I’ve been eager to get back to The Falconeer since I first played it in the early days of lockdown. All through the last 180-odd days, while I’ve been risking a walk to Tescos, Skyping family and staring out the window, I’ve found myself thinking of The Falconeer’s one-man whirlwind Tomas Sala, who has presumably been spending his days bringing an uncommonly rich fantasy game to life.
Now I have a new build, and I look at the boiling ocean riding perilously high against the game’s rocky landmasses, the citadels and shanties of this strange and luxuriously imagined world, and it’s almost too much. Campaigns, customs, several entire cultures are scattered into the pot here, all of them bringing a real sense of consequence to this aerial dog-fighter, a real suggestion that everything in here is so deeply felt it’s almost tangible, it’s almost ready to exist without the game.
I’ll admit it’s almost short-circuited me. It’s like discovering an entire civilisation has been ticking along in the living room carpet all these years – so many rituals and tragedies and epochs. So I’ve become a bit blinkered. I’ve focused in on the thing I can get my head around, the beautiful living spark at the heart of this remarkable game.
In the Falconeer you ride around on a bird. Fine. But to type that is not to understand it. And to understand it you need at least an hour of the game behind you. In the Falconeer you are not the bird, but you are in control of it. The game makes all of this luminously clear by the way the pad inputs translate into what happens on the screen and the way the bird’s abilities interlock with the world.
Let me try again: this is the birdiest game I have ever played. The falcon is no reskinned jet-fighter. Everything in the game is channeled through the bird. So to take on energy for special moves, you dive towards the water. The dash is not some video game confection – at first I wasn’t sure it was even working – but the dash that a large bird can muster by just moving its wings a bit faster.
It continues. If you want to roll, you dash while turning. If you want to charge your electrical weapons you fly into a thunderstorm and harvest the lightning, but you have to watch out, too, to ensure that you don’t burn your beast’s feathers up there in the rattling clouds. The lock-on seems to capture the briskness of the raptor eye. To drop bombs you have to first dive into the waves and grab floating mines that you then carry in your bird’s talons. The bird is simulated, it feels. Nothing in the game is allowed to break the spell, or damage the fiction of being involved with something wild and wilful and supremely powerful.
I will play more, I know it, working my way through the campaign and shuttling between one precarious culture and the next, uncovering the story of the world, rescuing history from the depths. But for now it is enough to pick a point on the horizon and head for it, wings beating beneath me, and a sense, not necessarily of power well mastered, but of clinging on as hard as I can.