I was born in 1977, the year in which Barcelona-based The Flower Collectors is set. So I’ll forgive myself somewhat for my ignorance of the events taking place in Spain at the time. And then unforgive myself because good grief, me, I should be far more aware of history as recent as this. Which makes me extra-glad I’ve played this fantastic murder mystery.
After Francisco Franco died in 1975, Spain finally began to emerge from the dictatorship that had controlled the country since the 1930s. Unsurprisingly, this wasn’t an overnight event, but rather something that took years, and years that were often extremely brutal for those who lived through them. The Flower Collectors – the name’s sinister meaning revealed as you play – takes place during this turmoil, as those from the nationalist regime clung on to the remains of their authority by their fingernails, while a new generation of artists, poets and intellectuals fought to bring about change. It’s also about a wheelchair-bound retired cop, stuck in his apartment, who witnesses a murder.
So yes, you have Rear Window meets the Pact Of Forgetting. Equipped with his binoculars, former cop Jorge is a bitter old man with a murky past, wiling his years away spying on the neighbours, the cabaret club across the road, and the padre running the local church. He keeps himself to himself, right up until a young woman bursts through his front door immediately after the murder, and begs to hide out in his apartment.
This is Melinda, a reporter who was due to meet the murder victim, only to see him shot moments before. Thrown together, and with a growing suspicion of the actions of the Policía Armada, the two of them begin investigating the murder themselves.
What a set-up! What a setting, what a circumstance. Perfect. And it’s presented nicely too, played first-person through Jorge’s eyes, as you roll about his apartment and balcony, wielding binoculars or a camera, tracking the actions of all the suspects and locals, and piecing together multiple situations via a pinboard and gathered sketches, photographs and noted clues.
There’s fantastic voice acting to go with it, with the main characters all superbly cast. Opting for Hispanic American actors might feel a little odd, considering the setting, but it seems a good compromise, and makes for fabulous pronunciation of all the Spanish words. I could listen to them say “Policía Armada” all day. But that might just be me. There’s one miscast smaller character, annoyingly – an elderly lady who plays a very interesting part in the story is clearly a young actor doing an “old voice”, and games, just stop it. Come on. Old people exist. You can cast them.
As you play, events play out in a sort of semi-real-time within each scripted chapter, meaning if you’re not looking in the incredibly obvious and heavily flagged direction, you might miss something relevant or helpful for fully comprehending the situation. You can also make decisions that will determine the fates of many of the characters in the neighbourhood, often based on whether you want Jorge to be someone who wants to be part of the old ways, or the new.
Melinda is a little less subtly written. She’s essentially an ultra-woke time traveller from 2020, sent back to the late ’70s to be completely up-to-date on the most Twitter-acceptable views on every imaginable topic. I get why, especially to contrast Jorge’s clunking old-man ways, but Melinda would have been a far more interesting character if she’d been allowed the odd flaw.
Obviously the game is directly political, and there’s no ambiguity about its opinions on the fascist regime of Franco. However, it leaves more room for interpretation on whether there’s any direct support for the actions of the ETA, and the role terrorism played in the overthrowing of the dictatorship. The topic is frequently raised, but never calmly discussed. I like that about it.
Oh, and perhaps I should have mentioned, everyone in the game is a different anthropomorphised animal. I only realise I’ve forgotten to mention this until now because, honestly, it plays such a minor part in how the game is experienced that it genuinely didn’t cross my mind. It’s just now that I recall that Melinda is a cat, your former colleague a dog, the local priest an owl.
The art is nice enough, but the tech feels a little primitive. It’s a case of good artist, bad tools, I think. Since the game is entirely set in one building, with a view across a single plaza, it’d be nice if it could have looked a bit more beautiful, perhaps more directly comparable with its obvious inspiration, Firewatch. However, it’s often very pretty within this, and I really enjoyed the way the place looked so different depending upon the weather and time of day.
I was just so intrigued by this. I loved learning so much through playing, and it’s just shocking to remember that Holiday Destination Spain was a place of such turmoil and upheaval within my own lifetime. At £20, its four or so hours feels short, but as I mentioned, it’s immediately intriguing to go back and replay making different decisions, or deliberately failing to help certain people, to see the implications playing out.
I really can’t believe there’s not more buzz about this! It feels ridiculous I’m even needing to cover this here. (Although kudos to Eurogamer for being the only major site to notice it too.) I hope some more attention is paid, and this gathers the speed it deserves.
Really weird disclaimer: I want to put this on the record here, for personal reasons. I have a game I intend to make one day, for which plans were made years back, about an old cop in a wheelchair, stuck in his apartment, who solves crimes with the help of a younger woman. I’ve shared these specific ideas in a GDD with others in the past, and have piles of evidence for that. I say all this because if I ever make it, I want to be abundantly clear that I independently had the idea long before I’d ever heard of The Flower Collectors, and you can imagine how my heart sank when I realised they’d beaten me to it!