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Flock!
Score: 74%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Proper Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Puzzle

Graphics & Sound:
Every so often, a game comes along to present an amazingly simple yet fresh idea. Usually one of two things happen, it either becomes a runaway hit because of how well its mechanics work or it is forgotten because, in spite of everything it did right, there was one huge fault that nearly ruins the game and everyone passes it by. Unfortunately, I feel that Flock is in the latter category and it is a downright shame.

Flock takes place on a farmland being overrun by animal-abducting aliens and the visuals are truly gorgeous. Flock benefits from a smart art style because the details and character put into each farm creature are endearing and charming. The bright, colorful environments really pop in high-def and the entire experience runs at a buttery smooth framerate. It is easy to say that Flock is one of the best looking PSN games because of how simple it looks, yet how well it is executed.

To go along with the cheery visuals is a soundtrack that blends country music and retro sci-fi themes into a great new sound. The music is catchy and the main theme is remixed into various ways throughout the whole experience that you might actually want to listen to each Menu to hear how it was incorporated. The soundtrack is mastered so well that it almost feels like Flock is an entry into an already existing franchise because of how familiar it all feels.


Gameplay:
As I said earlier, Flock presents a beautifully simple idea that almost single-handedly sells itself. You control a space ship that needs to abduct animals for your mother ship, affectionately called the "Mother Flocker" (which makes you a "Flocker" I guess.) You control your ship around each level using your tractor beam to frighten animals and making them run into your Mother Flocker to be abducted.

It can't be fun if there isn't some sort of challenge. Each animal has a different behavior that it will use when running away from you and the trick is to herd them all together to make it easier to manage. There are plenty of animals to herd too. Chickens, cows, sheep and pigs are what you will see most and sometimes you have to use them all together to help them through obstacles.

At its heart, Flock is a puzzle game where the environments are the puzzle and the Mother Flocker is the ultimate solution. Using all of the animals is fun when it works well, but more often than not, you will be struggling to control them. Cows charge in the direction that you move them and they are the old standby to clear a path for smaller creatures. Chickens like to group together and can fly short distances if they fall from a high distance. The most frustrating creatures in the entire game, however, are the sheep. Not only is it incredibly difficult to herd them in the direction you want, but once they are in a herd, it is easy for them to break up and scatter across the map. If it weren't for specific goals and quotas to meet, I would kill every sheep in each level just so I could have fun.

The variety in the actual level design is creative and brilliant. Each new level adds another layer of complexity to the puzzles and I never found myself getting bored. As soon as you understand the behaviors of each animal, a new puzzle involving crop circles diverts your attention to help give you extra time to finish the level.

Although, if you ever find yourself getting tired of the single player, the robust level editor will offer a good way to unleash your creative side, but you have to unlock new parts to use by earning them in the single player. Another thing that is a problem with the level editor is the fixed camera angle. You cannot look around your creation because it forces a isometric view on the field.

There is a multiplayer mode as well, but it seems like a waste since it is local multiplayer only. Online multiplayer seems like a smart choice for a game like Flock, so it seems odd that it is absent. You will need two controllers and a friend to sit on your couch and an entirely separate campaign opens up with new unlockables that can only be earned here.


Difficulty:
With around 50 levels, Flock will likely take the average player around 5 hours or so to complete. For perfectionists though, there are special rankings for getting the best time and separate rankings for saving all of the animals. I could imagine getting everything would take somewhere in the 15 hour range, but I couldn't really see anyone being that gung-ho about Flock, especially since the single player moves at such a slow pace.

The puzzles get trickier and the times get smaller, but those things are manageable. The biggest challenge will be not breaking the controller out of frustration because the clumsy movement causes many animals to either fall to their deaths or run in the opposite direction you wanted. The worst is when they get stuck in a corner because then you are bartering with the game itself to help you out so you won't have to replay the level a fifth time.


Game Mechanics:
Flock really is as simple as the concept seems. Your ship navigates with the right stick and a small boost can be used with (L2). You have two types of beams that your ship can use: an abduction beam and a compressor beam. As it would imply, you pick up objects with the abduction beam and flatten others with the compressor beam. Some levels have you switching between the two frequently and knowing how to recognize the differences between the beams will mean the difference from crushing an obstacle and accidentally sending another one hurdling towards your carefully constructed herd.

I hope that there is a followup to Flock because there is great potential for small time-wasters like this, but the aggravating creature A.I. and the fixed camera angles nearly ruin an otherwise excellent game. If they can patch in some tweaks to the A.I. or create another solution for the few problems it has, I would say buy it as soon as you can. There is a demo available, but it is too short to truly understand the nuances that appear over time. Flock could have been great, but for right now, it is fenced in by its annoying A.I.


-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

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