I’ve always been a big proponent of narrative-driven video games that put the gameplay second and allow the story to take the driver’s seat. Whether it be Telltale Games (R.I.P) and their multitude of episodic adventures or Dontnod Entertainment and the Life is Strange franchise, I’ve often found these ‘narrative over gameplay’ experiences to leave a longer lasting impact than other games. While gameplay and story having an equal role should be the goal for most games, I never shy away from the subgenre of games that many often discredit as ‘boring interactive films’. The Flower Collectors is cut from the same cloth as those aforementioned games, and although it’s impact may not be as strong it still tells an impressive story that will have you eager to discover more.
Barcelona looks pretty from the balcony
The Flower Collectors takes place in an anthropomorphic animal inhabited Barcelona in 1977, a mere two years after the death of Francisco Franco, the nationalist dictator that had ruled Spain since the conclusion of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Spain is continuing its turbulent transition from nationalist regime to modern democracy, and although things seem better than they once were, civil liberties still seem a fair way off.
You play as Jorge, a wheelchair bound, retired Policeman (technically Policebear) with a troubled past. Unable to walk the streets like he used to due to his injury, he instead opts to pass time by relaxing on his balcony, taking in the world through his trusty binoculars. One night he witnesses a murder, which in turn leads budding journalist Melinda his way, with the bear and cat forming an unlikely alliance to find who is responsible. The story when explained this way appears rather simple, but there is far more going on under the surface. The Flower Collectors isn’t a game afraid of getting dark or political, covering some harsh realities that surely take place in a nation wrestling for stability such as police corruption and brutality. For the sake of keeping the mystery alive I’m not going to delve much deeper, but The Flower Collectors tells a truly engaging story.
Finding out who The Flower Collectors are is particularly interesting
Serving as Melinda’s eyes on the street, you watch the happenings of the street below from your balcony. As an ex-cop with experience in investigations, you are Melinda’s eyes and ears in helping solve the murder mystery. Gameplay boils down to looking at the environment through either the binoculars or camera, taking photos or noticing things occuring in the street below, before Melinda and Jorge meet at the end of the day and incrementally piece together what exactly is going on. The gameplay is rather simple, however it doesn’t get too boring throughout the roughly two-to-three hour playthrough. There are some occasions where waiting for Melinda to move from one location on the streets to the next can lead to some boring dead time, however most of the time the game is still giving you things to look for.
Spending the entirety of the game within the confines of Jorge’s small apartment is a novel concept, succeeding in making the world feel lived in. You notice the same kids playing each day in the street below, you see how the Priest and the homeless man have a strong friendship and you constantly notice the stereotypical old lady who has nothing better to do other than look out her window and play nosy neighbourhood watch (which is kind of what Jorge is doing…). While I love the premise of solving a murder mystery without stepping a foot out of the house, there are some things that this design choice see you miss out on. The first is the fact that you never get to visit the locations you’re constantly viewing through a lens. The Cabaret for example is a place of constant interest throughout the narrative, and it’s immediately clear there are some dodgy dealings occurring. While you see the odd conversation occur on the balcony, and Melinda does her best to summarise what she heard, it just hammers home the point that I wish I were snooping around. I want to see how dodgy it is at the Cabaret myself, and not being able to do so is a little disappointing, however I do still love the concept of being restricted to the apartment.
Doña Anna is always scoping the streets through her window
While The Flower Collectors had me engaged with its narrative and appeased with its gameplay, I did have a few gripes that muddied my enjoyment ever so slightly. The biggest problem I had with The Flower Collectors was the confusing pacing of the game. After starting relatively strongly, I feel like the game has a lull for a couple of chapters just prior to the mid-game, before maintaining great intrigue and attention from that point until the end of the game, where it then abruptly ends just as you expect to see a great payoff. The story kind of just immediately fizzles at the end, and you don’t get to see any of the impact that your actions would have likely made. The ending isn’t horrible, it just left me wanting more.
The momentum built by the final chapters is somewhat dampened by an abrupt ending
The Flower Collectors may not quite reach the heights of the games that inspired it, held back by minor pacing hiccups and a lack of exploration, but nonetheless it’s a two-and-a-half-hour romp I’m hard pressed not to recommend to those who have a sweet tooth for narrative driven gameplay experiences.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher