This puzzle game will be as frustrating as it is addicting.
With the exception of the Who Wants To Be a Millionaire series and a few other games, the puzzle genre hasn't benefited from any particularly entertaining games as of late. Hoping to capitalize on the lull, Empire Interactive and Mind's Eye are hard at work on Sheep - a rather unique puzzle game in which your main objective is to successfully herd sheep from the beginning of a level to the end without suffering any significant sheep-related casualties along the way. Sounds simple and shallow at first, but after playing it once, you'll quickly realize that there is much more to Sheep than just a simple game of follow the shepherd.
Believe it or not, Sheep has a story, which serves the purpose of setting up the overall humorous theme of the game. Aliens from a distant planet visit Earth and leave some of their kind on the planet to observe and nurture the crude life-forms within the environment. As these life-forms grow, the alien species eventually evolve into the lesser role of a common farm animal, known as sheep. Your goal is to get to keep the sheep out of danger and get them back to their home planet. Four different shepherds - two humans and two dogs - plan to take on the task of bringing the sheep home, but each has different abilities and attributes, forcing you to be aware that one shepherd may perform better in certain situations than the other shepherds.
Getting the woolen creatures to their final destination in the initial stages isn't too difficult, thanks to Sheep's training mode. In this mode, you have a chance to become familiar with how the game controls, how the sheep react to different kinds of herding techniques, as well as with the individual characteristics of the four shepherds and the four different kinds of sheep. You learn how obstacles - such as hurdles, catapults, and button-controlled doors - come into play; you also learn how to avoid some of the more dangerous items that appear later in the game, such as electrified fences, out-of-control tractors, jets, and knights, just to name a few. But perhaps the most important aspect of the training mode is learning to deal with the time limit, and if anything makes Sheep a challenging game, it's the limited amount of time you have to complete each level. As a shepherd, your natural instinct is to stick behind the sheep and slowly maneuver them through the stage,, but you'll quickly find out that doing so won't get you very far. The training mode teaches you when to use speed and when it's better to slow down so that that none of your sheep inadvertently fall victim to the perils of a particular level. Unfortunately, the training mode tends to teach you by trial and error, so don't be surprised to see plenty of your sheep squashed, turned into a pile of ash, or end up as victims of some other fate that's equally brutal.
Choose Your Herder
As previously mentioned, all four shepherds have different personalities and characteristics, which make some better than others in specific sheepherding emergencies. The story of each shepherd gives valuable insight into how they deal with sheep and how the sheep react to them:
BoPeep: By day, she's a regular shepherd, but by night, she's a lead singer of a popular rock band. Like the other shepherds, she is unexpectedly abducted and brought to an area filled with sheep. Though she has a rock-star-like appearance, BoPeep's attitude is very different. Her kind nature makes her one of the better shepherds, as the sheep won't intentionally try to avoid her. Even when a single stubborn sheep separates from the flock, BoPeep has the best chance of coaxing it back into the flock in the shortest amount of time.
Adam Halfpint: With an attitude that's best described as a cross between Bruce Willis and David Duchovny's X-Files character, Fox Mulder, Adam Halfpint is one of the more unique shepherds. Like BoPeep, Adam is abducted and brought to a pasture populated with sheep, and because of his conspiratorial attitude, he immediately suspects that there's an evil plot taking place. Adam's relationship with the sheep isn't as good as BoPeep's, but he has learned to keep them under control with a strong hand.
Motley: The first of the two shepherd dogs in Sheep, Motley is a common house pet filled with plenty of energy. Her abduction actually gives her a chance to fulfill a lifelong dream of becoming a shepherding dog, but an unknown incident in the past keeps her from asserting herself around the flock. Unfortunately, Motley has a difficult time managing the more active and mischievous types of sheep.
