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GDC: ‘Eagle Flight’ Impressions

Nearly all of us have dreamt of flying at some point in our lives. Not the nightmare that is modern day air travel, but rather actual, physical flight: the feeling of soaring through the air, wind in your face, with the world and its problems far, far below. For Eagle Flight VR Game Director Olivier Palmieri, this is a frequently recurring dream. Palmieri shared that nearly one-fourth of his dreams are about flying in some way, but in those dreams it never lasts more than a few seconds at a time. So naturally when he learned of VR, one of the first things he wanted to do was create a game that made those dreams a (virtual) reality, and allowed as many people as possible to experience flight for as long as they wished.

With the upcoming game, Eagle Flight, Palmieri and team may have accomplished exactly that. In the game, the player takes control of an eagle soaring over the streets of a future Paris, devoid of human life and reclaimed by nature. You can’t help but be impressed by your surroundings when you dive into the canals of the Seine, duck under a bridge, and pull up for a view of the city, the Eiffel tower beckoning from the distance for you to come explore.

Eagle-Flight-VR-Soaring-Over-Paris

How to Play Eagle Flight

Eagle Flight‘s controls are simple, yet perfectly suited for the experience. You merely look in the direction you want to travel, and tilt your head to the left or right to bank, which enables you to pull off sharp turns and more advanced maneuvers. Other controls for speed and attack are mapped to the gamepad controller (in the case of this particular Oculus demo at GDC, an Xbox One controller).

If anything, I wished there were more advanced control options on the gamepad for pulling off things like barrel rolls, loops, or 180 degree quick turns. Hopefully, these will be present in the full version of the game, as Palmieri did inform me there were advanced controls they were not showing in the demo. As it was, the intuitive headset controls allowed me to easily navigate the twists and turns of the abandoned Parisian streets and alleyways, occasionally dodging environmental obstacles or my multiplayer opponents.

About the Game

One of the things I have come to realize after so many VR demos is that the majority of VR “games” so far don’t actually have a lot of game there. They are more like novelty experiences or tech demos that show off the systems. Many don’t have interactive elements to speak of, other than looking around 3D environments.

This isn’t the case with Eagle Flight. In addition to its Free Flight mode — which even non-gamers will get the hang up very quickly in order to experience the feeling of flying — it also includes full single and multiplayer modes for those seeking a more robust experience.

In the single-player mode, players can explore and conquer all of Paris through a variety of events and activities strewn throughout the city. According to Palmieri, there will be several hours’ worth of content to work your way through. The recent Ubisoft model of a minimap full of icons and side quests that slowly unlock more of the map à la Assassin’s Creed or Far Cry comes to mind.

What I Played

In the demo, I raced through a series of rings in order to get the best time to earn 3 out of 3 stars. Even though I thought I was doing extremely well, and made no mistakes which would have hurt my time, I still only received two stars. Palmieri mentioned that the game would encourage masters to try and go back and get the best score in each activity.

The multiplayer mode on display was a 3-on-3 capture the flag mode. Players had to retrieve bait and bring it back to their home base. All the while they must dodge enemy fire. The only weapon available to you is a piercing eagle cry that shoots out in a narrow ring. It can actually be quite difficult to hit an opponent from a distance, as the ring isn’t very fast, and takes a few seconds to recharge. However, in target-rich environments such as around the bait, this isn’t an issue.

What I Thought

In its current form, the combat can definitely be frustrating at times. While the screen should blink red if you are under fire, several times during the match my screen went black and my opponents shot me down without any warning. When I did manage to retrieve the bait, it was a frantic race to lower ground, where there was more cover and obstacles to try and avoid my opponents. These moments are exhilarating to be sure, but hopefully a few UX changes occur before the game’s official release to reduce the number of deaths that come out of nowhere, and at least give you a chance to take evasive action.

Before work ever began on Eagle Flight, Palmieri and the team at Ubisoft did research for several months on the best use of VR in terms of accessibility, precision, and comfort. Their work paid off, as anybody with unrestricted use of their neck can experience the sensation of flying with tight, precise controls.

They also manage to avoid the motion sickness that can sometimes occur from VR games utilizing a great deal of movement or speed. By strategically blacking out certain parts of the player’s peripheral vision, they reduce the amount of perceived movement. Another subtle trick employed by the developers is to use the eagle’s beak as an on-screen focal point that grounds the player.

The game itself is extremely comfortable to play and control, and according to Palmieri “There is no real limit in terms of duration of play.” In fact, the only limiting factor on the length of your sessions may be your comfort level wearing the VR headset itself. With that in mind, Ubisoft has designed Eagle Flight so that your play sessions can be as short or as long as you choose. Most single-player activities will only take a few minutes to complete, and multiplayer matches last five minutes.

Eagle Flight is shaping up to be one of the most complete game experiences coming to VR platforms this year, and is something to keep an eye on (Insert bad eagle eye joke here). The game arrives on Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR sometime in 2016.

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