How VR turned me into the eagle from Assassin's Creed

You know the eagle that conveniently flaps away whenever you clamber to the top of a viewpoint in Assassin's Creed? That's me. Except I'm not perched on some church in the middle of Florence - I'm soaring over the buildings of Paris, zipping in and out of the (weirdly deserted) streets, and ducking under the bridges that punctuate the river Seine. No, I haven't lost my mind or chugged too much absinthe - I'm playing a rather unique and exciting VR tech demo: Eagle Flight VR. 

It's a weird concept, for sure. Strapping on an Oculus Rift headset, I'm immediately immersed in a visually basic version of the Paris built for Assassin's Creed Unity. I'm told that all I have to do to move is tilt my head... and with that, I'm soaring through the air. I basically fly where I'm looking, so as I glance right I lurch in that direction until I straighten my head again. It's disorientating at first, but after a few minutes I've got the hang of it. 

The sensation of speed and freedom is incredible. It's as close to actually being able to fly as anyone this side of Icarus will ever get, and there's no danger of the sun melting my wings. Pretty soon I'm making daring swoops down to street level and jerking my head to the side as I zip around the city streets, essentially 'canyon running' the Champs Elysees before suddenly ascending into the air, watching the city disappear beneath me. It's smooth, natural, effortless. 

After a few minutes messing around, the guys from Ubisoft tell me that it’s time to play a game of Capture the Flag, and I'm joined by three other players. We're split into teams of two, each person appearing as an actual eagle as I look at them. The objective is simple - descend to the streets, pick up the flag by flying into it, and bring it back to our 'base' - first to three wins. The twist now, however, is that each player has a 'sonic blast' which incapacitates another player if struck. 

On a signal from the developers, we swoop towards the first flag. There's a new urgency to flight now, and not only do head movements steer me, but I'm also looking out for foes who are careening through the same city, desperate to snag the flag or take me down. While I've played CTF hundreds of times before, this feels new and utterly thrilling, despite its relative simplicity. There's an unrivalled sense of freedom and control that standard games simply can't replicate. 

The first flag goes to my opponents. I'm taken out as I swoop down for the flag, and can't get across the map quick enough to stop their flag carrier. The second flag too, after a bit of a tussle, goes to my opponents. However, the comeback is on - I quickly dart for the third flag, capture it, and stay low, dodging the buildings and shaking off my pursuers to make the score 2-1. The fourth flag is taken by my buddy, and I sonic blast one of his pursuers to allow him the capture. We're all level. 

Back in the real world, we must look bizarre - like Stevie Wonder in the middle of a particularly fierce piano solo - four humans wearing bulky head-gear, furiously jerking their heads around. Doesn't matter - it's down to the final flag in our virtual world and this matters. One of the opposition has snagged it from the centre of the map, and he's closing in on his base. I blast him and steal the flag, rapidly descending to street level. I know I'm being pursued, but I can't look back. I'm so close to my capture point - to delicious victory - and I hear my teammate laugh. He's wiped out my pursuer, leaving me a clear run to the base. 

It's one of the most tense, immersive, and utterly thrilling multiplayer experiences of my life. And yet it's just a simple VR demo, designed to show off the potential of head-control. If something this basic, which doubles down on the ability to 'make you fly' is any indication... it's just another reason why £350/$400 for PlayStation VR (or the VR headset of your choice) could be the best £350/$400 you've ever spent. 

Andy Hartup