Falcon Age is about more than the bond between you and your (adorable) bird. It's about reclaiming your culture, and it's a story told beautifully.
Animal-lovers know what it's like to have a special bond with a furry (or feathered) friend. Whether they own a Chihuahua or a Furby, they build a connection to this creature, one that transcends the boundaries of language. In far rarer cases, the friendship goes even further, seeing the animal and human work as one; two sides of the same spirit. Instances of this may be purely fictional, but they're the kind of bond that is explored in Falcon Age, one that connects the player to their falcon, and through that fosters an understanding of culture and history.
There are countless games that feature animal companions. There's Rush from Mega Man, Epona from Ocarina of Time, and of course the Pokemon from Pokemon. But while the idea of having a virtual "pet" is nothing new, Falcon Age goes much further to acknowledging the truth of the bond between player and creature. It's not just about watching your Pokemon fight while you sit back and collect Gym Badges, or riding your horse and feeding them occasionally. Your falcon is a wild animal, and the creed of "Falcon Hunter" is an ancient tradition of your people.
Falcon Age is a first-person adventure game (in optional VR) where the player takes on the role of Ara. She's a young girl with a lot to prove to her Aunt, her people, and herself. After bonding with a baby falcon in prison, they hatch (pun-intended) an escape plan and journey out into the barren land of their world. With the guidance of other members of the Resistance, Ara will reclaim her people's land from the oppressive robot government and discover more about the traditions that have been destroyed.
One of these traditions, of course, is that of the Falcon Hunter. With the special bond Ara formed with the baby bird, she will hone her skills and train to become the very best (that no one ever was... etc.). As it is made for VR and the basic PS4 set up, thankfully the game controls excellently and the camera movement can be modified to achieve the perfect look for any specs. The gameplay in Falcon Age is very simple. With the click of a button, players can send their falcon to attack different key points like robot enemies or rabbits to hunt. Players can also whistle for their bird to land on their hand where a number of actions can take place. They can feed them with crafted food, equip different items, or pet them.
This cannot be stressed enough: petting them is the most adorable thing, and players are recommended to do it often. There's a practical reason of course, as petting your falcon can heal them if they have been damaged from fighting robots. But even if they are at full health, it's hard to resist wanting to give them a fist bump, do the thing where you make a heart with your hands and they put their head through, and more! This may seem like an odd mechanic to harp on, but for a game about the bond between friends across species' boundaries, it's vital (and cute).
Falcon Age involves more than just telling your falcon to do things; you have work to do as well. Ara must navigate the land, completing relatively basic objectives to help the growing resistance. The map isn't gigantic, but it feels big enough for the short campaign and is filled with a ton of beautiful imagery in a unique artistic style. Most of the missions involve using Ara's handy whip/baton to defeat batches of enemies, while guiding her falcon to assist in the skies. The way the game makes the combo of Ara's attacks necessary with the falcons in order for neither to get hurt is wonderfully done. The combat is never challenging (the game even offers "Imprint Mode" where combat is optional) but it still remains satisfying.
The game also does a great job of breaking up the (occasionally) monotonous hack-n-slash with fun side quests and mini-games. There's hunting of course, which isn't super "involved," though it is always fun to watch your falcon dive from the heavens on to her prey. Falcon Age also has a kid-friendly crafting system, where meat collected from hunting is processed in a blender to make edible pellets for your bird bud. There are a bunch of different recipes, and plenty of open areas to explore to find the next meal. There's also a very goofy futuristic "golf" game involving the Ara's whip, where the ball is knocked towards the hole using the momentum of the swing.
But Falcon Age wouldn't be complete without the ability to change your falcon's outfit. Players can give her plenty of different hats, including one that makes her look like a chick again even when she is all grown up. Upgrades can also be made like the addition of sonar and armor, to give players an edge up in their fights. As Auntie says early on in the game, "it's not about you." The story is about the bond you create with your falcon, so it's understandable that they get all the accessories.
Though Falcon Age embraces the friendship of human and animal in a way few games have done (The Last Guardian comes to mind as this game's equal), that's not all that sets it apart. Through all the bonding the player does with their bird, they also grow closer to the culture their world abandoned. There's a powerful moment in the game where Ara admits her name was shortened by the government because the robots couldn't pronounce it correctly. Her Aunt replies "because they weren't built by people who cared." These indigenous peoples whose land and traditions were stolen from them lead a triumphant narrative of self-discovery and technological impact. In the end, players will have made an adorable bird friend, but the bond with a forgotten culture is even more memorable.
Falcon Age is out now on PS4 and PSVR for $19.99. Screen Rant was provided with a digital PS4 copy for the purposes of this review.