With Flockers, Team17 are pushing off in a new direction, breaking out of the confines of their existing franchises with a game that’s not about worms, for once, but sheep instead.
Admittedly, these are the same sheep as the explosive fan favourites from the Worms game, and Flockers is ever-so-loosely tied in to that brand as a consequence, but in reality it has next to nothing in common.
The aim of the game is to help these sheep escape a deadly factory, filled with lethal contraptions that will invariably kill many of them along the way. The sheep troop after each other, going back and forth between obstacles that block their way until you issue a command.
It could be that you tell one sheep to be a crate, setting a point for the next sheep that wanders through to stand stock still and let all the others clamber up and over, with the ability to create stairs out of them too. Then again, you can also use a handful of abilities to help them pass obstacles, whether it is to jump over gaps, fly up walls like a super sheep or create a huge explosion.
Dave Wood, Producer on the game, sat chatting with me as I played. “We learned from some of our previous games,” he explained, “where we perhaps spread ourselves a little thin with putting too much content and, thinking back to Worms Revolution, we had almost 60 weapons in the game.
“Balancing 60 weapons is a huge task, so we focussed on just getting those core mechanics right in Flockers. We kept it nice and simple with a release ability, jumper ability, Super Sheep and explode, and then the formations to help you get around the landscape. I think there’s a bit of scope to expand there, coming up with new abilities for the sheep.”
The parallels to Lemmings are immediately obvious, with the ever-marching sheep replacing the lemmings, the handful of abilities and the puzzling that is required to get from A-B. What makes Flockers stand apart is the dark and murderous world in which it’s set.
Just as the Worms games are filled with brutal comedy violence, so too is Flockers. Playing out on a single 2D plane, it uses an offshoot of the Worms engine that has been used since Revolution, but with solid objects as opposed to deformable land. The design of the world is certainly reminiscent of Tim Burton’s macabre stylings, as even Dave is quick to note, but maybe with a hint of Oddworld in there too.
“One of my favourite things with this game is the visual styling,” Dave revealed. “We’ve had concept art from the very start of development with a strong style guide, but it’s only been in the last 3 or 4 weeks that we’ve got the renderer in place and have been able to piece it all together.
“Around about the same time, we got our logo in place and Nick, our Art Manager, came up with a logo which galvanised the style of the game. I think it’s probably one of the most cohesive art styles that we’ve had for a Team17 title.”
There are more themes planned, as the sheep will escape the factory that was used for the Rezzed demo and off into a Worms weapons testing grounds and beyond. Along the way, it’s bound to continue being quite delightfully obvious just how much the world wants to kill your sheep, with giant axe heads, buzz saws and various other deadly traps awaiting them. Although they’re often comedically obvious, even the simplified demo levels on show at Rezzed held quite a few unexpected surprises.
With the camera generally quite close to the scene, it was quite easy for some killing device to suddenly appear, or for you to send your sheep leaping out of the figurative frying pan and into the fire, unaware of quite what you were doing. A handful of moments still asked for fairly quick reactions, while one standout bit of level design that had me nudging a gigantic cog down an incline to massacre my poor sheep, with the super sheep landing on it with some particularly exquisite timing and riding it to his own doom.
The excellent potential for levels to be created with ever more complex and ludicrous deathtraps is clear, and it had me laughing on several occasions, but underneath it, there’s a tricky little puzzler. It might only need you to get a handful of sheep to the end of the level to complete it, but if you want to save every single one of the fluffy little blighters, or even just get the traditional three star rating, you’ll have to put a fair bit of thought in and get your timing absolutely right.
For the time being, Flockers is heading to Steam Early Access some time in Q2 this year, and as part of this will open the doors to people who want to create their own levels and contraptions via Steam Workshop.
When I asked about other platform, Dave replied, “At the moment we’re just focussing on the PC version, and that’s all we’ve planned for the moment, but if we can get to Early Access, the game really takes off and we think it’s the right fit for other platforms, we’ll definitely look at that. So we’re not ruling anything out!”
And you should keep your fingers crossed, because Flockers, though it has clear inspirations, has a lovely identity of its own. As an A to B puzzler, it’s coming into a genre that hasn’t really had too much attention of late, and looks set to bring something hilarious, gory and with plenty of challenge to it.