In the nineties, Lemmings was so popular with gamers that it appeared on a mind boggling number of platforms, as millions tried – with varying degrees of success – to guide the careless rodents to safety. Since those heady days, you don’t see many titles that follow the Lemmings formula, but with the release of Flockers on the PlayStation 4, developer Team 17 (famed for the Worms games) thinks that the time’s right for you to play the shepherd to a herd of helpless animals.
You’ll probably not be surprised to hear that this is actually a Worms spin-off, with the sheep that you’re guiding to freedom trying to escape the clutches of the wriggly war makers, who want to use them as ammunition in their battles. Not keen on this fate, they need your help to make it past all manner of obstacles that stand between them and safety. Whether its circular saws, spike traps, or the Worms themselves, you’ll need to use all of the tools at your disposal and a certain amount of trial and error to help them avoid a bloody end.
At the start of each of the 60 main stages, you’ll have a certain number of sheep dropped into the level, which will then commence their relentless march. Your goal is to guide as many to the exit as possible, but to clear the level you’ll need only get a single solitary sheep to the end. The more that you get out, the higher your score will be – with you being awarded a rating of between one and three stars depending on the level of your success.
Left to their own devices, the sheep will shuffle off to their inevitable bloody doom, so you’ll need to use the eight different tools at your disposal to navigate them through the obstacles in their way. These aides allow you to augment your bleating herd with certain skills, such as the ability to jump gaps and fly up vertical surfaces. You can also convince them to create stairs or columns, so that you can alter the path of their movements.
You’ll commence each level with a certain amount of the tools, but more can be collected from crates scattered around each level. You’ll need to use most of your supplies to complete a course, so while you may end up with some left over, you’ll need to make sure that you’re using them in just the right place, as if you run out of a certain tool, you may be forced to restart and try again.
It can be tough at times to see how a level will play out, with the chain of actions required not always immediately apparent. Fortunately, puzzling things out is satisfying, and experimenting with different approaches is fun, even if the results – more often than not – lead to your charges getting squished, impaled, or crushed when you trigger a chain of events that you didn’t see coming. Even though a single mistake can force you to restart a stage, once you’ve worked out the solution, a run through a level will only take a few minutes, so you won’t lose too much progress when you make a costly mistake.
It’s a little disappointing that the abilities that you start the game with ultimately end up being the only tools that you have at your disposal for its entire length. On the one hand, it’s good that the level designs challenge you to use them in more complex ways, but it would have been nice to have a bit more variety, as there aren’t too many surprises to be had outside of some particularly devious courses.
Team 17 has done a pretty good job of trying to reduce any frustrations not related to you trying to work out the game’s puzzles. Chief amongst these are allowing you to pause and fast forward the action. This lets you halt proceedings to survey your charges during particularly intense moments, or skip through sections of a stage that you’ve completed several times before, which makes some of the more intense levels much more palatable.
As this was a PC game first, there’s had to be a few compromises for consoles on the control front. Using the left stick to guide a cursor around the screen and the right to move your field of view works well most of the time, but it’s not quite as precise as we’d like. When coupled with the fact that you can’t perform any actions when time’s paused, you’ll often be under pressure to make your moves quickly, which can lead to you making fiddly little errors, such as gifting an ability to the wrong member of your flock.
Viewed from a side-on perspective, the game has a combination of both 2D and 3D graphics, with an art style that gives off a real steampunk vibe, with loads going on in both the background and the foreground. This can look a little busy at times, and while it evokes the industrial atmosphere well, you may find it to be distractingly cluttered, causing you to lose track of your flock on the odd occasion – especially when they start teleporting around the levels.
While the main set of stages will keep you on shepherd duties for a while, once you’re done, there isn’t really that much else to do. There are a number of secret levels to find that see you collecting sleepy sheep rather than dodging the usual traps, but outside of that, you’re left with online leaderboards and unlocks that allow you to change up the look of your flock – or the colour of their blood when they suffer a horrific death.
Flockers is a fun Lemmings throwback that provides a decent challenge. While the trial and error heavy gameplay will certainly put some off, those willing to engage their brains and reflexes will have a good time herding their flock through some downright dastardly levels – even if the experience is marred with occasional control niggles. Yes, the package is a little bit bare bones, and the gameplay never really mixes things up too much – but at this price, it isn’t something that you can really bleat about.