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Yes, sir, yes, sir, three bags full.
The polar ice caps have melted, the Great Flood has arrived, and Noah isn’t around to save any of the animals. Thankfully, you have a spaceship. Sheep, cows, pigs, bulls – barnyard critters squeal and squawk atop platform islands and patiently wait for someone to save them. Of course, no matter how hard you look, no pitiful humans have survived, perhaps because they don’t listen to nature for disasters like “real” animals do (or maybe they use up too many polygons). Nonetheless, you have placed upon yourself the responsibility of shepherding the stranded livestock on every island you find in the fastest, most efficient way possible. To save the world… I suppose.
[image1]That’s as best a story that I can devise for Flock, Capcom’s new quirky, rural space-fantasy title for the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network. You don’t see the adjectives “rural” and “space-fantasy” together all that often when describing a video game, although horror movies have thoroughly explored the concept of corn fields and hungry demons. You also don’t see the word “fun” attached to the theme of farm animal alien abductions, but Flock dares to add playful humor into the equation.
In fact, the goal of the game is to herd the animals with your cute but menacing UFO into your Motherflocker. That’s right, Capcom wants you to flock - flock from every angle, flock in every position, and flock with a tractor beam. Aside from herding sheep with the fearful presence of the ship, like a repellent magnet, your spacecraft is equipped with a beam that can either pull or push with the flick of a switch. The tractor beam can pull up a rotting fence that’s blocking a path and place it between two ledges to form a bridge, whereas the compression beam can squish crop fields to create a path or smush the sheep if you are ever feeling mean.
As you might expect, Flock doesn’t take itself seriously in any sense of the word. Though the point of each level is to meet your quota of rescued animals within the time limit for a certain medal, like a time trial in Burnout, half of the entertainment comes from abusing (accidentally or intentionally) your Sim-like quadruped victims.
[image2]Sheep will, err, sheepishly fall off the cliff into the rolling waves below, and plummet into the precariously placed pits in the island and subsequently be turned into lamb chop icons. Bull will ram fences over. Pigs can be rolled into spewing geysers of poo. One male and one female sheep can be herded into a love patch, ejecting a gush of love icons that rise and disappear to reveal a handful of baby sheep. Kill ten chickens with one throw of a boulder and you earn an Achievement/Trophy.
Lighthearted and slightly mischievous, Flock has a casual and easy-going design that’s hard to miss. Many players will push themselves to finish each level with a sparkly gold medal or with the highest score on the leaderboards, but there’s no pressure to do so. The timer is only there for medals, so all that you need to worry about is making sure enough sheep survive your antics so that you can meet the quota. The multiplayer modes and most of the fifty levels were disabled, but there will be a level editor that will let you create your own sheep-filled islands and share them with the rest of the world
The laid-back mood is grounded in the vivid cel-shaded landscape - the plateaus pieced together like a textured quilt of grass and trees - and the space-funk-country soundtrack that mixes bluegrass with alien wooo-eee-oooo sound effects. Everything feels as though it has been wrapped in an honest-to-goodness, roly-poly, happy-go-lucky, willy-nilly coat of cheerful ridiculousness.
[image3]It’s a breath of fresh air to see Capcom, a company known for sure-fire themes like zombies, fireballs, and robots, take a turn for the comically absurd, with the help of Proper Games. Flock may not be a blockbuster, even in the world of downloadable titles on the console, but this is the kind of inventiveness and frivolity that you don’t see very often from a major developer. Flock will gather onto the downloadable landscape in early April for under $20. Get it or Capcom will flock you.
(Duplicate onto PS3.)