Once in Flowerlake Review: Routine, Schmoutine
There’s so much importance placed on friendships that “last forever.” Like if you’re still in contact with your friends you made back in your childhood, they matter more than the ones you made at work, online, or through gaming. Almost no recognition is given to the friends that we make in the moment, who help us through certain situations and then return to their own lives. The kids who sat with us at middle school lunch hour so we wouldn’t be alone — even though their names and faces are now lost to the annals of time. The coworker who we’d commiserate with whenever the boss’ back was turned, both the boss and coworker now a memory in the rearview mirror of life. These people may have been temporary in the grand scheme of things, but is life not a series of temporary situations? Can’t temporary people have an impact on us in ways that our friends and family do not?
That’s one of the things Once in Flowerlake asks players to contemplate in this short but scintillating sci fi story. Developed and self-published by solo indie dev Mikhail Nesnamov, Once in Flowerlake is available on Steam for an inexpensive pricetag of $4.99. With a completion time clocking in at 1 – 2 hours, players may not sped a lot of time with Once in Flowerlake, but they’ll definitely be thinking about it long after the credits roll.
Once in Flowerlake has players taking on the role of a nameless man on a far-flung frozen world. He doesn’t remember anything before landing on this snowy planet — all he knows is that he’s stationed here to keep the machines running. After awhile, he fell into a ritual of running around his cabin and starting up the machines again each morning, assuming he was doing his part for the greater good. It wasn’t so bad, he rationalized — after all, the routine is simple, and the payoff of keeping humanity afloat is great, so why shouldn’t he continue doing this monotonously repetitive job? So on he trudged through the snow, maintaining these machines, until a woman briefly came into his life that made him question the meaning of it all.
What drew me to Once in Flowerlake were the aesthetics. I was intrigued by the fact that this world is supposed to be frozen and desolate, but it’s still somehow covered in plants that peek out through the snowbanks. The way the light shimmers across the snow as well is so pleasing, and the darkness that falls across the landscape never gets too dark, much like how nighttime with snowfall is still dazzlingly bright. If atmospheric games are your thing, this is definitely going to please.
While I love the idea of Once in Flowerlake tremendously, because I think it has important messages about temporary friends and breaking routines to impart, the execution could have gone a little better. For one, I never got to truly feel like the man was mired in a monotonous routine because I only performed the actions once before something new happened. The easiest solution would be to force players to live out a few more days starting up the machines over and over again, but trudging through the snow was like… well, trudging through snow. It was atmospheric, but at odds with an exploration game. So while I would have wanted to feel the unending routine to really empathize with the character, walking was a massive hassle.
Once in Flowerlake is a short game, but I don’t want to knock it for its length — it accomplished what it set out to do, and as a story I think it told what it wanted to tell. But I can’t say that going through the motions of actually playing the game was a lot of fun; instead, trudging through snow was more of an exercise in frustration. Coupled with potential dangers that will send you back to the beginning of the area should you encounter them, I didn’t feel the urge to continue the story after the first twenty or so minutes and likely would have uninstalled then and there if I wasn’t reviewing the game. Once in Flowerlake undeniably looks good, but unfortunately doesn’t feel good.
Once in Flowerlake is an atmospheric game for people with patience, and I genuinely mean that in the nicest possible way. It portrays individual components well, such as stagnant routine, temporary friendships, a foreign world, and what trudging through snow feels like, but all of these elements mixed together get in each other’s way at times. If you feel to your core that life is about the journey, not the destination, Once in Flowerlake is a tiny yet tantalizing tale worth playing through.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Mikhail Neznamov; Developer: Mikhail Neznamov; Players: 1; Released: November 17, 2021; MSRP: $4.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of Once in Flowerlake provided by the developer.