I’ve never been sold faster on a game than when I came across a gif of Falcon Age that depicted an adorable baby bird giving the player a fist bump. Then I found another of the same bird poking its head through a heart-shape made by the player’s hands.
Little did I know that same game would offer a rewarding and complex narrative, rich world inspired by South-Asian culture, and a bond with an in-game pet better than any Tamagochi or Pokemon.
Falcon Age is the work of developer Outerloop Games, with Chandana Ekanayake taking the lead as creative director. Ekanayake drew from his Sri-Lankan heritage when it came to the design and feel of Falcon Age, and the result is a small game that feels rich in detail and broad in scope.
Right from the loading screen, you'll get a sense that Falcon Age isn't your typical adventure, with a choice from the beginning whether you'll participate in combat. The entire game is still available to you as a player, but your role within the game can be that of fighting liberator, or pacifist explorer.
The story begins in a prison cell, where you – inmate 0501 – are being retrained as a compliant citizen before you're released to the refineries where you can mine resources for the corporation that colonised your home planet. It's a dreary life, and the only respite you're given is a baby falcon that has nested in the window of your cell.
After the death of her mother, it's up to you to nurture and care for this bird - an act that leads to your escape as she helps liberate you from your AI overseers. Once free, you find your Auntie, who teaches you the customs of a falconeer and helps you raise your bird to adulthood – training her to hunt, dig, attack, and most importantly... fist bump.
Upon passing your first test of shutting down a nearby refinery, you are ready to name your bird. I went with Agni, which means 'fire' in the language of old. Better yet, you can give your falcon hats and accessories to make them the best little bird in the world. For the majority of my play through, Agni rocked a sweet bowler hat, a monocle, and a rather dapper bow tie.
It's these simple details that help you bond with your falcon, but more important is the fact that it's never a secondary thought – you need it, and it needs you. When assaulting a base, turret defenses stop you from standing back and sending your falcon in to take targets out one-by-one. Conversely, you need your falcon to expose weak spots on enemies in order to land the killing blow, so it's impossible to go in solo and take over a base single-handed.
Gameplay also reinforces that your falcon is your partner, not your pet and as such has a mind of its own. There were more than a few moments when I was playing that a command for Agni to attack was met with a few moments of nothing, as she took her time to wheel around in the air and make her proper approach. Your falcon doesn't just appear when you need her; she's got things to do of her own. This might get frustrating at times, but it feels incredibly true to the narrative.
Despite the grim settings, there's a nice degree of humour in the actions of your android oppressors that is reminiscent of the Portal series. Similarly, your dialogue choices, while not affecting the outcome of your conversations, does give you some nice agency over your character's tone, and ranges from the dutiful and polite, to rebellious and rude.
Progressing through the game, there are subtle details in how your people have been oppressed that give cause to your fight. From the quality of the air, to the scarcity of food; you have reason to take back your lands. Meanwhile, those that are responsible for your plight are absent or oblivious, having outsourced the task to robots.
Falcon Age can be completed in about four hours, but to rush through a game like this would be a disservice. While the map is relatively small, it's well laid out, and space is cleverly used to make sure each area is distinct. Distinct landmarks keep you from needing your map too often, allowing you to navigate relatively quickly.
Progression through the world is dependent on your falcon's abilities, with landmines halting progress before they can be detected and dug up. As such, unlocking each area feels like a milestone, with new places to explore and enemies to defeat.
The majority of my time with Falcon Age was spent using a standard controller, but I did manage to get my hands on a VR headset, and I'm glad I did. While the exceptional narrative and overall experience is capture just fine using a PlayStation controller, everything is elevated even further in the world of VR.
After putting the headset on, a number of controls made more sense, and it became apparent that the game was developed for VR first and foremost, then adapted to play with a Dualshock controller. The whip attack I struggled with during most of my gameplay made sense, and the cumbersome map and crafting visuals that awkwardly covered my screen now became quick and easy reference points. Even the feeling of having Agni land on my arm translated brilliantly with a soft rumble in my left Move controller.
The story of [Falcon Age] stays true to itself throughout gameplay, coming to a sad but fitting resolution. Whether it allows itself to a sequel is up to the folks at Outerloop Games, but after creating such a rich world and strong gameplay mechanic, it would be a shame not to.