I knew that I was in on The Flock when it almost made me jump out of my shoes during GDC. Holding what amounted to a magical flashlight, keenly aware that I was being hunted by creatures in the darkness, I illuminated a demonic statue and noticeably jerked. Vogelsap's marketing director Peter Dijkstra noticed and laughed.
He teased, "It scared you, huh?"
It did scare me, mainly because in its own way The Flock is a pretty scary game. It's not a conventional survival horror game by any means, but it doesn't have to be. The Flock utilizes light and shadow to great effect, heightening the senses and raising the tension to an almost unbearable degree for both sides. For the holder of the Light Artifact, it is an anchor against the darkness, and the only defense against the ravenous shadow monsters trying to steal it for themselves. For the monsters, the light burns through the comforting shadows, serving as both a beacon and a warning against getting two close.
An asymmetrical multiplayer game, The Flock pits four monsters against the holder of the Light Artifact, whose goal is to survive as long as possible. If the monsters take the artifact holder down, then they claim it for themselves and get a chance to build up some points while the fallen hero becomes one of the Flock. The Light Artifact is the key, its beam being capable of melting monsters in seconds. It has its limitations, though. Stop moving for a bit, or linger in one area for too long, and its protective glow will flicker and go out.
The monsters likewise have their own set of tricks. They linger in the darkness, skulking behind the Light Artifact bearer as they slowly make their way across the map, the glow penetrating the gloom like a lighthouse on a foggy day. Members of the Flock can't attack directly, but they can become statues if they stand still, which is both a great protective measure and very useful for springing ambushes. They can also set a decoy, then teleport to it when the bearer is distracted, where they attack from the rear.
The maps consist of dilapidated ruins, caves, and industrial areas, many of them filled with statues among which the Flock can hide. That was what caused me to jump, by the way. I was moving along methodically and trying to watch my back when my light settled on one of the statues, which look just like the members of the Flock. It took me all of five minutes of playing The Flock to become incredibly paranoid.
Based on what I've seen so far, I'm really impressed by what Vogelsap has been able to accomplish with only nine people (one of them, Dijkstra, who now doubles as PR), especially given that they've yet to even graduate from the Utrecht School of the Arts (HKU). The Flock's polish is impressive, and the team has done a really impressive job of crafting a genuinely tense and spooky atmosphere. It's no wonder that the staff at the Dutch Game Garden highlighted Vogelsap as a group ready to make a name for themselves when I visited back in January.
This is what I meant when I said that I'm looking for more ambition from independent developers outside of the puzzle platformers and roguelikes that have lately become somewhat cliche. The Flock not only looks great, it's technically ambitious, leveraging the Unity engine's capabilities to great effect. And all this from a group who originally submitted The Flock as a second-year school project.
With work seemingly nearing completion — Vogelsap opened a closed alpha back in Halloween that saw more than 10,000 signups — The Flock is currently set for release on PC at some point in 2015. I'll certainly be keeping an eye out for updates over the next few months. I imagine there are many more scares where that came from.