Team 17 are back, and with a game that’s not Worms. Well, nearly… it does feature the sheep from their well known, and brilliant, 2D-turn-based-vermis-combat-strategy-sim (there’s a gaming genre for you), and substitutes them in place of Lemmings, having figured that no other game has tried to fill those shoes for quite some time. Inevitably you’re going to say this is nothing but a re-skinned version of the classic Amiga game, and you’re right, though should that mean we get the flock out of here?
Flockers is all about shepherding your sheep through increasingly tricky and delightfully sadistic environments, so that they can escape the factory they’ve been held in before being sent out to war. You guessed it, these are the sheep that get dropped into the worms battlefield in weapons crates, ready to be flung at the enemy; and they’re not wanting any part of it. The introduction of the main players in this puzzle game sets up what to expect throughout your playtime – they’re going to be awkward to direct and get killed a lot. And that’s a lot of the fun.
Assuming that you’re not familiar with Lemmings (after all it has been a few years since it was released), here’s how Flockers works:
- Sheep are released from containment at the beginning of the level, they’ll wander in one direction until they hit a barrier or fall to their death.
- You have a time limit to complete the level in.
- You can direct the sheep by giving them abilities that will either stop them in their tracks, or cause them to bypass obstacles.
- You can pause time to view the environment and come up with a strategy, or fast forward if you want them to speed up.
- Abilities can be limited, so choose how and where you use them wisely!
- Guide all the sheep to the exit and get as many of the little flockers through it as you can.
- Points are awarded for number of Flossie’s saved, how long you took and whether any bonus items were grabbed on the way.
Simple. Watch the video below and you’ll see how straightforward it is… not.
The challenge in Flockers is managing the resources to make the sheep behave how you want. Control, if there is such a word that can be applied here, comes in the form of stacking, jumping, flying, and exploding. Stacking is the art of balancing one sheep on top on another, with the cursor being used to plan where your formation will go, meaning that when the sheep arrive they fill the empty slots and remain in place. You can create stairs this way enabling the flock to reach higher levels, or stack two directly on one another to block progress. Releasing them is a matter of selecting the icon and clicking on the sheep, made all the easier by being able to make the cursor radius bigger and multi-selecting the animals. Adding a bobble hat to the sheep turns them into woolly jumpers, and a cape makes them super-sheep, which means they can fly up vertical walls. Picking a poor lamb to explode gives it a 3 second countdown so it can be used to destroy obstacles,or even launch its comrades to new areas.
The puzzle element here is about right, with the learning curve being nicely gradual rather than a tutorial handholding moving onto to an insanely convoluted second level. Things don’t stay simple for long, and soon teleporters, gravity inverters and multiple start points crop up meaning more than one flock to deal with that can end up at any point on the screen, and in any position. Keeping an eye on all the action means regular use of pause and viewing the level as both a whole and up close. The zoom function is spot on, being very like the more recent Worms titles, and lets you view the dangers at whatever range your happy with, and you’ll need to be keeping a close watch on them. The first level in particular makes sure you know that you’ll be sacrificing sheep as you work your way through the 60 core challenges on offer. At times the game becomes a bit of an ovine death simulator, and you begin to wonder if working in an abattoir is like this. Wool and blood fly as the docile creatures walk blindly into circular saws, into the path of pendulum blades, under giant weights, and get impaled on spikes. There’s a cartoon gruesomeness to the design that has it firmly on the disturbing side, but this inspires you to try and save each sheep, and recognition that you can’t save every one all the time comes fairly early on.
Your reward for completing the level is a score on the global leaderboard, a number of stars, and access to more levels along the path to freedom. Completing certain in-game achievements, like buzz-sawing 500 sheep, will open up new outfits, costumes and blood colours so that you can switch up the look and feel of them when you want, and give a fresh take on the levels you’re playing. There are imprisoned sheep to rescue along the way, each requiring some extra brain power and tricksy use of the abilities to reach them and still finish the level, and a compulsion to collect everything possible could mean these are the real draw for replaying the levels outside beating your friends scores. Bonus levels are opened up by picking up the icons in specific stages, and there are even boss “fights” to play through where you face off against Worms in machinery!
Overall, Flockers is a cracking puzzle game that doesn’t do anything to hide its influence from Lemmings. There are loads of examples of games cloning each other out there, just look at the mobile app stores, but Flockers takes what was already done well, and adds its own style, humour and a high level of polish. Things can get hectic and difficult, though quick reload times and consistent game physics reactions reduce frustration to a minimum. If you fail it’s because your wits haven’t been sharp or quick enough, and whilst you’ll be severely challenged at times, the solution is never that far away. You definitely aren’t like a lamb to the slaughter.
A copy of Flockers for PlayStation 4 was provided by Team 17 Digital Ltd for the purposes of this review. Flockers will be released on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on the 17th September in Europe, though it has been on early access on Steam for a few months, much the same as The Escapists is at this point in time.