Saturday, 12 September 2015

The Flock

You’re part of the Flock; twisted, disfigured creatures in search of an ancient light. When you get to this light, you become the Carrier, trying to complete objectives while being hunted down by the creatures that you were originally a part of. This is the concept behind The Flock, Vogelsap’s asymmetric PC horror game with a unique marketing twist.

Each time a player dies, the countdown goes down by one, and the game is one death closer to ending forever. When the counter reaches zero, the game will no longer be available, and only those that have already purchased the game will be able to see the finale before the game goes offline, permanently. But I’m not here to discuss that. I’m here to discuss the experience of The Flock itself.

If you’ve looked at the reviews on Steam, you’ll already have a pretty good idea of how well this game is going down with gamers. Hint: not very well. However, that doesn’t mean it’s all bad.

No-one can deny that The Flock has an interesting asymmetric concept, in which one player holds the burden of tension and fear on their shoulders, while all of the other players crawl ever-closer to shaking beam of light that is this poor player. And this is where Vogelsap’s game actually works.

Each match is fast-paced, non-stop action, and is never long enough for the tension and adrenaline to become exhausting. The Carrier, with their objective-solving, creature-beckoning lantern, must keep moving at all times for the light to continue shining. In between moving for the lantern’s power, and running in the direction of an objective, players are always moving. It makes it easy to jump into a few games by yourself or with friends, and then jump back out again.

“Where does the fear come into play?” I hear you ask. Well, it arrives in a similar way to one of my favourite Doctor Who episodes, entitled “Blink.” In the form of statues. Creepy, silent, move-when-you’re-not-looking statues.

You see, the unnatural creatures of the Flock become stone when they’re not moving. Vision becomes unfocused during, but you’re completely impenetrable to the harming rays of the lantern’s light. This lends itself to a number of jump-scares, in which the Carrier believes a member of the Flock to be a harmless statue, many of which are placed around the maps, only to see it leap from the corner of the screen. However, the main fear that comes from this mechanic is always feeling like there’s someone, or something, behind you. Is that statue really a player? Did this statue just move? I think that statue is a player, but if I keep looking at it, will something creep up behind me? It’s just awful, which is perfect for a horror game.

Unfortunately for The Flock, horror gamers, and anyone that decided to pay full price for their version, this game is not perfect. In reality, it’s quite far from it.

Firstly, there’s only one mode and three maps. That’s right. One mode. Three maps. That’s it. While the mode is fun and somewhat unique, and the maps are varied, with a good mix of high and low ground, there’s just not enough. After playing for a couple of hours, I already felt like I had seen everything the game had to offer. Imagine how that would feel if you’d just paid $15.99 USD.

Secondly, The Flock just isn’t that attractive. Its environments are quite bland, have blocky textures, and the claws of the Flock are as scary to look at as they would be to imagine slicing through the air towards your throat. Visuals don’t make or break a game, but considering the concept art of the game looked so attractively surreal, this finished product just doesn’t quite reach its own hype.

Actually, that pretty much sums up The Flock.

Quite frankly, the game feels unfinished. Considering the fact that Vogelsap wasn’t actually expecting to have much time to work on its game further – keeping in mind that a highly successful game with the same countdown wouldn’t have been playable for very long – it’s almost offensive. This is offset slightly by the fact that the studio is comprised of students, which is quite impressive, but the fact that the game is a commercial release with a use-by-date, I’d have expected a high level of polish. With the unexpected time, however, the studio is attempting to fix as many issues as it can in the time that the game is still available.

While The Flock may be on borrowed time, it would seem that you can still wait a little longer before making your decision to purchase it. When I first began playing, there were 215,300,840 deaths left before the game ends. At the time of finalising this review, the death count is at 215,296,483, so it’s probably not going anywhere anytime soon. That in itself is probably a more fitting review than any amount of words on a page.

Getting déjà vu right now? That may be because you read this on IGM, where my review was first featured! Check IGM out for all the latest on indie games, and make sure to peek in on our Patreon, where patrons can get each issue of the magazine for only $2.

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