Vogelsap’s rookie effort, the asymmetrical multiplayer horror game The Flock, first made waves with it’s announcement that the game would shut down after 215,358,979 player deaths.  The news instantly grabbed headlines and gave The Flock a spotlight all indie games covet.  While I am relieved to say the game is more interesting than a headline-grabbing publicity stunt, it fails to realize a consistently compelling multiplayer horror experience.  Vogelsap obviously have cool ideas that are worth further exploring, but this first outing lacks the refined balance that makes multiplayer design so difficult.

The player death count in The Flock is a highlighted mechanic in the game.  Every time that you die while playing you see another life tick off of the counter, forever marching closer to zero and the game’s end.  It makes The Flock feel less like a game and more like an event to which you’ve been granted admission. 215 million deaths is certainly a lot and it will likely be a long time before the game shuts down – depending upon sales – but there’s something about watching a game countdown to its own demise that is intriguing.wXY7iW2jl8EnEqoenD3pSrEODuTOBp9zumNWF_c83Ag

The game itself is pretty simple – an elaborate reimagining of predator and prey that is likely to give you the same chills as playing childhood games like Ghosts in the Graveyard late at night.  Everyone beigns as part of the titular Flock.  As a member of the Flock you are a beastly gargoyle-like creature.  You can crawl quickly, leap high in the air, and turn to stone when you hold still.  Turning to stone is an important part of the game as it is the only way to defend yourself against the single Carrier whom you are hunting.

A few seconds after the game starts a light artifact will appear somewhere on the map.  The first player to find the artifact becomes the Carrier and must shine the light on the Flock in order to kill them and protect themselves.  The Carrier can also find blue orbs which they can use their light artifact to unlock and earn extra points.  The longer you hold the light artifact and the more objectives you unlock the more points you score.  The member of the Flock who finally kills the Carrier assumes the role themselves.

The rules are sound and the very premise makes for a nerve-racking experience.  Hunting the Carrier is usually fun as you lurk around the map, making yourself still as your prey passes by so that they won’t notice you, only to leap from the shadows and take them out.  Once you become the Carrier, the feeling of hunting superiority is gone.  You now become the hunted and must hurry throughout the map watching and waiting for the Flock to descend on you at any time.L-S04nkXmrzpt2gWpn83Zenug54c-VZUJcToWB_qj0Q

The maps vary in their balance.  There are three available options: The Slums, The Temple, and The Cave.  The Temple is most fun as stone figures of the Flock are littered throughout the map, making it easy to hold still and pose as one of these statues until the Carrier is close enough to kill.  The Slums is the easiest for the Carrier as there are few good hiding places for the Flock, making it easy for the Carrier to see them coming.

Multiplayer horror sounds like a difficult task, but the game leans on players to take their opponents by surprise and provide the real jump scares.  The game attempts to add some of the tension through its design.  The maps are dark and eerie.  When you catch sight the Flock the music accents the moment.  Even when you can’t see your enemies, you can tell they’re close as whispers surround you.  The game loses its punch after playing for an hour or two, but the work by Vogelsap is very smart as they try to increase the tension not only through their multiplayer design but through their aesthetic.UWyzfm3QRM8yAnDnNqlHFsd86HjRRa70esYMmc_SJ98

Unfortunately, The Flock doesn’t hold up for long.  Once you’ve figured out the layout of the maps, you know where to look for your enemies.  The game also only allows for a total of five players at a time, so it can be easy to keep track of your hunters.  If you see one of the Flock, it’s unlikely any others are around.  Many times the game dissolves to a Carrier knowing exactly where the Flock are, keeping a light on them and both parties waiting for the other to make a mistake.  This waiting game saps a lot of the energy The Flock is counting on.  

The Flock is missing a sense of scope and a feeling of helplessness.  More players or more interesting maps, like the gargoyle-filled Temple, would help.  After a few hours it’s too easy to anticipate the jump scares and the strategies as the game’s elemental design doesn’t offer much once you start to discover the tricks of the trade.  For instance, it’s almost better for the Carrier’s light go out because it’s difficult for the Flock to find them without a giant beacon signalling their location.

The Flock is a fun diversion for the first hour, but it’s a thin experience overall.  It’s a unique idea and definitely stands apart from the oversaturated marketplace of multiplayer indie games.  But the idea never matures into something more interesting.  If you find yourself craving a scary diversion on a dark and stormy night, it’s likely the game will deliver some scares. The Flock is more than a gimmick, it’s a few gimmicks rolled into an interesting idea.  But when you get beyond these initial hooks, there’s little left to enjoy.

About The Author

The Glorious Predecessor

As I write this, I am listening to Striking Matches and eating a blueberry muffin. The music is good, the muffin is even better. I dance when I drink and have been known to occasionally free-style rap, none of which benefits society.

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