Falcon Age (Switch) Review
For all its flaws, Falcon Age is full of ambition. Some obtuse design requires extra work by the player to come to grips with its systems, but every now and then some greatness does shine through.
You will need to come to the game understanding its limitations and wanting the type of story it tells to enjoy this experience. If you can forgive some rough edges, are interested in a tale from the perspective of the colonised and are here for the novelty of having a falcon friend, you’re likely to find something that works for you here.
Falcon Age’s draw is it’s titular feathered friend, which is well and truly the star of the show. After a quick intro setting up the reason for your connection, your falcon becomes an integral part of your experience with Falcon Age. How you (the player, rather than protagonist) approach your relationship with this creature will determine how you feel about this game as a whole.
Your friend is both a companion in which you direct, but also a being of its own. While she won’t ignore your commands in a way Trico of Last Guardian fame might, everything around your falcon’s actions is physical. There were certain points where I felt frustrated that my feathery ally wasn’t immediately acting upon my wish to dive bomb a spider bot chasing me up the hillside, but upon realising she was already taking on a drone of her own, that frustration subsided somewhat.
It’s an interesting decision, all told. A different game may have had your falcon warp into position and perform an animation using some camera trickery to hide the unrealistic nature of the movement. This would be much more player friendly – but would have her feeling more like a weapon to use, rather than a companion for your journey.
Falcon Age treats her instead as she is – a real physical object with her own paths and actions to take inside a real physical space. Is this detrimental to the overall experience? In some ways, yes. But that physicality also reinforces a truth Falcon Age attempts to impart: While you may command her, she isn’t simply a tool. This bird is its own creature, with its own existence to live.
The extension of this idea sits in the controls themselves. Everything feels more complex than it needs to. Picking up items takes two button presses – first to put the item in your hand, then a second to place to place it in your pack. This does make some semblance of sense though, as there are times where you need to hold an item to give to your falcon, necessitating an in between step.
Because Falcon Age was developed with VR in mind, some other design decisions feel unnecessarily burdensome for a first person game. The dialogue choice wheel, for example, has been a solved design element for over a decade now – yet when there are two choices present here, words overlap.
One particularly egregious pain point is how the game treats your hands – always at a 90 degree angle with the ground, regardless of what angle up or down your camera is aimed. Looking up for your bird means you can no longer see what’s in your hands, which is annoying when she’s already landed on your arm. This makes sense in VR, where your hands are free moving and independent – not so much when on screen.
The fiddly nature of the controls don’t lend it well to reactionary situations, so combat situations are somewhat mediocre. Thankfully Outerloop Games recognise this, and offer up a combat free mode for an exploration and story focus, which is recommended.
Any ancillary content built into Falcon Age supports this structure, in fact. Collectibles hidden throughout this world are exclusively related to your fledged friend. If it isn’t gear that helps boost her stats, it’s various toys that can be used to interact with her. The animations that go along with these are all quite cute.
Though it is against the idea of the story being told in Falcon Age, a game more focused on exploration and puzzle solving, while learning the history and traditions of a people and their world, is easy to imagine.
The flip side of Falcon Age’s coin is it’s more unique narrative through line. While games like The Outer Worlds have taken the idea of anti-corporate messaging mainstream at this point, Falcon Age has always explicitly been about having colonists come to your native land for their own profit, disregarding your beliefs, traditions and lives in the process. It’s a perspective sadly lacking in our medium as is.
As I write this review, my mind does move to the fact that I am writing it on Latji Latji and Barkindji land – a place I’ve lived nearly my entire life, but never even knew the traditional name of until recently. It wasn’t until Australian studio House House had noted where their Untitled Goose Game was developed last year in its credits – not Melbourne, but the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation – before I even thought to learn.
It’s a stark reminder that while I know bits and pieces of Australian history of the last few hundred years, I know next to nothing of the fifty thousand plus years prior – nationally and locally. Sure, I never had any choice in how my ancestors came to be here – but I do have a choice in acknowledging, learning about, paying respect to and understanding the pain of those who were here long before I ever was.
In that respect, I would say Falcon Age succeeds in its message, even if there is little nuance in the way it portrays it.
A lot of people are going to struggle with the friction that comes with Falcon Age, but the ambition of its story and uniqueness of design with your pet falcon make the attempt worth the while. Thankfully, the egregiousness is cut down somewhat by a shorter runtime and a mode free of combat. This is a game for particular kinds of people, and if some fiddling with controls doesn’t deter you, a falcon friend is a nice companion to have.
Falcon Age won’t blow you away, but for the tolerant person, this is a good effort from a small team. If you come in with the right expectations, there’s definitely something to like here. Your falcon is the star of the show – treat her like a partner rather than a tool and you’ll enjoy yourself.
+ Novelty of falcon friend is neat
+ Story is compelling if straightforward
+ Short run time, does not overstay its welcome
+ Cool animations bring falcon to life
- Controls are fiddly
- UI built for VR, could be much better