Review by: Mike Laidlaw
Published: April 4, 2001
As it turns out, Douglas Adams was on to more than just a hilarious plot item when he proposed that the Earth was being observed by a group of Pan-Dimensional beings that happened to look like white rats — he just had a few of the details wrong. Well, according to Sheep at least. This whimsical game, published by Empire Interactive and developed by Mind’s Eye for the PlayStation, proposes that our wool-bearing friends were actually highly intelligent beings who belonged to a group consciousness and were left behind on Earth to observe the native inhabitants while posing as innocent animals. Unfortunately, too many years in rolling fields of heather made the sheep forget their mandate and over time they lost all sense of purpose. Humans, however, soon stumbled upon the concept of domestication. The sheep race’s group consciousness, which resulted in the urge to travel in large groups commonly known as flocks, obviously proved to be a boon for shepherds across the lands. Thus the sheep, once noble scouts for a space faring race, degenerated to the docile, methane-emitting critters we all know today.
The master race of sheep eventually noticed that some of their people had gone astray, and their efforts to rectify the situation makes up the majority of the action in Sheep. Realizing that any direct intervention would expose their presence to humanity, the alien race decides to act through indirect agents. The mothership abducts four prime shepherds and brainwashes each of them to believe that they must round up all the sheep in the world and bring them to the fabled Mount Mouflon. There, the alien mothership will reacquire their wayward people and depart the Earth forever. This may sound like a simple task at first, but those of us who’ve participated in the fine art of animal husbandry are well aware that moving a herd of any animal is never a simple matter.
The key to Sheep is understanding how a herd mentality operates. Played from a top-down perspective, the player controls a herder who must guide his or her flock from the start point of each map to a teleporter or escape vehicle that whisks the animals to safety. The sheep are controlled largely by fear: almost every non-sheep item or character in the game frightens these timid animals, so they will desperately try to avoid any space that isn’t open. As a herder, the player’s character also frightens the sheep, and as such they may be controlled to some degree. Stand behind them and they will move forward, cut to their left and they will break right and so forth. The herd mentality makes this system work, as herd animals naturally cluster together for defense. Thus, steering a herd of sheep is actually easier than controlling a single animal, as steering one is far less predictable.
An assortment of ridiculously dangerous environments complicates the herding process. There are a total of six worlds, with four levels in each world for a total of 24 normal levels, along with a final stage and some tutorial rounds. Polygon Farm, the first of these locales, features dangers like combine harvesters, electric fences and the infamous corn shark. The Village Fete levels include a line-up of archers who tend to accidentally peg the sheep rather than their targets, knights on a rocking-horse rampage, exploding barrels and boiling tar. Later areas include a space station, the whimsical Mr. Whoppy’s Happy Factory, the pre-historic Jurassic Playground and the infamous nightspot known as Clubnation. Similar puzzle titles made their action more memorable by including fascinating death sequences, such as the infamous Tomato Ketchup Factory in Lemmings, and Sheep goes out of its way to deliver the same madcap antics. The hapless animals are pinned to the archery targets, squished flat under tires and burst into flames in lava, all to hilarious results that force you to take the game with a light heart.