Did you ever play Lemmings? The classic A to B puzzle game were you were supposed to guide a crowd of small, green chaps through levels and past obstacles? The goal was to get as many of them out safely, sometimes leaving a few brave lemmings behind for the greater good.
Team 17's new game Flockers is very much like that ... only a lot darker, more lethal and more twisted. The story is quite simple; you're trying to help a group of sheep escape to safety. This, however, is easier said than done when the different levels are maze after maze packed with deadly traps — it's all set up for you to fail. Imagine an amped version of Lemmings with a quirky, grotesque, almost Tim Burton-esque appearance, topped with the dark humour that's become the trademark of the Worms game series.
Once your sheep have spawned, they will not stop moving, despite the road ahead being full of buzzing saws, spikes and numerous other pitfalls. Your job is to get them all around these traps. The only thing you can do though, is to plan ahead and time your actions. Your actions in this case is to bestow different abilities upon your sheep, or give them tasks.
Whereas in Lemmings you had to choose what abilities you'd think would be useful from level to level and add them to your hand, in Flockers that's already taken care of for you. You basically only have a restricted amount of actions that you can use in order to help your flock and these don't change. When starting a level, don't be surprised if you start out empty-handed, though. The powerups are unlocked as you progress through the levels and bump into colourful crates. These crates contain the abilities needed for at least some of your sheep to pull through — the ability to jump, fly or explode or build sheep pyramids in order to reach higher grounds or to block a path. All levels are designed so that these are all you need, if you use the environment and its perks to your advantage. You'll know which sheep has which ability by looking at their accessories.
The poor sheep will suffer immense violence and most of the times there's nothing, or at least very little, you can do to prevent it. The sooner you give in to the fact that you won't be able to save them all, the better — there's a reason why you in the beginning will be able to clear a level by simply saving one single sheep out of a group of 30 or 40. Admittedly, the ultra-violence is slightly sensational and funny at first, but hearing sheep scream as they're crushed or split in two gets old when you're playing many levels back to back; it become gimmicky and superficial.
You can tell Flockers developed with PC in mind first and foremost — the controls haven't been particularly well translated to console, sadly. For example: the game uses a cursor function to deploy powerups and this cursor is controlled by the left stick, while the camera is controlled by the right. Sounds easy enough. The thing is though, that it's too easy to lose your cursor and therefore not place your pyramid order in time to stop your herd from running over an edge or into the buzzsaw you just spotted, sometimes causing infuriating moments. The controls make the game feel a little bit on the cheap side, when all is said and done.
Graphically, this game would probably fit better on last-gen consoles. There's nothing really wrong with how the game looks, but it's also clearly a little below par. Animations can feel a bit plastic, and whether or not this is a concious decision from the developers, is something to speculate about. But it's something that also makes the game feel, once again, a little bit on the cheap side of things. Games don't have to be expensive of course, but in this case the general feel is of a more time-killing vibe than anything; like a game you pick up and play some levels on when you have a little bit of spare time, in the same fashion as you would with a mobile game.
Another thing that's slightly baffling is the mapped-out landscape you'll see only if you exit after having finished a level, or if you're going back to a saved game. If you choose to move on to the next level directly, you only get a loading screen rather than the progress map. The sense of progression is kind of lost by doing this. If you could see your sheep moving forward on a board (that obviously already exists but just isn't being shown) it would be much clearer that you're actually going somewhere, how far you've come, and how far you've got left to go.
On PC, one of Team 17's ambitions seems to be to build somewhat of a community around this game, allowing players to create their own levels. If this is something they're thinking of bringing to console as well, that would be a good thing, but there's no evidence of it in the current Xbox One version of Flockers. It could be a fun feature it it ever were to come to fruition.
Flockers is not a bad game. It's cute and grotesque and the dark humour and settings go well together. The game is entertaining at first, and will cause some terrified giggles and as a game to kill time with, it's almost even great. However, little bits and pieces just add up and the whole package fails to live up to that classic Lemmings sensation. It all feels as if it's already been done and in no way new. If you're into puzzle games though, or if you're missing the good ol' days of Lemmings, you might like it as a substitute as it does cater to fans of both.