You begin Gathering Sky as a bird. Move your cursor, and it follows. But as you guide it through the sky, slowly adding other birds to your aerial coterie, the nature of your relationship quickly changes: you have become a flock. You not any one bird, but all of them, moving together with the smooth prescience you often see as birds loop through the sky, making hairpin turns in an eerie unison.
Here, you're the guiding force behind those movements, as the flock glides over the beautiful painted landscapes of the world below. You can also guide them into wind currents, which feel a bit like sky expressways that zip you forward through the level. Although these channels of wind are visible, you can only see a short ways ahead as your flock barrels forward, so if you want to stay in the fast lane you need to anticipate and respond quickly to the twists and turns. It can feel a bit like you're swaying in the thrall of some larger momentum, just like the birds are swaying in yours.
Created by the small studio A Stranger Gravity, Gathering Sky takes only about an hour to play and there are five levels, each with its own challenges—hawk attack! thunderstorm!—and aesthetics, like the level where your birds start to cut through the clouds instead of over them, making colorful designs as the ground below peeks through the trails you leave behind. The score, composed by Dren McDonald and recorded at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, adds measurably to the experience, brightening the more cheerful moments and intensifying the tension the thunderstorm level, where you fly in near-darkness illuminated by lightning cracks.
Although the game is mostly a soothing experience, The only points of tension I experienced was the moments when my subpar navigation skills left some birds cut off from the flock, trapped behind obstacles as the rest moved forward. I felt guilty, and sometimes doubled back to retrieve them—I didn't want to leave any birds behind. Going backwards tends to lead to minor chaos, however, sending your flock spiraling in different directions and perhaps even entrapping more of them. The game is at its most elegant when you don't hesitate—when you simply move.
Gathering Sky is available now on iOS, Android, Steam, and the Humble Store.