What lacks in direct input and influence is saved by good writing, acting and a interesting concept
Calling The Flower Collectors a detective mystery game is like calling cheesecake a health food; the components that make it means you’re correct but mostly on a technicality. This isn’t to say the game fails on its premise, but it feels more like a visual novel played out at a distance (pun partially intended). Sharp writing, good voice acting and an intriguing story kept me hooked to complete the game in one sitting, but I walked away from it feeling less like a sleuth and more of an inquisitive spectator.
Since this is a story-driven game, discussing its plot in detail would lead to spoilers, so I’ll only touch on themes and what’s known in the marketing. With the game taking place in Barcelona in 1977, how much is reflected of our real world is beyond my historical/social knowledge, but it certainly addresses subjects that are very real and still encountered in our modern time. Playing as Jorge, a wheelchair-bound ex-cop, a murder occurs in the plaza outside his home. Through morbid curiosity, and with the local police not making progress, he falls in cahoots with a journalist named Melinda, teaming up to lead their own investigation. While player control is with Jorge, being a wheelchair user means he can’t wander about to question people or examine scenes; Melinda acts on his behalf this way. Either through binoculars or a camera, Jorge can scope the surrounding neighbourhood and indicate what Melinda should investigate or who she should talk to via receiver radios. It’s seldom for Jorge to speak to others directly (excluding Melinda), so after directing Melinda, there’s downtime as she chats up a person or examines a scene. You’re not left twiddling idle thumbs for very long, usually long enough to give the area another scan or think on possibilities for the case while she does her thing.
Thanks to solid writing, information that’s reported back is succinct, to the point and lacks useless fluff (red herrings excluded) that also gets recorded in Jorge’s journal for later reflection. After significant events or the end of that chapter, registered info, clues and testimony must be placed on a timeline to uncover motives, occurrences and eventually, solve the murder. Unsurprisingly things aren’t that simple story-wise as the investigation unfolds, but unfortunately it is that simple gameplay-wise. It boils down to plunking puzzle pieces into place then moving right along to the next chapter. As the player, you aren’t investigating per se; Jorge and Melinda are doing most if not all of the vocalization and thinking - You just slap their findings on a corkboard and call it a day. There didn’t appear to be any fail states for placing the wrong clues to the wrong place either, just a quick ‘no, that’s not right’ and have you try again.
This would’ve gotten in my way of enjoying the game if not for the script, concept and actors pulling me in and keeping my interest. Where choices really become your own is in the limited order versus chaos dilemma the game poses. Considering the year, location and political climate the game communicates, I can’t help but feel your moral alignment with these choices are merely black and white. Order is intrinsically evil as it favours corruption and brushing things under the rug to retain balance, while chaos isn’t pretty, but it means letting the truth be known and taking the ‘system’ down a peg*. The lack of finger-wagging (there’s no saving you from Melinda’s incensed wrath at times, though) by the game makes it a story to experience and not having any titanic weight of ‘the big moral lesson’ hanging above your head. For the heavy subjects the game addresses, it’s all played seriously but with sensitivity to avoid portraying the villains as cartoonish in their evil intent, or portraying the locals as cardboard cutouts whose fates are easily disposable. This treatment also extends to Jorge’s disability and using a wheelchair, a concept that’s not lofted to push an agenda or try to garner empty sympathy; it’s a part of him as a character/person, the game works with and around it. Admittedly, this concept was what garnered my interest in the game in the first place. As someone with disabilities of my own, it’s not often to see such characters portrayed without being treated as a punchline or used for the aforementioned empty sympathy.
Despite its genre, The Flower Collectors favours solid, full colours instead of hard noir comic stylings. Ignoring the awful occurrences nearby, the game is warm to the eyes, which avoids strain when scoping around for clues. While it’s only one location and with the limited sight of it, Jorge’s neighbourhood is a nice place to look at. The warmth of the visuals does mean that when there’s an action to trigger, it may not immediately be apparent since there’s no evident highlights or markers, the HUD itself being very limited. I only had this occur twice in my three and a half hour playthrough, and anything time-sensitive generally has a generous window to work with.
While the gameplay is limited to looking around, putting clues on a board to get a yes or no response and a handful of dialogue options, The Flower Collectors does just enough with its story, interactions and concept to keep it from being flimsy and dull. There’s some replayability with side plots that can be missed, though they don’t seem critical to the game’s completion, more of wrapping up all the optional loose ends. You can find better if you want a mystery game that asks more of you as a player, but on the other hand, if you want an interactive mystery to solve and not have the stress of various webs of intrigue to sift through, The Flower Collectors gets a definite recommendation from me.
*My own moral alignment may be influencing this view, so I can’t call this a criticism in fairness.