Shep: The last of the four shepherds may have a gruff exterior, but Shep, underneath, is perhaps the most devoted to the art of sheepherding out of all the shepherds. Shep won numerous sheepherding tournaments and even continued to participate in the underground circuit after his master passed away. His old age and poor eyesight make him a little slower and cautious than the rest of the shepherds, but with his abduction, Shep feels that this is his last chance to end his sheepherding career as a winner.
Taking into account each shepherd's temperament is important, but you must also be aware of what Empire Interactive calls the "sphere of influence." The sphere of influence is a term that describes the invisible circular boarder, which surrounds each of the shepherds. The size of the sphere increases and decreases, depending on what speed at which the shepherd is travelling. So, in effect, you can manipulate the size of the sphere by taking advantage of the three speeds - crawl, walk, and run. When sheep are outside the sphere, their natural instinct is to stay within the flock and avoid dangerous obstacles, but if you charge into the flock at a high speed, you can break it apart and drive some sheep into a difficult situation.
Know Your Flock
Sheep is a tough game, and it's made even more difficult by the fact that there are four different kinds of sheep you can choose to herd through a level. After you've completed the level within a world, you can't use the same type of sheep until you've reached a new world; and since some sheep are easier to control than others, you have to actually think about your selection before proceeding. However, it quickly becomes apparent that no matter what types of sheep you choose from, they're all fairly stupid, and they can quickly make any herding effort very difficult.
Pastoral sheep: Also known as clouds, these are your average, everyday, sheep - the kind you see walking about farms and around the countryside. Even though they're considered as a good breed for budding shepherds, pastoral sheep are afraid of just about everything; but they do stay within the safety of the flock.
Factoral sheep: Otherwise known as "Woolheads," these sheep are a difficult breed to deal with. They aren't really afraid of anything, and they don't understand the difference between safety and danger, which causes them to run into dangerous areas without reason. Factoral sheep are also easily distracted, and they stray way from the flock to observe the environment, making them incredibly difficult to catch.
Longwool sheep: They are the rebels of the sheep world, as they don't associate themselves with the other sheep. Their rebellious nature makes them fearless, which can cause a flock to wander off without you. They are one of the easier breeds to deal with, as long as you don't venture off and look for stray sheep.
Neo-Genetic sheep: Looking as though they came from the movie The Matrix, these sheep are perhaps the smartest of the four breeds. They believe in the evolution of sheep through genetic mutation and work closely with humans and technology in the hope that they can form a city known as Technopolis. Though they may be smart - relative to the other sheep in the game, of course - the Neo-Genetic sheep are cowards and are easily frightened by the various objects that are scattered across a level.
The four different breeds certainly add another element of depth to Sheep's gameplay. Even if you didn't know their individual characteristics, it's still quite easy to see what kind of sheep you are dealing with in the first moments of a level, as they immediately react to your chosen method of herding.
From the sphere of influence that surrounds each shepherd and their individual characteristics to the types of objects and enemies that are contained in a level, there are a number of factors that contribute to the way sheep respond to the shepherd and to different herding techniques. Many of the nonplayer characters (NPCs) in Sheep also impact your herding strategies. For example, killer sheep can actually abduct individual sheep from the flock and carry them to their deaths, and large bulls wearing suits can buck your sheep, causing them to flip over and remain immobile. You must constantly be aware of NPCs and make sure that none of your sheep walk in their direction.
Sheep definitely brings an interesting twist to the puzzle genre. The sheep react to different shepherds, NPCs, obstacles, and herding techniques in a surprisingly realistic fashion. The training mode helps you understand the reaction of individual breeds to certain herding styles and shows you how to successfully maneuver through and around obstacles. Getting through the initial stages is easy, but difficulty increases significantly as you progress through the six worlds and their four sublevels - before you reach the final confrontation with Lucfleecer, the evil sheep. While the puzzle genre may not receive as much attention as some of the other mainstream genres like action or strategy, it still manages to produce some interesting and entertaining games, and it looks as though Empire Interactive's Sheep continues that tradition.
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