animals go to war • Eurogamer.net
Magician, writer, historian and actor: Ricky Jay, lately gone and much missed, once wrote a book titled Cards as Weapons. The book was as good as its word. Jay was famous for, amongst other things, being able to throw playing cards with such force and accuracy that they could pierce the pachydermous hide of “her majesty the watermelon”. I have seen the book but never read it. It is a glossy paperback affair that goes, as many Jay books go, for silly money on Amazon. The reason I mention it is because cards are weapons. They can be weapons. Lots of things can be weapons.
In Falcon Age, which I have been playing this week, your pet falcon is a weapon. Weapon is probably not quite the right word, and pet is very definitely the wrong word, because in this lovingly imagined culture, by far the best element of this wonderful game, falcons are revered. They are not pets, and they are not quite tools. They are equals. It is a privilege, you come to feel, to have one to hand.
This fundamental respect for the bird, this desire to do right by it despite the fact you can unlock a doodad that allows it to juggle, stops your falcon from ever becoming a mere weapon, or worse, a button press with a cooldown. Falcon Age is a compact open-world affair in which you stick it to awful robotic colonialist/industrialists one act of sabotage and rebellion at a time. You head out with a neat whip-baton thing in one hand and your bird on your other, and you send the bird to attack things, collect things, yank things about and hold them up while you give them a shoeing.
It’s transporting: just having the bird there on your fist makes you think about it on a very emotional level. Pulling spikes out of it after a fight makes you want to do better next time. Seeing it hungry makes you want to learn the rudiments of the cooking system. This is a game about nurturing, about a culture in which nurturing is at the centre of things.
I’m still early on in Falcon Age, but it’s already reminding me of Stranger’s Wrath, another wonderful game with a brilliant, timely, timeless message. And another game in which you run into battle with animals as your weapons. Nothing quite as stately and noble as a falcon for Oddworld. Instead, you have a gaggle of critters and hamsters and gerbils and spiders and bats sat on the end of your crossbow. They all have various effects – the spider wraps people in webbing, if I remember correctly, and a late-game thingy draws enemies together before blowing them apart – but they’re also just a joy to hang out with, a characterful piece of business that adds to the overall lovability of the game and doesn’t even leave you with any residual guilt – because these guys so clearly love their weaponised lot.