flOw

The Playstation Store has made an excellent opening, thanks mostly, perhaps, to the release of the free Gran Turismo HD Concept download. Just one week after the European PS3 release and the Playstation Store is also home to one of the most unique and interesting games to grace any console for years. flOw is an experience like no other and may not even classify as a game in the usual sense. Sitting back and playing flOw is relaxing and peaceful with music that completes an experience akin to sitting on a boat floating over a coral reef.

The game begins with four simple pieces of information: You control movement using the tilt function of the SIXAXIS pad, you can "boost" by pushing any button, friends can join at any time and players can pause with the start button. After that, the game begins and you, as what appears to be a type of deep sea organism, can start gliding around the depths of a multi-layered ocean. The aim of the game is to eat other creatures in order to "evolve", causing your creature to develop new features such as extra segments, tentacle-like growths and increasingly colourful patterns.

flOw

After exploring a particular layer and encountering all the other organisms present, players can move to other layers, up or down, by eating specific organisms of recognizeable colours. With each new layer, creatures of various size, taking widly different forms, start to appear, presenting new and interesting problems for your own creature until eventually, a totally new evolutionary form will become available and you can start the process again as a new organism. It's relatively simple stuff and working through each of the six forms may not take much more than an hour, but the game never feels like you need to continually strive for progress, instead encouraging you to simply enjoy the surroundings and marvel at the tranquil movements of the on-screen creatures.

The motion control, using the tilt function, feels extremely natural and provides one of the first great usages of the SIXAXIS pad's motion-sensitive features. Once you're set and happy moving your creature around, it's time to start munching. Many of the smaller creatures are easy targets and form a good basis to build your creature's strength, but to achieve the most impressive evolutionary forms, it'll be necessary to go after larger creatures or groups of schooling organisms. These present a tougher challenge and require the usage of the "boost" function. In some creatures, this is a simple speed boost, allowing swift bursts across the screen but in later creature forms there are also poison attacks in order to weaken other creatures that would normally fight back.

Whilst it's reasonably simple stuff, the gameplay is strangely compelling. It never forces you to keep striving for any particular target, instead simply allowing you to enjoy the things around you.

The demo has a decent range of cars, eight vehicles in all from Mazdas to Ferraris (a latter are a welcome new feature for the Gran Turismo series) with additional tuned versions unlockable as players progress through the time trial challenges. I have to emphasize again that this demo is free, so there's a generous amount of content here. The main thing to note though is that new ideas are being tried with Gran Turismo, but the overall solid gameplay areas remain. With development time likely to stretch into next year, the gameplay side of things shoudl hopefully be tuned to perfection by the time the game is released.

flOw

Considering flOw is just a small downloadable game, the visuals are surprisingly effective. Though not complicated, the graphical side of things succeeds through effective use of colour, translucency effects and smooth, shiny textures. Imagine looking down on a large, completely undisturbed lake and dropping a stone near the center. flOw is like watching the ripples emanate from the stone drop, it just feels incredibly natural and beautiful, even though there isn't much to it. The visual success is a little hard to describe, but it works brilliantly - take a look at the screenshots to see!

The THX-certified soundtrack is as unique as the gameplay it accompanies. Similar in style to the graphical side of the game, the soundtrack is kept simple with slightly haunting pieces of music that perfectly suit the depths of an ocean. A handful of sound effects from the creatures and surrounding organisms are enough to get by, but it's the music that really makes the sound in the game a success and completes the game package in the process. In much the same way as Star Wars owed a great deal to it's music, this latest THX related product would be significantly reduced without it's sounds.

flOw

Based on an internet game going by the same name, flOw for the PS3 takes the experience to a whole new level. If you've had enough of frantic races through Monument Valley or can't face defending the Earth from the Chimaera any longer, then give flOw a chance to let you recouperate. The challenge is minimal and there isn't a great deal to do - it's no Grand Theft Auto style toybox, that's for sure - but there is no game quite like flOw and it's arguably the best downloadable title in the Playstation Store, making it well worth a look.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

Sony

Developer:

thatgamecompany

Players:

1-2

Online:

Downloadables

Release:

2007-03-23

Trophies:

14

Review summary

Gameplay:

The most tranquil experience on PS3

Graphics:

Simple but stylish

Sound:

Atmospheric, haunting... beautiful

Lastability:

Very short, but replayable

7.9

Volcanic

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