|Originally a simple student-based Flash project, Sony have ported Flow over to the PS3's download service. Woohoo!|
Do you detest the quiet life? Did you find Ico "boring"? Do you play games solely to kill shit? Answer yes to any of the above, and Flow ain't for you. Click that little "X" adorning the top right corner of this window, go back to curb stomping yanks on Live, and seldom look back, misguided misanthrope.
Don't worry though, Flow cares not for you either.
What started life
as a "Flash-based experimental life-form toy" (by students, can you tell?), here the game's been snatched up by Sony and remixed into a fully downloadable arcade game for their PS3 store. A wise move on their part too, as it's the sort of top quality, gorgeously artistic and beautifully original offering one hoped would be all over Xbox Live by this point. Instead we have Root Beer Tapper.
Go With the...
|As you progress through the game, you'll take over additional forms, including this jellyfish-looking son of a...|
Flow is a gloriously pretty underwater mini-game, one in which you play an abstract sea creature, gobbling up fellow life-forms while admiring pretty views. You start out as a single-celled organism, simply swimming this way and that, devouring all in your path, which in turn makes your creature mutate. It'll grow additional appendages, increase its length, and in turn make crazy off-the-wall bodily patterns...that'd almost be kinda gross, if they weren't so insanely pretty. What's cool is this "customisation" of your organism is all dependant on both what you eat, and the order you eat it, so the creature you mould will forever differ to that of your buddy's.
The game is even more freeform than that though, in that you don't "need" to eat anything at all if you so wish. I call Flow a game, but it isn't one in the traditional
sense you see, it's - if I can don my new school journo hat for one sec - more of an "experience". You can happily just swim around, minding your own business, delving deeper and deeper into the waters, and enjoying the calm spectacle of the incredible visuals if you so wish. You can whizz straight through and finish the entire game in all but a few minutes, even.
Take your time though, devouring every last morsel of life to be found - beefing up your creature into a monstrous behemoth in the process - and you'll find not only a title bordering on two to three hours in length...but one far more rewarding to boot.
|Every stage has its own unique look, including enemies, backgrounds and overall color scheme|
It's ludicrously simple on the face of it, offering little to no front-end, no menu system, and barely even a title screen...yet there's just
enough depth here to make it work splendidly. You can unlock a variety of different forms for instance - a dolphin-esque beastie, another more akin to a jellyfish and so on - with each boasting their own unique traits and abilities to set 'em apart, like poisonous sacks and speed increases. These abilities do add some minor, and much needed depth like I say, but much like the rest of this game, are never really explained to you either. You have to sorta feel 'em out and make sense of what's going on for yourself. I dig that.
A two player mode pops along too incidentally, one in which you and a pal share a screen, gobbling up sea-life side by side. Without scores to compete over, or any real co-operative slant at all, it's not the most gripping of multiplayer games, but proves a pleasing addition regardless, and one I certainly won't stick my nose up at. Sadly, it ain't online.
One other thing to know about Flow though...you can't actually die. There's no real danger at all, in fact. Predators do roam the waters, true, but they'll never flat-out slaughter you. Nope, Flow is way too chilled and relaxing to bog you down in such annoyances and violence. It's a smooth, luscious day-dream of a game you see, gorgeously soothing in its appearance, while hypnotic and effortless in its ease. This ain't a high-score fest, a reflex test or a level grind...Flow is so relaxing, it's what one can only describe as video gaming meditation.
Or smoking a virtual crack-pipe.
Well, perhaps not at first. For its PS3 incarnation you see, Flow opts solely for motion control. The analogue sticks? They do nothing! Instead you simply tilt the pad in the direction you want to move, with your sea creature following suit. While simple and responsive, this does unfortunately take some getting used to, with smaller targets in particular a little fiddly and awkward to maneuver around at first. We are talking a mere 10 minute learning curve next to a 2 minute one however, and even though this slightly aggravating intro goes somewhat against the calm and relaxing vibe the game otherwise so successfully emanates, after a short while it does indeed become second nature.
On the plus side, tilt control does add a sensual curviness to this game, flavoring it with a completely different feel to any of its arcadey peers. It never comes off as a Robotron clone or a Pacman wannabe with that in mind. Nope, Flow is...Flow. There really is nothing else like it.
|A large part of Flow's brilliance is its visual style, simultaneously simple, yet lavishly gorgeous|
It's also worth noting that although the original Flash game was free - while this treads closer to the £4 mark - the PS3 rendition is far more robust than that ever was. There are multiple different forms as mentioned, but also five individual "levels" to work through as well, including a fully playable end credits sequence (yes, you'll get to gobble up names like "Kaz Hirai" and "Phil Harrison" to much amusement). The presentation in particular has seen a mammoth upgrade more than anything however, with the graphics working wonders in HD, and the sound truly springing to life on a top draw home theatre system. It's almost like a self-contained, self-perpetuating ambient album in its own right, and perfect background listening for them late, smoky nights.
Somewhat worryingly, there are frame-rate issues pulling it all back a little, particularly in the busier, end-of-game sequences. How ironic that while Motorstorm, Genji and other visually stunning PS3 titles never drop a single frame, a mere 2D downloadable flash game is the one to bring this beast to its knee. A little odd, this.
The biggest downer for me though is simply Flow's lack of size. I would have loved some much larger levels, more of an explorative feel, and some truly gargantuan enemies as well. While it hints at such things, it never truly feels unleashed. There are one or two rather extravagant beasties to be seen here and there - with your own fifth stage creature one such example - but I would have loved to have seen some truly humongous, multi-screen filling motherfuckers. Misguided perhaps, but part of me wanted Shadow of the Colossus
under the sea. Not quite the case I'm afraid.
As it is, Flow's a beautiful, atmospheric, and more minimal affair, but one you could argue amounts to more of a screensaver than a full-on game. Four quid may seem a little steep with that in mind, but it's still a one of a kind experience that I feel totally worth the pinch.
Killer Download App?
|Not the crowd pleaser a Geo Wars or a Lumines is, but as a more artistic and laid-back take on the quick-fire arcade game, part of me - pssst - actually prefers Flow|
If nothing else, this is a fab addition to the "games as art" argument so many of us continually wage on a daily basis, and although it certainly won't be for everyone with that in mind, it's still the closest thing the PS3 Network has to a Geometry Wars at this point. Perhaps not in look nor style, but most certainly in pedigree, splendor...and just having a mascot to call its own. Providing your heart ain't made of stone, it's a must-download for that single reason.
More so than Resistance, Motorstorm and even good old Virtua Fighter 5, this is the game that actually fills me with the most hope and optimism regarding the PS3s future though. For all the 360's killer apps and incredible features, it's just the sort of weird, artistic and off-the-wall experiment you never see in Xbox land. To be honest, you probably never will.
It's the Aphex Twin of video games.