An Interesting Experiment- The Flock

[As Read on GIO.]

Lighting up the Shadows

Game Informer has briefly mentioned the aforementioned Indie game titled ‘The Flock’ lately, however many of you all may still be somewhat in the dark concerning the specifics of the project. The game literally just released in full so to speak and I must say it’s an interesting experience but more importantly an interesting experiment in developmental design and many other entertaining and unique concepts. Perhaps the most interesting concept of all is the basis for the game itself: it’s essentially a two-team player versus player online multiplayer game, however it’s far from just any online PVP we’ve ever experienced.

The main draw of The Flock lies in the fact that it means to meld both story and gameplay (and as a multiplayer game, to boot). Now, it’s no Titanfall- meaning it’s no online multiplayer game that inserts a few story driven aspects between the lines and between the matches, barely in fact adding much to an overall plot other than “kill this, destroy that, capture that, etc.” No, The Flock aims much higher than that but admirably aims to accomplish this by doing much less, in fact. The only real way The Flock means to promote storytelling is through its foreboding environments, twisted enemies, and background history. Aside from that and potentially a bit more meat on the story’s bones, its general interpretation is so far left to players.

One of the most unique qualities of the game is the fact that there is a set, communal death count that, once surpassed, immediately pulls the game from online storefronts and general sale. It will still be playable among players who shell out the roughly fifteen dollars to purchase it, but even then only for a set time. You see, The Flock actually has an ending- it’s not like the majority of multiplayer only games that simply exist until the game is out of date and inevitably shut down, or perhaps updated to include semi-additional story and map content. There, in the grand scheme of things, is some sort of finale of sorts planned for the game, and as of yet all we can do is sit back until the kill count (roughly 215 million or so) is reached.

Now, instead of following the general rule of thumb that multiplayer games must be action packed shooters with plenty of depth and showy gameplay, The Flock takes quite another approach entirely. Its world is grey and shadowy, inhabited by beings known as the titular Flock- zombie like in some appearances, deformed, gangly, and altogether nasty to encounter I would imagine. For years these beings have inhabited what was once a rich, populated planet- Earth in fact, we are led to believe. However the Flock are not alone because lifeforms known as Carriers have appeared and whereas the Flock detest and cannot live in anything other than shadows, these Carriers can accept light and use this to their advantage. Thus exists the basis for the player versus player matches: it’s an asymmetrical approach to the classic light versus dark mantra.

At first glance, matches may seem entirely skewed in favor of the dark side, however each side is not without its benefits. Whereas there is at all times more of the Flock than the Carriers, these beasts of shadow cannot stand the slightest touch of light cast from the collectible artifacts the Carriers can wield, meaning they will essentially disintegrate on contact. However, along with their strength in numbers the Flock also boasts physical strength and size and speed, a near perfect match to the Carriers apparent intelligence and cunning in utilizing said artifacts. Therefore it piques my interest enough to witness this ongoing battle, just as I am also interested to stick around for the finale and see how much players may control the eventual outcome of the horrific war for survival.

Gameplay is simple enough in concept and slightly simpler in execution, making the entire process surprisingly smooth and also somewhat easily addicting I suppose, if survival horror and terrifying close encounters in shadowy settings are your thing. Gameplay is particularly fast as it centers around players rushing towards a random location holding one artifact- the weapon or tool wielded by Carriers that emits massive quantities of light. The first player to hold the artifact becomes a Carrier and now gameplay shifts to one versus one hundred. The Flock attempts to kill the Carrier as the Carrier utilizes their new technology in order to survive and complete specific objectives. There’s one catch to prevent the shadowy Flock from instant death in the light however and it’s quite a doozie. If you’re particularly fond of Doctor Who or any good at the similar earthly game known as ‘Statues’ then you’re going to enjoy this one.

Think of the Weeping Angels and how they only move when you blink, turn your back, or make otherwise entirely too foolish mistakes around them. Now add a flashlight to the mix and change the universal rules around a little bit so that they can only move in shadow but in light they must stay still for fear of death, if they fear such a thing. This is the basic premise for the game and this is why, while incredibly simple in concept, there is actually quite a great deal of strategy in playing as both Carriers and Flock. Although you may be outnumbered as a Carrier you wield quite a powerful weapon against the Flock, however by the same token you are incredibly vulnerable and should the Flock choose to work together and be cunning enough, they will still inevitably overtake you.

Gameplay continues as the Flock kills the Carrier and a new Carrier is chosen and the cycle continues along until one player gains enough points from completing objectives and holding the artifact essentially. That’s a basic rundown of everything that is known about the game, but now let’s talk a little bit more about the experimental part of things and why it is of even greater interest to me than this game alone ever could be, indie darling or no.

Perhaps intended or perhaps not, The Flock could make a very strong case for games forcing opposing players to actually work together in order to achieve some end goal. I’m sure this was somewhat intentional by design, but I still admire it nevertheless. Player versus player is most definitely the goal here as ultimately only one can reign victorious, and there are no teams. However, I particularly appreciate that, once a player ascends to Carrier status, initially the Flock will still attempt to kill them singlehandedly, however if the Carrier player is quite good at surviving then the Flock will be forced to ultimately work together in order to be cunning enough to take them down. Sure, the Carrier should never really be hunting the Flock whatsoever so survival for the respawning Flock is no big issue, however they still need to survive long enough in order to get remotely close enough to stifle the beams of light emitted from the Carrier’s artifact.

So, no verdicts on my part as of yet- I will wait my time until the death count has been reached and until the finale we’ve been promised comes to light. However, let it be said that I’m going to not only do my part and participate here and there, but also stand by and watch with interest as this project takes shape even more. I think, by design, it sends an interesting message in its dark apocalypse, as well as showcases some brilliantly simple gameplay and settings. I promised I’d stick to my word and write a few more blogs this year despite being busy, so here’s another to add to that list. Ciao friends.

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