Innovation in the gaming industry often comes in incremental steps with new titles taking elements from their successful peers before adding their own distinct flavor. Windfolk: Sky is just the beginning, an action-adventure game developed by Spanish Indie developer Fractal Fall, is no different with a formula that looks like ‘Flying X Fortnite‘.
The game’s opening attempts to separate itself from the expectations its borrowed Fortnite-inspired aesthetic creates, introducing its flight system via a tutorial and has you wondering, if just for a second, whether you’ve stumbled upon a hidden gem.
As Esen, a soldier in the rebel force, you battle an evil alliance who wishes to take over the world with destructive weapons made from trydian, a priceless natural resource that the world’s population uses for energy, while also taking revenge on the enemy who kidnapped you.
As a huge fan of games with the ability to fly, the idea of jetting off in a beautiful cartoon graphics-infused adventure in the sky is very appealing. Doing this well is easier said than done, however, with many games failing to convey a proper sense of speed and thrill of sailing through the air, but Windfolk succeeds in both with fast, smooth and intuitive movements. Unfortunately, this initial excitement proved to be short-lived, as the second part of the gameplay – the shooting action – changes the experience entirely and feels like a developer stretching beyond their capabilities.
These gunplay scenes restrict the size of the battlefield and populate it with poorly animated enemies with minimal sound effects and feedback during battle, making it feel like you are at a police target range with paper targets moving side to side. The enemies have a lock-on feature that you need to dodge, but with 2 of your 3 available weapons having an overly generous ‘homing’ ability, maneuvering mid-air feels relatively static and is highly unsatisfying. So large is the contrast in quality to the flight gameplay and the effect on the overall experience that you’ll wonder if the gunplay’s inclusion was even necessary.
Like a parent being disappointed in their child for not achieving the potential that they know he/she is capable of, this monotonous and below-average element is impossible to ignore not only due to the quality of the product elsewhere but because the majority of the action consists of it. It truly gives you the impression that the game’s great concept became victim to a looming deadline and was rushed out the door.
The story mode, for example, is fully voiced and has some nice interactions between characters overlayed on top of the action, but its cutscenes barely justify their inclusion with minimal animation and camera movement. Bugs that include preventing half a level of enemies and a boss from landing any damage whatsoever (ironically this is done intentionally later on) as well as trophies activating for unrelated activities also furthers this theory.
Even the flight system doesn’t escape this shoddy submission with a time-trial course mode that incomprehensibly changes the boost button mechanism for no good reason, making the quick and easy maneuvering awkward and imprecise, and in one motion ruining one of the game’s best features.
An extra mode offers you the chance to replay the challenges included in the story and is presumably meant to add longevity to the title, but their existing issues make neither particularly appetizing. A free roam mode for collectibles would have focused more on the game’s greatest strength, but the only way to enjoy that currently is while gritting your teeth through the action sequences of the 3-4 hour campaign mode.
Windfolk is an ambitious title that unfortunately buckles under its inconsistent gameplay, and leaves it in a rather precarious position. Its formula is far from irredeemable with a story, visuals, and flight physics a good foundation for future projects, but will this inconsistent offering provide enough of a windfall for its developer to potentially develop a sequel? While I hope that Windfolk: Sky is just the beginning truly is the start of something more, I, unfortunately, can’t bring myself to recommend this pie in the sky title to anyone other than fellow flight game fans and PlayStation trophy hunters – if they can trigger the achievements that is.