Sony seem to be trying to prove that the PlayStation Network service will cater for all tastes based on the first generation of downloadable games for the online service. So far we’ve been treated to family puzzle games, a retro classic, and a hardcore shmup among others.
With flOw, the PS3 has its first art-house title, which is certain to be received well by gaming academics and industry veterans, but is harder to judge as a commercial release. Feeling a little more like an interactive doodle, after your first play it will come as no surprise that it started out life as a Master of Fine Arts thesis project.
As a piece of software it is certainly attractive and stylish, if not technically impressive, and though it is unique and immensely satisfying to toy with, it doesn’t really feel like a game, at least by traditional standards.
Juggling in equal parts the looks of Electroplankton and Res, the greedy gameplay of Pac-man and the gentle, meandering pace of Ecco the Dolphin, flOw lets you toy with a plankton gobbling entity adrift in a deep tank of thick, dark gel. Taking advantage of the Sixaxis motion sensitive control function, you steer your microscopic alien sea creature by tilting the PS3 controller gently in the desired direction, initially using any of the face buttons to accelerate. If flOw does nothing else, it proves Sixaxis is a delicate and workable control method that is much more than the last minute response to the Wii controller many thought Sony’s invention would be.
As you consume the various miniature creatures that drift through the flOw’s gel, you evolve into an increasingly complex wire-frame creature. It is easiest to imagine yourself looking down from above on a skyscraper of a tank, as the liquid has numerous different layers stacked up in a tower like the floors of a building. Certain plankton cause you to raise up and down one level, and as you plunge deeper down your food source become larger, more numerous, and eventually just as hungry and dangerous as you.
The game is consistently easy, but as the creatures evolve in size they turn into something like bosses, defeated by eating key glowing points of their highly evolved bodies. Upon their defeat you are rewarded with the spoils of their own greedy appetite, increasing your size and shape further still.
As you reach the bottom of the tank you return to the top with a second entity available, capable of a vicious spin attack instead of the speed boost, and so it continues until you are armed with a host of creatures with various abilities.
Left field and conceptual, there are no points, goals or levels in the traditional sense. Even the menu screen is blended into the gameplay experience, and instead of difficulty levels you simply choose how much time you want to take in each layer of the gloopy liquid before you delve deeper into the gelid void.
You certainly don’t need an HD TV to enjoy this game, but in HD it is particularly pretty to behold. Somehow the sense of moving through a viscous liquid rather than an empty screen space is realised with satisfying realism, and on the whole flOw is a wonderfully soothing and relaxing experience. If you are looking for action, plot or adventure, then steer well clear, as it would not be unfair to describe flOw as empty and without substance.
It may not have any longevity beyond the times you boot it up to show off to friends as a curio of you new PS3, but at a budget price it is an undeniably unique and enchanting piece of software.