The first time I played flOw was as a PC flash game and I wasn’t really impressed with it. So when I heard that Sony was porting it over to PS3 I was less than enthusiastic, and this bias was still fresh in my mind when I started this review. However, five minutes of PS3 game time later, I had completely changed my mind about flOw.
It’s apparent that Sony Computer Entertainment’s Santa Monica studio has worked really hard to improve things and deliver not only an enjoyable game but a unique experience.
Small and perfectly formed
The theme for flOw is simplicity and the theme is carried over to the control scheme extremely well. Using the Sixaxis tilt controls, you steer an amoeba-like creature around what seems to be a deep ocean or microscopic setting. Whatever it is, it’s filled with all sorts of unique and articulate organisms that swim around their unique world with the same smooth movements as your… thing.
As well as gliding effortlessly about the screen, the creature can perform a number of manoeuvres. These range from speed bursts, spin attacks, lunge attacks and poisoning the other microbes (or whatever they are). Unfortunately, rather than adding to the gameplay, these abilities actually make the game even easier, and there’s little challenge to begin with.
Like the creature itself, flOw’s control are effortless and can be picked up in seconds, thanks to the Sixaxis. After a while the controls become very natural and due the intuitive controls and light weight of the Sixaxis, the creature almost becomes an extension of your body. But the creature isn’t that agile, so attacking nearby creatures can be a bit of a pain. The Sixaxis is great for making sweeping turns and generally swimming around, but it’s a bit too sensitive when trying to make quick and precise moves.
Petri dish of the day
The objective in flOw is to eat all the little organisms that populate the stage and move deeper to next stage and so on. Some stages add the twist of including bigger creatures which fight back. These creatures pose some challenge because they require some strategy to attack their weak point, but since there is no death in flOw they’re more of an irritation than a challenge.
If you’re nearly devoured by the other creatures, you’re evacuated to a safe plane or depth. Here, a few harmless creatures hang out, apparently for the sole reason for you to snack on and replenish your health. It won’t take long for you to work out how to attack the big bullies’ weak spots and they disassemble to a swarm of the little organisms ready for devouring.
Power ups could also be picked throughout the game which put the creature into a rage mode. Your creature turns red and the time between attacks is greatly reduced, resulting in more organisms being eaten at the same time. The creature also turns blue if it’s being attacked by another bigger creature or yellow if it’s poisoned. The poison disables the creature from attacking or using abilities for a few seconds, just enough time for you to become lunch for a bigger creature.
One of the features that add to the natural feel of flOw is the AI that the little organisms have. Their actions could be as simple as wandering around, to as complex as swimming in schools only to disperse at the first sign of attack. Scenes like this reminded me of something I would see on the Discovery channel.
The soundtrack or lack thereof also added to the natural feel and experience of the game. In flOw there is no backing music as such, instead the music is created as you play the game. Each time your creature eats and attacks a different note is produced. This note is then added to the already present ambient sounds. This feature not only provides a different aural experience every time you play, but also sets the mood of the game.
There is no difficulty settings for flOw, but it can be played as short, simple game, or as a more extended and often frustrating drawn out experience. This is comparable to PSP’s Loco Roco, you can fly through all of flOw’s levels in about 90 minutes. But if you’re a perfectionist and want to eat all the organisms and completely clear each stage, flOw could last you hours, maybe even days.
This brings us to one of biggest weaknesses of the game, the replayability. After finishing the game there is no real incentive to pick it up and play it again. It is simply the same thing all over again. The price of the game and the addition of multiplayer greatly offset this weakness.
Walk the plankton
I was told that I hadn’t played flOw until I had played flOw in multiplayer. So I called over a few of my buddies (who are non gamers) and we started to play the game. Their initial reaction was “what the hell is this?”
But as we continued through the game and they got the hang of the controls, it became a truly enjoyable experience. We devised plans of how to attack the larger creature and had little competitions to see who could get the biggest before the end of the level. By the time we were finished they had a very positive opinion of the game.
flOw doesn’t follow the traditional path of a game; it’s more of a chilled experience than an all-action, undersea battler. The combination of fluid, intuitive controls, freeform music and beautiful graphics makes this a very memorable experience.