings and take in the view.
Format PS4 (reviewed), PC Publisher Ubisoft Developer Ubisoft Montreal ETA Out now Players 1-6