One of the more memorable games of the '90s was Lemmings, which charged players with leading the creatures from point A to point B. It was tough because they were, to put it bluntly, brainless. No matter what, the green-haired beings only knew how to move forward and moved in the opposite direction once they found something that blocked their path. The charm of the game lay in the fact that you had to assign tasks to some of them to hopefully keep enough of them alive until the exit so you could move on to the next level. The classic spawned quite a few sequels and many imitators. The chance of getting another Lemmings title on the PC has pretty much evaporated since Sony bought the original developer Psygnosis more than a decade ago, and few developers seem interested in resurrecting the idea. Surprisingly, longtime Worms developer Team 17 seems keen on the idea, since they're taking a small break from warring annelids to develop their homage to the series, Flockers.
Even though Flockers is a break from the Worms universe, the story is related to the famous franchise. You oversee the sheep that are often weaponized by the warring worms, with the mammals usually sacrificed in the battles. You try to lead the sheep out of the weapon factory before they're packed away into crates — or worse.
As in Lemmings, you're given a multitude of sheep to boss around and must lead them to the escape chute. You can give them powers, such as leaping when they reach the edge of a platform or flying up high spaces. You can use the sheep to set up block formations to prevent other sheep from moving forward or turn them into stairs so other sheep can climb to higher platforms. You can also make them explode, which can be used to destroy wooden barriers or give the living sheep an explosion-assisted jump at the expense of the sacrificial lamb.
You'll also discover that Flockers is much more appreciative of violence and gore when compared to other titles that have attempted to copy the formula. Explosions are accompanied by flying limbs and copious amounts of sprayed blood. Several pieces of the environment, like spinning blades and saws and spikes, are meant to instantly turn the sheep into mutton. Even the menus have hints of dried blood all over the place. It isn't meant to horrify, since it's really used for comedic effect, but the amount of viscera can be surprising if you aren't expecting it. For the squeamish, there is an option to turn it all off if you hate seeing animal blood and flying limbs.
What you won't find in the game so far is any other set of moves aside from the ones mentioned. The number of abilities that can be applied to the sheep are rather limited, and while it makes for a more focused game as far as solutions are concerned, it also robs players of the ability to put some real thought or experimentation into finding pathways for the sheep. Some of the best memories of these types of games is seeing how absurd you can make the solution, and that can only go so far with what's available now. It also doesn't help that all of your moves can only be obtained while you play the level instead of being there from the very beginning, so in a way, you're even more limited with what you can do until you gain every ability the level wants to provide.
The lack of a multitude of moves doesn't mean Flockers is easy. Even in the tutorial levels, you'll find a few puzzles that require good timing to execute. With so few tries to accomplish these things, you'll restart levels and cheer when you finally get the solution you want. The multitude of sheep you're given seems like overkill at first, especially since most of the levels only require one animal to make it to the end, but seeing how many can perish and the spots where you can get stuck if you don't have the right ability or number of animals makes you grateful for the buffer. Currently, the game has 25 different levels, and all of them are challenging, but the ability to use Steam Workshop for more user-created levels is greatly appreciated. There are already quite a few good ones. Combined with upcoming native Twitch support, plenty of people can make hundreds of attempts to get a three-star ranking, which is almost impossible if you're a novice in these types of games.
As far as the presentation is concerned, it is rather good at this stage in the game. The graphical style is still cartoon-like but with a darker slant due to the gore and heavy industrial setting. The animations are equally balanced with the right amount of cute conflicting with the horror of the situation, and the colors follow suit. The endless bleats of the sheep is endearing, and the rest of the effects do their job well. The music also ends up being rather pleasant once you come to grips with how macabre everything is.
Flockers is currently available as an Early Access title on Steam. It also has a demo available for those who want to give the game a shot, especially since there isn't a hard release date for the game yet. As it stands now, it is fun despite the limited abilities thanks to the difficulty of the stages and the early implementation of Steam Workshop for additional levels. These looking for a challenge will have fun for now, but we hope to see more from the final product.
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