Previews: Old MacDonald received a probe?. Ee-i-ee-i..eww.
With major titles like Resistance 2, Resident Evil 5, and Little Big Planet being showcased at this year's E3, it was easy to overlook games from smaller developers. Case in point is the puzzle game Flock from Scottish developer Proper Games. The game combines the seemingly mutually exclusive concepts of UFOs and barnyard animals to create one of the most unique puzzle games we've seen in quite some time. Gaming Target had a chance to check out this upcoming Xbox Live/PSN downloadable title at Capcom's booth on the third day of the show.
Flock puts the player in control of a flying saucer. The goal of the game is to use the saucer to corral barnyard animals into the alien's mothership. The player accomplishes this by flying over the creatures, causing them to run in fright. Not unlike a sheep dog, the player must follow the animals with the UFO and use their fear to herd them along the proper path to the mothership.
The game gives the player a quota of animals that he or she must fulfill before proceeding to the next level. Players often will face obstacles and hazards that hinder these creatures from getting from point A to point B. These obstacles sometimes will take the form of fences that the animals cannot cross. On other occasions, players must navigate their herd around deadly hazards like rolling boulders, geysers, or simply narrow land bridges from which furry friends may fall to their demise. Lose too many and it's game over.
Luckily Proper Games has come up with some clever means of dealing with these obstacles/hazards. The player's UFO will gain the ability to suck up objects with its tractor beam or alternatively pulverize them with a depressor ray. The player can use the tractor beam to suck up fences and trees that block the flock's path. Meanwhile, the depressor can push down tall blades of grass (appropriately creating crop circles) that are normally impassable to smaller animals. Don't use either tool on the animals themselves though. Both result in a furry/feathery death and perhaps a call from PETA.
The player must retrieve four different types of barnyard animals throughout the course of the game -- sheep, cows, chickens, and pigs. Each type of animal possesses a unique ability that the player can exploit to get the creatures past obstacles. Cows are strong and can push down objects like fences, thus clearing paths for other creatures. Sheep temporarily shrink when wet, allowing them to run underneath fences. Chickens can glide with their wings. At one point in the demo we watched as a player forced a group of chickens up a hill. The chickens then glided off the hill, over a moat, and landed at their destination.
Pigs have one of the most unique abilities. At some point the player will encounter manure on the ground. This is a hazard for the other animals if they will get bogged down in the pile. To prevent this, the player can choose to push the pigs ahead first. The swine will happily roll around in the dung and rather disgustingly clear a path for their barnyard brethren to proceed.
Players also may be faced with a situation where there are not enough sheep on the level to meet the given quota. The solution to this is to lead a male sheep to a female (who appears pink rather than white). When the two lovebirds meet, a flurry of hearts will cover the screen. When the hearts dissipate, the two adults will be accompanied by a litter of lambs. Now there should enough sheep to finish the stage.
These gender politics work in other advantageous ways. In another demo level, a player pushed a female sheep into a huge herd of males. The males then began to follow her in a single-file line. This made it easier for the player to navigate the flock over the treacherous, geyser-filled terrain.
Flock comes with over fifty levels. The game also includes a level editor with which players can create their own stages. Round this out with a co-op mode (where both players herd with UFO's) and the possibility of future downloadable levels, and Flock would seem to have the potential for a tremendous amount of replay value.