EpiXR Games are clearly onto a good thing with their Aery series, as we have the latest installment, only two months after reviewing their last, Aery – A New Frontier. There must be a market for parrot-based relaxing flight sims.
The approach in Aery – Vikings is much the same as Aery – A New Frontier. Rather than glide through a series of different worlds, as outlandish as the last, Aery – Vikings keeps to a single theme, and that theme is of course vikings. Longhalls, longboats and longbeards are very much the order of the day, and they’re all tied together with a single narrative.
If you have played Aery – A New Frontier, some delicate changes have been made. Rather than being dripfed the story with each collectible that you pick up, the narrative has been shunted to the beginning and ending of the level. Personally, it’s a welcome shift: the story didn’t have enough interest to survive being broken up into thirty different chunks every level, and here it can just bookend stuff without getting in the way.
It’s not much of a story anyway, if we’re being brutally honest. It sees the vikings being challenged by their gods to reach Valhalla alive – a journey that no mortal has made to this point. While the vikings try and fail, a clever lad with a bird decides that he’s going to train it to reach Valhalla for him. So, the bird travels over ice rivers, lakes, through mines and up mountains to reach its destination. And that’s it, really.
It’s a front, of course, for some gliding. As with virtually every Aery game so far, you are given an arena and a number of collectible feathers to find. Some Aery games are on the linear side, acting more as a rollercoaster, while others are wildly open, to the point that finding the last feather can be a touch infuriating.
Aery – Vikings is on the open side. Levels are more like arenas, and feathers are occasionally tucked into buildings or mines, offering slightly more challenge than the Aery average. But even with these nobbles, Aery – Vikings is still one of the easiest games to be found on the Xbox. It won’t offer much more than a couple of hours play, and you won’t shift out of first gear as you play it. Which is the point of course: most Aery fans play precisely for that reason. They want a meditative, blissful flight sim, and Aery – Vikings doesn’t buck that trend.
Being a modern Aery, there are some nice quality of life improvements. Feathers really pop out of the environment now. In earlier games, it was difficult to pick out a white feather on a snowy background, but EpiXR Games have adapted and changed the colour of the feather according to the level. A spray of particles erupts out of the top of the feather too, so you can see them from miles away.
Levels, too, aren’t quite as sprawling and confounding as before. While Aery – Vikings is undoubtedly non-linear, there’s no feather to be found in hidden rooms, tucked behind buildings or anything of the like. You can normally form a flight path that strings together all feathers without going backwards or forwards over the same spot.
But while Aery feels better than its older cousins, we still have a shopping list of improvements. A new engine is right at the top. We crashed into walls and stayed lodged within them, hanging there like inappropriate decorations. It happened on three occasions, and Aery still doesn’t have a manual ‘Respawn’ option in its menus to relocate you should it happen. Instead, you’re resetting to the main menu and starting all over again. It’s also too easy to crash into the floor and find yourself auto-respawning in an impossible-to-correct trajectory, slamming into the floor over and over again until, yep, you have to reset to the main menu.
Graphical issues remain a problem. Plants and trees simply aren’t loading properly on some levels. They’re blindingly white placeholders that clearly weren’t updated in time. And pop-in is ridiculous, with one level in particular – a lake with towers circling it – being a bit of an abomination. The various floors of the tower are visible through the walls, and those walls only blip into existence when you are incredibly close.
And, as is becoming tradition with an Aery release, it’s impossible to get the full Gamerscore. The last level’s achievement doesn’t – as of yet – pop, so we will have to wait for a patch to address it. It feels harsh to shine a light on a relatively mundane issue, but it’s happening with every Aery release. A series with this many games shouldn’t be making so many fundamental errors.
Being a devil’s advocate, though, the joys of an Aery game are still present here. Some weirdnesses aside (jamming up and down on the analogue stick causes your bird to do some rather unnatural maneuvers), the controls are great, and you can approach an obstacle course as you’d like. Are you the kind of Aery player who likes to pootle about at height, taking the scenery in? Or are you more like an avian Maverick, sticking to the floor like a thrillseeker and dodging in and out of buildings? The choice is very much yours.
And while there’s not a sensational amount of variety in the levels (the last two levels do a cheeky retread of the first two levels), they are still pretty in a polygonal, simplistic manner. A mine level and a frozen river, in particular, shine, and are a world away from the dark and monotonous science-fiction shapes of Aery – A New Frontier. When combined with the laid-back play, it can make Aery – Vikings one of the most enjoyable of all screensavers.
Aery – Vikings glides pretty close to all the Aery games that have come before it. It is as serene and welcoming as its flight-sim forebears, but also as glitchy. There’s plenty of room for the Aery series to improve, but there’s something appropriate about the lazy, laid-back manner in which it’s doing so, one game at a time. If that sounds like a test of patience, then you will probably want to give Aery – Vikings a wide berth.
You can buy Aery – Vikings from the Xbox Store