February 20, 2007 - flOw isn't so much a game as it is an experience. With simplistic but beautiful and unique visuals, a haunting soundtrack (THX-certified, no less) and a "let's see what's next" design approach, flOw is all about exploring the unknown and seeing what lies deeper in the game's seemingly infinite fluid.
If you've seen the trailer, you should already know exactly what flOw is all about. When the game starts up, it gives you four simple instructions that explain how to move, how to boost, how to pause and that other players can jump in at any time for some co-operative play. They're simple directions for an extremely simple game, one that gives you only what you put into it. You simply eat other creatures in order to evolve your creature, and move up and down vertically-stacked levels by eating certain objects in order to progress.
flOw's controls are extremely straightforward in setup - the Sixaxis' tilt controls are used for movement while any one of the buttons acts as an action button. Movement is controlled in more of a steering fashion rather than "pushing" your character, and the direction you input is based on the angle of the Sixaxis, not how you turn it. This sounds confusing, and there is a bit of a learning curve involved in getting used to the controls, but after a bit with the game movement becomes second-nature.
One cool thing about flOw is that the action that you perform is determined by which form you're using. With your starting form, pressing a button will boost you forward, but with your second you perform some sort of spin attack. Another form can poison other creatures, and so on and so forth. By the time you've "finished" the game you'll have come across six different forms of evolution, each of which you can swap back into at any point. Swapping forms resets your evolutionary phase and starts you at the beginning of their level, so you're not able to perform some sort of combo-attacks on helpless amoeba, but it's cool that you can go back and play with whatever creature you'd like.
This brings up one of flOw's bigger draws in that you'll keep playing in order to simply see what's next. As you eat the organisms around you, you'll grow and morph into bigger and more complex forms. A simple and small claw-mouthed organism may resemble a long, segmented and winged snake at the end of its evolutionary cycle. Some of the forms that you'll take on are so large that they don't even come close to fitting on the screen, their tail dragging behind and out of view. The designs for most of the creatures are rather similar, obviously pulled from the same few basic designs, but each are beautiful creatures in their own unique ways.
One of flOw's greatest strengths is its presentation and just how smoothly everything works together. For instance, there is no pause screen. Pressing Start simply takes your character to an empty level where it wanders about on its own until you press Start again. Similarly, you can't actually die in the game. Should you lose all of your health segments, you'll be taken up one level so that you can eat and replenish yourself before diving downward again.
The downside to this is that there really isn't any sort of a challenge here. Some of the battles can get a little hectic as you speed to and fro, attempting to gobble up as many segments as possible while not losing your own, but there isn't much of a penalty for performing poorly.
The other downside is that though it's an extremely peaceful and fluid experience, there isn't a whole lot to do. You're simply eating things to evolve, and in a very linear fashion to boot. Whereas something like Spore promises all sorts of variety and choice in how you play the game, flOw is about as straightforward a game as they come. You don't have a choice in how your creature will evolve, so once you've played through each form once you'll have seen just about everything there is to see in the game.
flOw is an extremely interesting game for multiple reasons. The only goal is to evolve and see what's next, and its presentation couldn't be any better. The downside is that that's about all there is to the game. You evolve in a linear manner, so replaying the game is only fun if you want to veg out. It's certainly worth a purchase if only because it's so unique, but don't expect to be glued to your television for hours on end.