It is a welcome treat that shortly after Flower joining PlayStation 4’s repertoire, gamers can now enjoy flOw on their shiny new console.
In flOw, you play as an aquatic organism that develops by eating other organisms–or becomes weaker by being eaten. Don’t worry, it’s nothing gory, but this ‘eat or be eaten’ is the driving force behind this game. Still, survival is a somewhat-backseat force, as thatgamecompany’s true MO is to raise emotions in the gamer. The underwater world of flOw is beautiful and surreal, with particles that my friend (a scuba diver) noted look very realistic. In addition, flOw is full of ethereal tones and relaxing sounds that mesh well with the underwater world, but contrast sharply with the predator-versus-prey nature of the game. As my good friend and I played flOw, we did feel a sense of emotion in both ecological roles.
You are dropped immediately into the game from the start, with only a very brief set of instructions to go on: “Go with the flOw… tilt to move. Press any button for a boost. Press Options to pause. Friends can pick up a controller and dive in.” From there, you are sent into a blue world as a tiny organism with a parenthesis for a mouth, placed among smaller organisms that initially look like Target logos. From this point, you learn the game for yourself. This isn’t a bad thing. Not having your hand held in this sort of game feels liberating and fosters exploration as you learn what can and cannot be done in the depths of the ocean.
At will, you can ascend or descend a level into the world by eating blue or red organisms, respectively. You want to descend. As you go down and the world darkens around you, you grow into a more advanced organism by eating food and other organisms you encounter along the way. Some will leave you alone and can be eaten. Others will attempt to eat you if you get too close. Still others can optionally be fought in a race to eat the other first. Once you get to the bottom of the blue world, you realize that there’s more to the game: suddenly, you’re a round organism in a pink world. Even more significant is the fact that this round organism is one of the very ones that tried to eat you early in the blue world. The cycle of life continues.
There are several “levels” like these throughout the game, and each yields a different character for you to play and different enemies for you to eat or fight. Each organism handles very differently and feels completely unique, thanks in part to its “boost” ability. At first, you’ll find that your boost does what one would expect and gives you extra speed. As you advance through the levels, however, you’ll notice that the boost changes with each organism.
Boosts truly come into play when fighting another organism. You can choose to paralyze it and devour it at your own pace while it can’t move, or hide from it until you can dive deeper and bypass it entirely. You can lunge at it and hope it doesn’t attack you in return–and if it does, you can lunge again and again, trying to eat it before it eats you and sends you one level back toward the surface.
The one downside to these underwater battles lies in feedback. Late in a level, chances are such that you’ll be pretty big, and so will some of the enemies you face. In battle, your controller vibrates equally for damage dealt and damage taken, so when both you and the enemy are huge and glowing red, and there is no other visual feedback, there is no way to tell who exactly is losing health.
As a gamer, chances are you will go into flOw with the mindset to eat ALL the things. flOw’s trophies, however, require you to be a bit pickier. The trophy list is where you learn that not only are different kinds of food particularly significant, but that certain things in the game also have names. There are credit foods, and your organism is divided into segments. Despite the goal of simplicity, these are things that should be explained in the game itself; who knows what other names and features gamers don’t yet know about? What does a credit food do that another kind of food doesn’t? What exactly IS a credit food, anyway?
flOw is a neat little indie game with a goal to entertain you and make you feel something for the world and creatures you’re experiencing. Here, it succeeds. If you’re bored with playing Assassin’s Creed or drooling over Watch_Dogs, flOw is a great place to catch your breath. The game’s $15.00 price tag may seem a bit steep considering its rather short length, but Cross-Buy is a nice incentive. Of course, if you already have the game for PS3, you may download it on other PlayStation consoles at no extra charge.
Now, all we need is for Journey to come to PS4…