This review is based on the PlayStation 3 version of flOw.
Before their breakout hit Flower, thatgamecompany’s first commercial release was flOw. It also belongs in the casual category, but there’s a poignancy about it that gamers should experience.
I described Flower as bright and vibrant, and while flOw isn’t the antithesis of that, it has a distinctly different style. Your avatar and the other organisms around you are bright, but the ocean you inhabit is a dark void that feels oppressive. It’s a psychological effect rather than an explicit design choice, but that feeling amplifies as you descend layer by layer to the lower recesses. The audio is similarly sparse and moody, with an ebb and flow that evokes a sense of melancholy as you progress.
The sense of isolation does enhance recognition (or at least awareness) of individuality, and perhaps that’s the intent; we often move between different sections of our lives without a relationship with those around us, and flOw is a stark reminder of that. The game doesn’t have a narrative to confirm or deny this, so I’m left to speculate upon the insights that studio heads Kellee Santiago and Jenova Chan have imparted on us in various interviews, but that’s my personal takeaway. I didn’t have a chance to experience the multiplayer experience, and I’m curious how that influences this dynamic.
thatgamecompany’s signature style of streamlined controls is in full effect here, as you only need the motion based movements on the SIXAXIS controller to move around. That’s more than enough to float around the various slices that make up each level, eating vegetation or attacking enemies through contact. It feels imprecise at times, but familiarity with the responses and a measured approach will sort that out.
flOw is engaging but brief, and is more accurately described as an interactive experience as opposed to a traditional game. There’s no explicit reward, and the only objective is to reach the destination. Whether that end point is the goal itself or simply a conclusion to the emotions you’ve experienced progressing through the level, is up to you to decide.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars