Times are changing, but one thing we never thought we’d see is Team 17 ditching their Worms for some sheep and at first look, that’s exactly what has happened with Flockers…a game about herding sheep.
But things aren’t always as they seem and the latest game to come from the Team 17 stable may well focus on a flock of fluffy ones, but the Worms are still there in the background, fiendishly working away on some nightmarish machines with one goal in mind….killing those damn sheep.
And without your help, the poor little ones would surely be consigned to death by buzzsaw, death by spikes, death by crusher or death by….well just DEATH!
For Flockers is set in a Worms weapon factory and sees you trying to herd your flock of sheep to the exit whilst dodging those saws, spikes and crushers. It’s a modern day ‘A to B’ puzzle platformer that promises to tear up the scene much like those crazy little Lemmings did back in the 1990’s. And it’s really very good.
Just like back in the day, the sheep that you are trying to herd will wander around rather aimlessly until you assign them a specific role. That means if you aren’t quick enough telling them what to do, they’ll just jump straight off the edge of a relatively safe ledge to certain death. They’ll also walk face first into a buzzsaw and will think nothing of standing under a crusher whilst it drops to the floor. This is however where you come in and with seven differing actions available to be assigned, you can save the day and help the sheep escape the torture of the factory……just as long as you’ve managed to unlock the actions first.
The most basic of jobs is that of a step. Throw a block down and the next sheep to walk over it will stop dead in it’s tracks, forcing all those behind it to clamber over him and reach a higher platform (well, that’s the idea in theory anyway). You’ll find yourself using it to great effect early on and is something you couldn’t do without. After that, you’ll come across the ‘blocker’. This double height wall will see the first two sheep to hit it create a wall that no other sheep can pass. Instead they’ll about turn and wander back the other way. It’s a great way of stopping the masses from falling to their death and should be your first port of call whenever you need to halt the group in a hurry.
After that you have two further steps; consisting of two and three sheep, which will give your flock the chance to reach even higher platforms than the first stepper could ever do.
And then we get to the real fun actions. ‘Jumper’ can be assigned to any willing participant and will see him jump his way over any reasonably sized gap that is in front of him. The fact he gets to don a wooly hat at the same time just brings a huge sense of fun to the party. If jumpings not your thing and you need to get the group to traverse some seemingly impossible walls, then hit them with the ‘Super’ action and watch them run up sheer cliff faces like there were no tomorrow. Superman cape and all. ‘Jumper’ and ‘Super’ can be combined to get effect if you need to pick one little guy out of the flock as a tester!
The final two actions speak for themselves really. ‘Release’ does exactly what it says on the tin and frees any sheep that is currently being used as a stop or step from his job, sending him merrily on his way (read: death in most instances!), whilst ‘Exploder’ gives you the chance to prime one of the sheep with a bit of TNT and is always useful if you need to clear the route of some heavy wooden boxes….or indeed if you’re just feeling a little sadistic. It’s not quite as satisfying as seeing a Worm stand still and shout ‘Oh no’ but witnessing an exploding sheep ain’t far off!
Once you’ve got to grips with each action and tried to work out a safe way through each level, then it’s just a case of getting as many sheep to the end as possible. Whilst most levels only require one to be whisked away to safety in order to proceed to the next scenario, the more sheep you save and the quicker you do it, the more points you score, the more stars you earn and the quicker you’ll get on to the next level. There are 60 levels in all and scattered amongst them are a few that can only be described as ‘boss levels’, whilst the odd hidden unlockable stage provides you with unlimited actions and sees you trying to wake as many sleeping sheep as possible in a set time. They are a nice change to the usual limited action levels but not something you would base a whole game around (hence why they are used sporadically I guess!).
And then we get on to replayability and there is absolutely stacks loads of it in Flockers. Not only will you find yourself replaying each individual level time and time again in order to grab more stars and a higher leaderboard rating (we all want to beat our friends don’t we), but the inclusion of numerous ‘rewards’ will give you the go ahead to play the game in a slightly different way to normal. Whilst you start off with a flock of white sheep, by playing through the game, sacrificing sheep to the buzzsaw, completing certain levels or earning certain stars will see you unlock all manner of strange mutant fluffy ones which become playable in game. You’ll find yourself quickly, and worryingly, quite happily wanting to see 500 of your flock crushed just so you can unlock the pink sheep, or will set about trying to impale 20 of your herd at the same time on some spikes in order to unlock the punk rocker and focus into three star each level just so you can see some black blood be splattered on screen.
Throw in a unlockable ‘Golden Fleece’ hidden somewhere on each level and chances are you’ll still be playing Flockers a good six months down the line…..and there’s an even greater chance that you’ll still find it about as sadistic and frustrating (in the best possible way) as when you first picked it up!
So everything I’ve said so far points to a 5/5 TXH rating, and it’s so so near the top marks that it pains me to have to knock it down ever so slightly
But the fact of the matter is there is one thing that lets Flockers down, and that is the control system. Going back to Lemmings again and I think we would all agree that it was a joy to play, with the mouse and keyboard seemingly perfect for it and indeed if I were reviewing Flockers on PC, then the chances are there would be nothing stopping it from grabbing the coveted 5 stars. But the Xbox One controller is not a mouse and no matter how hard Team 17 have tried, the controls just aren’t fluid enough. There’s no debating that they’ve done a cracking job making it as simple as possible but there are just too many times when I’d lose control of the crosshairs, zoom out or in just a little too much and basically struggle around with a control pad that isn’t really designed for this type of game.
It’s a shame and shouldn’t be a reason not to play it, but many may find it just a little too frustrating that a game that sometimes calls for super sharp reflexes and actions, is let down by something that isn’t really of it’s own doing, something which becomes more and more prevalent the further you progress and the harder the levels get.
If however you’re happy to acknowledge this issue, then chances are you’ll love Flockers. It’s a game that will appeal to new gamers and indeed those long time older fans that hark back to the day when Lemmings were king.
But whilst the lemmings have abdicated, the sheep aren’t quite worthy of the throne.
Charming Princes they are however and will easily bring a big old smile to your face.