A game about giant lights that doesn’t have good lighting effects. Enough said.
Released: August 21, 2015
Copy supplied by Steam
The Flock earned itself quite a spotlight thanks to its unique selling premise – a world population that steadily depletes until nobody can play the game. Every player death contributes to the reduction of a set number of spawns – once they’re dried up, The Flock becomes obsolete.
It was a bold move, selling a game while openly admitting it had a predetermined lifespan, and it would appear Vogelsap didn’t quite win its risky little gamble. Gamers were skeptical of the premise from the start, a skepticism that has led to negative user reviews and a player base that doesn’t exactly swell with numbers.
It’s a shame, because The Flock is a legitimately promising idea – it’s a tense horror multiplayer experience that, at its best, wracks the nerves with its monstrous take on the old “Red Light/Green Light” playground game. Even its precarious pledge to end the game permanently upon respawn depletion is brave enough to be worthy of praise.
Sadly, for all its potential and moxie, The Flock just isn’t a very good videogame.
It’s bad enough that the whole thing feels like it belongs in Early Access. It crashes on regular occasions, and even when it runs, the dodgy physics, camera glitches, and threadbare aesthetics reeking of placeholder assets contribute to the feeling that Vogelsap’s work was far from finished before they pushed it into the public arena.
There are a paltry three maps to choose from and one game mode that, while compelling for a while, barely has enough meat on its bones to keep players invested for thirty minutes.
As I said, the potential is there. I want to like this game. I want to really, really like it.
Players all start as a member of the Flock – bestial monsters that all seek to become a Carrier. There is a beacon that spawns in each map, and the first Flock to grab it becomes the aforementioned Carrier – a faceless, minuscule little creature.
Carriers lose the agility of their prior Flock selves, unable to jump, and moving at a slower pace. Their position is a fragile one – it takes one pounce from a member of the Flock to instantly slaughter a Carrier, at which point the killer seizes the beacon and becomes a Carrier itself.
The Flock have one weakness, however – the beacon itself. Players take damage if they move in the beacon’s light, meaning they have to stand still should the Carrier be looking at them. Once motionless, a Flock’s field of vision becomes restricted as they literally become statues. The Carrier, however, must keep moving in order to power the beacon – one can’t just stand and flash at the Flock forever, or the light will go out.
In addition to their leaps and pounces, Flock can also create decoys of themselves – identical statues intended to induce paranoia in the Carrier. These statues may also be switched to at any time, instantly transporting the player to a prior location. Flock can also roar to each other, answering fellow players’ calls to increase their speed and strength.
So it is that The Flock presents a clever little slice of cat-and-mouse spookiness, as several players simultaneously work together and compete to corner and murder the Carrier. The beacon’s light always pinpoints the Carrier’s exact location, and only by moving carefully will a targeted player ever hope to survive. It only takes a split-second to get jumped while looking the wrong way.
It’s terrifying for as long as it feels fresh… and that doesn’t last long at all. Once you realize the limitations of the Flock’s abilities and learn the basic tactics for survival, all horror gives way to a repetitive game of tag. A broken repetitive game of tag.
Sometimes you’ll die even when you’re looking directly at one’s predators. I did, in fact, have an enemy player casually stroll in front of my beam once, only to leap right through it (normally an instant-death move for a Flock) and take me down. There always appears to be some form of lag during kills and deaths, meaning you can never be quite sure if you’re about to hit your mark or not.
The Flock don’t even carry themselves like the stealthy hunters they’re meant to be, unable to climb, and stuck with fairly basic first-person controls. Aside from a crawling sprint animation, there’s just no sense of immersion, no feeling like a monster. The Carrier, for its part, has little to do but run or point the beacon at recurring “objectives” to earn extra points.
Also, the lighting effects are rubbish – no shadowing, no dynamic illumination. It’s a game about holding a giant light and the lighting is substandard. That says it all.
The Flock is threadbare, glitchy, visually dreary, and sorely lacking in content. Its main game mode simply doesn’t have the staying power to justify repeated play, and any given session could collapse at any minute. The servers are far from hopping, too – it’s rare to get a full game of five players, and you can’t just join a game in session either.
There’s no real plot to the game, no sense of history of worldbuilding, no reason to care about its dwindling population or the promised “aftermath” of the counter reaching zero. In fact, it’s highly unlikely we’ll see that event for a long long time. The Flock started with a population of 215,358,979, and the lack of players suggests we won’t see that get anywhere near to dwindling soon.
The Flock was always going to be a hard sell, but it could have been a success. When you want $16.99 for a game that promises obsoletion, you have to be more on-point than ever. Your game needs to be sleek, rich in content, or at the very least polished in order to convince people it’s worth their time and cash. The Flock is none of these things.
It had to be better than the average game, but it pales in comparison to even a lot of Early Access games.
Vogelsap created a purely frustrating product – something that could have, and indeed should have, been something special, only to squander its opportunities at every step.
I’d love to see everything The Flock tried to do in a better game, but I fear the failure of this one will only dissuade others from attempting it.