I have a tendency to take things both very literally and in the most absurd fashion possible – so you can imagine my disappointment when I loaded up Flockers and it wasn’t an extreme Christmas decoration simulator. I was expecting to play as a team of gruff Christmas veterans who had to plant a fake snow bomb in the middle of a shopping centre to make sure Christmas was magical for a bunch of kids.
It’s not. It’s a game about sheep. You know… like a flock of sheep… not a team of hardcore, possibly out-of-retirement Christmas decorators.
Flockers comes from Team-17, and that’s a hefty prestige – it’s one of Britain’s last old-school indies. While it’s heartening to see them break free of the Worms cycle, it’s also pretty shitty that it’s just a riff on a retro classic. Remember Lemmings? Yeah. Flockers is pretty much Lemmings. It’s not a clone with a cheeky twist. It’s not even just taking lots of obvious inspiration. It’s Lemmings 2: The Sheepening. It’s honestly kind of disappointing to load up a game from such a renowned developer only to find it’s some kind of nostalgic throwback rather than an attempt to push forward and innovate.
But I digress. It’s not surprising that Flockers is something of a Worms spin-off. You’re helping the sheep escape a very short life as ammunition for the war machine, and to do so, you have to navigate through some hellish slaughterhouse where the slightest mistake or hesitation will result in some very distressed bleating – and then mass amounts of sheep blood. The sheep want to escape. The sheep are also very stupid. So they’ll pop out of the level start point and meander aimlessly towards their doom, whether that be a fatal drop, a series of saw blades, or a falling weight. You can give them capes to leap over gaps, have them stand in formation to climb small ledges or block their progress, or just straight up explode them to destroy obstacles. Used in combination these work very well and make for some challenging puzzles but often your doom is so random and unforeseeable you’ll lose half of your flock in a split second after an otherwise perfect level.
The gore doesn’t seem to fit in with the game’s otherwise cute and whimsical style – imagine an episode of Wallace and Gromit where Gromit finally snaps and mauls Wallace to death – and it feels like a slightly awkward attempt to look more edgy. It might be appropriately shocking the first couple of times but after a while, it’s just plain odd. You can turn it off in the options but it’s just an odd touch in the first place. It’d be more in line with Worms to just have them squashed or something, surely?
Levels are generally well designed and reward you for exploring and using your imagination, but there are far too many insta-kill traps that just appear out of nowhere, slaughtering your flock en masse. These random tests of timing start to grate very quickly – considering they don’t actually require any skill or ingenuity, or any of the power-ups you’ve been learning to use. If the entire game is going to boil down to who can press the buttons fast enough, I’d rather just go play a bunch of QTEs.
It’s a cutesy little throwback, but there’s just nothing that really elevates it beyond the level of slightly amusing. The sheep don’t even have much of a personality beyond wandering wool-sack, with none of the Worms individual charm or the laments of a doomed Lemming. The only touch of feedback you get are the buckets of red gore chucked around when you mess up, and that’s just strange and awkward. The smug, chipmunked voices of my Worms was often the thing that pushed me to succeed. Besides, what kind of weird world is this where worms have developed the use of hands and language but sheep are still just sheep? The same nightmarish dystopia where the sheep are ritually filled with dynamite and launched at enemy structures. Worms is dark.
Those of you who have been hiding in your cupboards waiting for the day a new Lemmings game arrived will probably rejoice. But the same ideas that make Flockers different are the ones that ultimately make it frustrating and lacklustre. Maybe it would have been better if it was a third person shooter that had you spraying flocking on Christmas trees whilst smoking a cigar and making gruff jokes about how they don’t make tinsel like they used to. Should you play Flockers? I can’t honestly recommend it unless you’re packing a serious hankering for more Lemmings action. Even then you could probably just play Lemmings again. A sincere homage to a nineties classic – but not much more than that.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.