The name Flockers had been hovered around Twitter heavily in the days leading up to EGX Rezzed. Coming from Team 17, best known around the world for the Worms franchise, I will admit I was a little skeptical of where they would be going with Flockers. Luckily on behalf of n3rdabl3, I’m pleased to say my skepticism was explosively blown out of the water (with a holy hand grenade).
Flockers at its core is a game about leading a flock of sheep to safety through a series of traps by imbuing them with abilities such as jumping, super-powered flight, and explosive potential. So yes, the core of the game is Lemmings with Sheep. What sets Flockers apart from its conceptual grandfather though is how much of a smile it brings to your face through every single aspect of this sheep amongst the wolves.
First up to the butchers here is, well, just taking a butchers at it – for those of us not British read that as “have a look”. The artistic styling behind Flockers steps away from the norm and brings your eyes a view which should be disjointed but instead makes the game just look so much better. For starters, the sheep are utterly adorable in their sauntering and able to charm anyone with their intense fluffiness. So much fluff you’re advised against stroking them on screen. It may cause damage to your equipment.
Secondly there’s the background and levels which stand in a stark contrast to our fluffy freedom finders by being built up from scrap metals. Taken alone these metallic mazes already look menacing. Combine them with the fiendish traps and you’ve got a nightmarish look into what must happen in mutton slaughterhouses the world over. Shepherded together with the animations on each trap you find yourself wanted to pull the herd through not simply because it means success, but because of a sense of compassion imprinted on you at seeing these pure white innocent sheep in such rusted and bleak surroundings.
Moving away from the visuals for now, the sounds of Flockers are far from wooly. The ambient noises of your time trapped in this metallic hell are both as sharp as the spikes, while being as smooth as each axe edge that comes crashing down onto your little charges before they literally become mutton chops. However the most memorable sound in the game is that of your sheep. Their cute little calls attach you to their well-being, but they are nothing compared to their death screams. An extremely disturbing and harrowing cry shrieks from each sheep as they are shuffled off their mortal coil through many interesting methods.
Before I go any further, it’s these screams that had people on the stand stitching up in raucous laughter through the weekend. Everytime I passed the Team 17 booth there’d be someone staring at the screen as they aren’t sure whether to cry at losing a much-loved new friend or giggle so much they need to consider a pair of adult nappies. The end result was always the laugh though. Flockers doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s fun. Fun in its purest and more imaginative form. Flipping your sadness into happiness faster than turning a lamb chop on a grill.
Game-play in Flockers, now this is something special. It was shown to me as an early Alpha build but the roots for the game are already well set. Your little wooly friends bound into the screen happily and move across the screen until they reach an obstacle before turning back or falling off a ledge. Upon falling off a ledge they let out an explosion of gore with such gusto you wouldn’t be blamed for wondering if these sheep are destined for an untimely end due to high blood pressure.
Traversing each stage is assisted by the abilities you can grant to each sheep. Stick a purple hat on them and they are able to jump up small obstacles or across gaps. Got a wall that’s too high for even an Olympian to launch over? Then strap a cape to the back of your sheepish comrades to send them soaring up to the next challenge. The third ability you can give them involves turning your little friend into a time-bomb to blow apart breakable wooden crates, although at the expense of any sheep in the nearby area. Finally you can direct your fluffy friends to form platforms or walls to help the rest of the herd onwards or protect them from a messy end. Such messy ends include spikes, axes, crushers, and long falls.
Reading back through all this it sounds like the game has the ability to sicken you to the stomach at the many mutilations which can befall your herd. Far from it. I came away from the game on two occasions with the bleating of the sheep ringing in my ears while my face beamed at just how fun it all is. Many a time I’d see a solitary sheep stand above his compatriots and save them all, only to die with a burst of guts and a splatter of blood.
Flockers’ fun factor has the ability to shepherd Team 17 into a new world of even greater success than the violent invertebrates everyone knows them for. Keep an eye out for when it launches onto Steam’s Early Access in Q2 of this year!