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Aery – Cyber City Review

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I’m in the fifth stage of Aery. There may be more. The first stage was Curiosity, as I couldn’t figure out how this bird-centred series could be so long-running. Then it was Relaxed as I played a couple and immediately keyed into the laid back pace. Then it was Bemused as, after each release, I got a sense of deja vu that I had played levels before. Finally it was Boredom as, yep, I was definitely playing levels I had played before, and Anger – where I am now – at the audacity of releasing the same game every month.

The Aery games aren’t going to stop, so – as someone who has played them all – I should probably take a holiday from them. If they’re not going to have a break, perhaps I should, for my own sanity. But the completionist in me can’t stop. I’ve got to play them all, angry or not.

Aery Cyber City review 1
A neon hit for Aery?

First impressions were good. Aery – Cyber City is the same bird-soaring simulator as all the other games (it was never going to change that much), but the first levels felt new. Taking inspiration from Cyberpunk 2077, it explores a neuromantic city at various levels of zoom. We would be gliding through industrial warehouses and then on to Casino City-like landscapes, feeling like a flying taxi in Blade Runner. We’ve been to plenty of futuristic cities in Aery, but not quite so neon, and not quite so thick with detail.

While the art is still reasonably rough and polygonal, there’s just so much richness in each scene that it starts coming together effectively. CD Projekt Red won’t lose any sleep, but for an indie title that’s south of a tenner, it’s well done.

We can’t be one-hundred percent certain, but we think something dramatic has changed on the engine side, too. Aery often has some of the worst pop-in in gaming, as entire mountainsides can appear and punch you in the face mid-swoop. But we barely noticed any pop-in at all. That’s partially down to the smog, darkness and chromatic aberration that’s sneakily applied, but we think there’s something under the hood, too. The odd space level even manages to feel sprawling.

And then there’s a complete lack of bugs. We think that makes two Aery releases in a row where we were able to reach the end of the game. Praise the parrot! It shouldn’t need celebrating, but we’ve been frustrated by Aery so often in the past that we can’t help but raise a glass to it.

Aery Cyber City review 2
Wat dis? New Aery levels?

Which is all rather positive. It would be a sign of potential improvement, a sense that Aery might be turning a corner, if Aery – Cyber City didn’t regress in a different category. Because Aery – Cyber City is an enemy of fun. It’s forgotten old rules, things it has learned over the past bazillion entries, and is poorer for it.

Aery, if you’re not familiar, wants you to glide a bird around an environment in search of feathers. As one feather is found, the next in the chain appears, and you’re meant to follow them in succession until the final one is gathered. It’s a cozy experience that barely strays into thought. You can entirely switch off and bumble from collectible to collectible.

Except Aery – Cyber City doesn’t let you switch off. Rather than leave a trail of breadcrumbs, like an aerial Hansel and Gretel, it throws the breadcrumbs into the air and lets them fall where they may. Collect a feather and the next appears, but it could be anywhere. It doesn’t appear somewhere within your viewpoint: it could be sharply up, down or even behind you. Often, that means backtracking to old areas over and over again.

It’s perfectly possible to find a feather in Aery – Cyber City, sigh, and then perform a full 360 in the search for the next one. And then, because it’s a 3D space, you dip your nose and raise it to see if it’s above or below. Then you swoop around in the hope that a twinkly feather will appear on a distant horizon. At least four or five times in a level, we would head in a direction merely out of hope.

Aery Cyber City review 4
You’ll need to hunt for those feathers

There’s one feather in particular that had us cursing the devs. Feather 23 on level 5 required us to head through a Stargate-like ring for five whole minutes, through yet another Stargate ring, and then – just as we were about to give up and head the other way – the feather appeared. When Aery is so slow and painful to backtrack, this approach of keeping feathers distant from each other is less than helpful. It’s an approach we thought Aery had long ditched.

The effect is that a laid back game stops being laid back. We were constantly sulking and crabbing at Aery – Cyber City, as we couldn’t get comfortable because yet another feather was a couple of miles from the last one. It’s like being laid down for a massage, relaxing the muscles, only to be jabbed in the ribs at random intervals. You can’t relax when there’s the threat of frustration at every corner.

Aery – Cyber City became something of a mixed bag. We appreciated the art and tech improvements, flying around without the nagging sensation that we had been there before. That’s new. We don’t take that for granted at all. Aside from a completely unclear last level (you can have too much chromatic aberration, EpiXR) this has a much higher percentage of new, readable and even attractive levels.

Aery Cyber City review 3
The least enjoyable of all the Aery games?

If only we could have appreciated them without being royally peeved. Flying from feather to feather just isn’t fun or relaxed when those feathers seem placed at random. In pure gameplay terms, we think Aery – Cyber City might be the least enjoyable of all Aery games. 

Which leads to the inevitable question: when you’ve released dozens of Aery games, how can the latest one be arguably the least enjoyable? That’s a special kind of achievement.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Gliding around can be relaxing
  • Engine seems to have had an overhaul
  • Plenty of new levels
Cons:
  • Feathers are poorly placed
  • Random collectibles make things less relaxing
  • Incomprehensible last level
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, TXH
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One (review)
  • Release date and price - 26 April 2024 | £8.39
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Gliding around can be relaxing</li> <li>Engine seems to have had an overhaul</li> <li>Plenty of new levels</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Feathers are poorly placed</li> <li>Random collectibles make things less relaxing</li> <li>Incomprehensible last level</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, TXH</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One (review) <li>Release date and price - 26 April 2024 | £8.39</li> </ul>Aery - Cyber City Review
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