Most developers are having problems adapting to VR and the dross they’re releasing is a threat to a really promising and fun platform. The triple-A studios see all of these users who just spent several hundred dollars on a VR headset who need content to use it, and they’re racing to market with half-baked ideas with no discernible game play, and no point.
For me the example par excellence is Eagle Flight from Ubisoft. The pitch is “Soar like an eagle around a post-apocalyptic Paris”. Sounds awesome, doesn’t it?
Have a look at this game-play video from the Ubisoft marketing department:
That video was enough for me to hand over the credit card and pre-order something I thought would take me to another world – a world where I’d be a bird of prey, being awesome and doing cool stuff. What did I get for my $59.95 Australian Dollars? Roughly 10 minutes of joy followed by 30 minutes of boredom and a vague sense of being ripped off.
The VR landscape is shaping up to be either pretty standard horror games, or pretty standard SciFi games. Ubisoft’s idea for avoiding making another SciFi game was to make a game set 50 years after the extinction humanity. Talk about a distinction without a difference.
Originally, Eagle Flight was going to be a tour through Notre Dame Cathedral – but the developers realized that had limited appeal, so they expanded the map to be a fly-through of Paris. One can see how the development progressed from there – since you’re flying, you might as well be a bird, rather than a disembodied camera. What followed must have been some intense conversations like “how does one control a bird?”
The point is, Eagle Flight is the kind of game one makes to learn how to make games for a platform. And it shows. An experienced studio would probably be able to produce a game like this from the ground up clone with two 3d artists and two programmers in about 2 to 3 weeks.
Like a lot of the first generation of VR titles, Eagle Flight is repetitive and lacks content. After the first ten minutes it lacks charm. Here is the McGuffin – your eagle-self has just had a chick, and now you need to collect feathers for your nest. So, as the player it’s your job to race between point A and point B to collect those feathers while avoiding crashing or being eaten by a predator.
In fairness, the music is fabulous. The opening swell gives the player an appropriate sense of awe. The controls are intuitive – tilt your head, and your eagle avatar moves. And, surprising, one can fly through the game without feeling ill. Of course, the downside is one’s neck gets sore. But at the end of the day, Ubisoft has shipped a completed Goat Simulator for VR platforms.
Aside from that, about the best I can say in regards to Eagle Flight is that I didn’t encounter any bugs. There is no bad guy. There is no drive. There is no point. An eagle flying around a post-humanity Paris isn’t a game – it’s an idea.
Other sites have suggested that Eagle Flight is a must-have, on the strength of its cross-platform multiplayer mode. In multiplayer, though, you’re not really an Eagle trying to feather your nest – you’re part of a team playing capture the flag. Capture the flag is a game, a pretty common one to be sure, but a game none-the-less. So if you’re looking for a VR version of capture the flag with a novel control mechanism, then sure, Eagle Flight should be on your short list.
The value of a game like Eagle Flight isn’t for the player – it’s for the studio. Eagle Flight taught Ubisoft how to make a control scheme that doesn’t make the player feel VR sickness. Our friends at Ubisoft learnt a lot about developing for a VR platform, but I’m not sure that they developed a true VR game.
In the interests of full-disclosure, I’m a huge believer in VR – I want it to work – and I want Sony PSVR to be the ‘go to’ VR experience. The sense of being somewhere else is addictive. When you first play VR, you’re going to need time for your body to adapt to playing in VR. With experience, you will be able to play longer and with more intensity.
If you’re a developer who wants to get into VR, that’s great! But take a moment to remember why gamers play games. We want to be transported somewhere away from our troubles. We want to be entertained. My previous article for IGT will help you craft amazing VR experiences, but let’s get back to the game at hand.
I cannot recommend paying retail for Eagle Flight; Not even as a gift for someone (well maybe as a gift for someone you don’t particularly like). In a year or so this game will sell for $10-15 on Steam or the PlayStation Store, and it might be worth paying that to support VR as a gaming platform.
But at $59.95, I’m sorry to say that Eagle Flight VR is a turkey.
Eagle Flight was developed by Ubisoft. I assume as an office practical joke.
US $39.99/AU $59.95; 3 minutes of awe, 7 minutes of boredom and days of awful buyers remorse.
A review copy of Eagle Flight was purchased by James Newburrie for review – it cost AU $59.95. A decent bottle of vodka costs AU $35.
James Newburrie is old enough to remember when playing video games involved hassling his parents for change and a lift to the arcade. He has owned consoles from every generation (when they were new), and his pile of shame (see: Backlog) is taller than him, and may possibly have grown sentient. He still isn’t sure about the analogue control stick. These days, he is only really interested in VR games as they are the only reliable escape from his dull, comfortably middle-class corporate life. James blogs at difficultnerd.com