In the build up to The Falconeer, I was getting crossed wires whether this was a big release or an indie title with good publicity. It’s probably more of the latter, but this isn’t the first time the game encourages sitting on the fence.
With the actual build-up to The Falconeer gameplay, we’re continually reminded that this is a game by Tomas Sala – does gaming auteurism exist? Sure. This could be quite an undertaking for one person to write the theme tune, sing the theme tune, etc. but Wired Productions are here on publishing duties.
But after the brief fanfare of introductions to the lore of The Great Ursee, and the others involved in the game, it appears that aside from the story elements, there’s not much to distinguish this from any other aerial combat game. Or is there?
The Falconeer PC Review
With the various factions and struggle for geographic dominance, The Falconeer is a blend of Game of Thrones and Waterworld. For the first comparison, it’s the alliances and house names and ‘anyone rough around the edges must be represented by a Northern accent’. Come on…
As for Waterworld, it’s that marvel of looking out at the horizon. But deep down, there’s probably more going on under the surface than on top of it.
So here’s that division: The Falconeer has some truly spectacular landscape visuals, notably the sea which is an important character as much as any other, but I really didn’t care for the characters. They looked a bit last-minute. Not that they were unfinished, but they lacked personality, and the only real differences were whether they had a beard and what length it was.
Personal preferences aside, flight is vital in a game where you ride a gigantic war machine, that is, an oversized bird. Flight mostly feels very fluid, and once you get accustomed to the marking and locking system, it’s a vast improvement than looking around aimlessly for assailants.
Birds of Prey
How to split your audience #22: the combat. I don’t mind flight-based games, but I don’t seek them out. The last in-depth flight sim I played was probably on the Amiga, so it’s not my genre. Equally, if a game is touted as arcade-like controls, then I expect that.
With The Falconeer, I didn’t have any expectations. Other than the background information leading up to its launch and knowing full well you fly a giant bird, I didn’t know enough, so I wasn’t prepared to be disappointed. From that little disclaimer, I have to say I enjoyed the combat but can see how many will find it lacklustre.
While you can upgrade your bird with better weaponry and abilities, not that much changes and the same pattern follows of doing a barrel roll to dodge incoming missiles, locking on and shooting ahead of an enemies flight path, and every so often, diving to generate enough energy to do evasive bursts or when in pursuit.
After the first few missions, you won’t see that much change in terms of gameplay, and instead, the story will often carry it. The Falconeer missions are mostly the same, and if you don’t enjoy the flight aspect or combat, you might want to reconsider it.
Take Flight, Just Don’t Land
Luckily for me, I enjoyed it. The crisp graphics (the scenery), were mesmerising and the colours and clarity reminded me a little bit of Timelie – an elegant simplicity where designs weren’t over-complicated. I can’t give the same praise on the human characters though and wasn’t a fan.
Flight and controls are straightforward, but you do need a controller for The Falconeer. I tried the mouse, but it simply didn’t work. Switching over made an immediate impact, and the response was tight, and as raw as combat was, it was satisfying.
Because the stage for the game is over the sea, moving from location to location can seem pretty uneventful as there’s nothing to view other than the ocean, cumulonimbus patterns and the odd archipelago. Again, I lapped this up, and some of the gravity-defying locations with waterfalls were beautiful, but for those lacking a little patience, it may seem a bit sleepy.
The Falconeer is a gorgeous game, it really is, and when you turn off the UI, it’s even better. However, despite the simplicity, there were a few difficulties when manoeuvring, and one issue I had early on was landing. It wasn’t in the tutorial nor the key binding, and I had no idea how to do it.
An on-screen indicator looked like I needed to dive and then pull up to land, and this was the problem. The solution? Press the A button on the controller. This eventually showed up some five or six minutes after repeatedly trying to land and about to exit the game. If it said this at the beginning, I would have been happier – more so if the landing animation wasn’t so conflicting. A trivial critique but incredibly frustrating at the time.
Come See The Ursee
Some of these flight-based games are perfect for embracing beautiful locations, having a sense of freedom and almost mimicking a bird yourself. Without the squawks. While flawed, I enjoyed the likes of games such as Iron Wings when you could lock on to a target and view everything around you at a leisurely pace.
You can do the same in The Falconeer, but there’s less to see, and again, it will bore a lot of people. But like I’ve reiterated, the scenery is stunning, and you can almost catch that cold sea air as you dive around the docks and ascend towards the lighting clouds to recharge.
Though it’s a visual treat, you still want to be able to have a decent gaming experience; otherwise, you could just watch a film for the same eye candy, but lack of interaction. Ignoring the simplicity (which I find a strength here), the combat and flight are gratifying but does snuggle up the path of repetition quite quickly.
However, if you want escapism with a bit of dynamic combat and explore the gorgeous, albeit restrictive land of Ursee, then I suggest you watch a couple of gameplay videos for an idea, as the game is mostly unchanged throughout. What is refreshing, however, is the images you often see aren’t modified to show post-edited gameplay screenshots – they’re that sharp, and from my mid-range(?) setup, it ran flawlessly at the highest settings.