Flockers doesn’t really have a proper storyline to it. You could perhaps frame it as some kind of socio-political commentary about the farming industry and globalisation’s effect on how we must make compromises to meet demands of a growing population. But it isn’t. There’s sheep, it’s a gruesome industrialist assembly line of some sort, and you must get your sheep to the end of the area with as little collateral as possible.
Instead, the game offers a simple premise. It’s essentially the fast paced puzzle solving of Lemmings mixed with the dark humour of the Worms franchise, with tinges of the Oddworld universe. It’s a compelling mix, I’ll give you that. And thankfully it comes together rather well too.
Flockers is presented in a similar vein to classic games of the 90s like Grim Fandango, Lemmings and of course Abe’s Odyssey. The gameplay is punctuated with pre-rendered cutscenes that give a little bit of context to the scene, but not a lot. They look great, and this trend continues with the game’s environments too. Almost the entirety of Flockers takes place in heavily industrialised locations that manage to give the game a dingy and an oppressive feeling. There’s little to no mention or sight of humans and it helps sell the experience and the danger as a localised one for the sheep. It’s an atmosphere that feels a lot like, dare I say it, Oddworld. It’s not quite as surreal, but it’s kind of close.
The sheep themselves look much better than you’d think. While the promotional artwork for the game is rather generic, seeing the sheep themselves in motion is a different story. They’re fluffy, they’re happy, their eyes dart around their environment as they blissfully step through the assembly line and they have a modicum of personality.
Which is why it’s so gut wrenching when a sheep is lost either as a result of your own neglect or a randomly placed trap in the level. This is a good example of how presentation can effect gameplay and your emotional attachment to a game – even if it just boils down to a line of sheep stepping through a factory.
The game has that trademark Team17 humour – where these cute fluffy sheep are instantly pulverised into a bloody mess. It’s an almost funny juxtaposition that is best described as something like Chicken Run but MA15+ rated, but those who are sensitive to that kind of thing will be happy to know there’s an option to turn off all the blood and gore too.
At its absolute core, Flockers is an attempt to bring the classic gameplay of Lemmings to the modern day. In that regard, they’re pretty successful. Sheep are spat out of a machine and joyfully prance from the beginning of the stage to the end, with little regard for their own safety. As the player, you must use the tools available to you to make sure that these sheep don’t perish. The game has a nice way of easing the player into things, providing no tutorials but instead putting the player into simplistic levels that each focus on a particular item, so that by the time it’s done there’s no confusion as to how to use something. Of course, as you progress, it gets much more difficult. There’ll be more sheep, they’ll come from more than one direction and it can all get very frantic.
The controls themselves feel like they were designed for a PC rather than consoles, so many times it can be a bit difficult to multi-task. Alas, they are simplistic – sheep can be selected, tools can be selected and there are options to apply them to one or a small group of sheep at any given time. You can also zoom in and out of the action, pause the game or even fast forward it if you’re impatient. Pausing in particular sounds like a bizarre feature to praise but it really is invaluable in a game like this, allowing you to plan out your approach to a certain level.
Throughout each level there’s a multitude of things to find and avoid – from spikes, heavy blocks, rotating blades. You name it, it’s probably an obstacle for these little sheep. There’s also a few things that appear in the environment that help players around – including teleportation and gravity devices. But the main crux of the gameplay comes with the items which give your sheep the ability to do certain things. While not as exhaustive as a game like Lemmings, some of the upgrades that the sheep can be equipped with are capes to allow them to fly up vertical surfaces, jumpers which make them, well, jump as well as explosives to help open up new areas.
The latter of those items is confusing as it is means that you’ll effectively have to sacrifice one of your sheep. On one hand, it creates a challenge to create an explosive sheep with as little collateral damage. On the other, it means that some of the levels can’t be completed without sacrificing sheep. Another issue is that with the limited tools and uses of those tools available, it’s hard to get creative to prevent the loss of your sheep. To be entirely fair, the game does allow you to complete a level with only one sheep surviving, but the end of level ranking will be lower. And yes, it’s completely possible to get a full three star ranking without saving every sheep, but it is still bizarre that it’s something like that can be done.
Flockers is definitely a challenging game and it’s one that’ll last the player for quite a while, especially if they go for the full three star ratings on the games. But it’s also quite an acquired taste so it’s definitely not going to appeal to everyone. To make things a little bit more interesting and spice up the game, there are some boss battles peppered throughout the game as well as leaderboards and unlockable customisations for your sheep.
Finally, there’s a golden fleece in select levels which usually requires a bit more abstract thinking to reach. It’s a simple and yet effective way to provide a greater degree of difficulty to those who want to go for it without forcing it on the player and potentially hindering their progress. Finally, there’s also a selection of secret levels which have a bit more fun with the player rather than the frenetic puzzle solving feel of the main levels.