War. War never changes. While that phrase is a stark commentary on the inevitability of history repeating itself, it has also applied to the design philosophy behind the Worms franchise, up until now.
For Team 17 (the house that Worms built), Flockers looks like a daring foray into a world of new IP and new genres. However, upon closer inspection, it becomes apparent that Flockers is a spinoff of the Worms franchise. The titular sheep are trying to escape the Worms’ munitions factories and avoid being turned into high-grade explosives, and it’s up to you to guide them safely through a series of grizzly traps.
As you shepherd your frail flock through a menagerie of buzzsaws and crushing machines, the comparisons between Flockers and Lemmings become apparent. You can select particular sheep to perform certain commands that will you help you navigate various traps, such as blocking sheep to stop others from walking off of ledges, jumping sheep to leap across gaps, and stackable sheep to reach higher places. There are also super sheep that will fly up a vertical surface. While the abilities on offer may vary from Lemmings, the principle remains the same. The main difference between the two games is that while Lemmings gives you everything you need to complete the puzzle upfront, Flockers requires you to collect new commands for your sheep as you go. This step-by-step approach means that the game isn’t open to experimentation, which is fine in the earlier stages while you’re learning how to play as it gives you a clue on which actions will solve the puzzle. However, as you progress through the game, you find yourself quite limited in this regard and the game never fully opens out to let you experiment on your own.
While this approach to level design should make the puzzles somewhat easier, quite often there are cheap annoyances that can ramp up the difficultly. On some of the larger maps, sometimes sheep will spawn in other areas, and the game does nothing to warn you that this is happening. The first time you realise that you have sheep in other parts of the level is when your remaining sheep counter starts to drop dramatically. Many levels also use teleporters which transport your sheep to another part of the map. It’s never quite clear where your sheep have been transported to, which becomes frustrating as you find yourself madly scrolling around the map to find your errant flock. While you can zoom in and out, which helps to an extent, it is still an annoyance that may lead to many lost sheep.
The base game contains 60 levels, plus bonus stages, most of which are set in deadly industrial environments. While the visual design is initially charming, the drab repetition of the locations starts to grind after a while. Many levels look identical to each other and are only livened up by the gratuitous gore as you splatter a whole herd with a crusher. Watching the levels run red with your failure can be rather amusing and is often more fun than using the restart level option should things go wrong.
While you only need to steer a single sheep to the exit to complete a level, the challenge comes from trying to get as many as possible to the finish line, earning you a higher score. Online leaderboards provide some incentive to replay if you are a competitive person, but outside of this, there is little enticement or reward to return to any levels. Score chasers may try to obtain the golden fleece (a hidden golden sheep in some of the levels), but all this really does is give you a score bonus. Sadly, despite the amount of content Flockers comes with, you’ll see most of what the game has to offer in the first 10-15 levels, meaning that many players will probably never see the game through to completion. The game does ship with a level creation tool and access to Steam Workshop, so creating your own deathtraps and sharing them online is easily done. It will be interesting to see if the ingenuity of the community can create new challenges in the future.
The basic premise of Flockers is as solid as the original Lemmings was back in the Amiga days. What is a shame is just how little Flockers does to differentiate itself and expand on the formula. Outside of teleporters and anti-gravity, Flockers runs out of ideas fairly quickly and the fun rapidly evaporates. While the game certainly isn’t without merit, it is a shame to see such an effort from Britain’s longest-running indie studio.