In the past week I’ve suffered from starvation, dehydration, hypothermia, bacterial infections, multiple lacerations and broken bones. I drowned many times, was attacked by packs of wolves, gorged by a boar, chased by a bear and bitten by ants and multiple poisonous snakes. I was forced to eat grass, bugs and raw meat just to survive and slept in broken-down buses and abandoned churches or, if the weather allowed it, under the stars. I’m exhausted, but wow, what a week.
The Flame in the Flood is a rogue-lite survival game with procedurally generated maps and permadeath. Players take on the role of Scout, a lone survivor left for certain death until a stray dog named Aesop arrives with a strange backpack hinting at a better life down the river. Scout must forage what she can whilst crafting tools, clothing, first aid and weapons in a world where everything seems to be out to kill you. Once you’ve scavenged the area dry, it’s time to jump back onto your raft and set sale down the river to see what fate awaits you on the next stop.
Here’s what I liked:
Picturesque — There’s no two ways about it: The Flame in the Flood is a stunning game to look at. The Molasses Flood may be a new indie outfit, but with former BioShock, Halo 2 and Rock Band developers on board, it’s no surprise that the studio’s veteran experience shines through here. Scout and Aesop are reminiscent of Tim Burton’s Gothic style, and the game itself is set against an American South backdrop with some lush wilderness areas to explore. Each landbase you dock at has a different theme such as a warming campsite, spooky church or an abandoned medical facility; however, no two are the same. The areas themselves change as you travel farther, becoming darker and more desolate. Whilst traveling down the river amounts to little more than a mini-game where you dodge the hazards, you can’t help but enjoy the intricate scenery. Then if a thunderstorm happens to hit, well, the sights are breathtaking.
Campfire songs — The Flame in the Flood features an original full-length soundtrack by acclaimed alt-country rocker Chuck Ragan. It’s obvious no expense was spared here as the soundtrack feels like it is straight out of a quality movie or TV show rather than a budget indie game. The folky blues music really adds to the Southern setting and feels totally unobtrusive and at one with what is going on in the game. Perfect.
One s’more time — If you pick up The Flame in the Flood you’re going to have to face facts: you will die and you will die a lot. There’s a lot to contend with keeping an eye on hunger, thirst, body temperature and fatigue. However, despite the challenge, with every death and affliction I learned a valuable lesson. Maybe next time I won’t run blindly into the that spiky bush or fill all my spare jars with gas and know that not all meat is meant for eating. The game also comes with a neat ability to carry forward any items stored in Aesop’s inventory, so if you’re having a tough time of it and death is imminent, you can store anything of value to give yourself a leg up next time around. This great learning curve makes the game so addictive that I too was suffering from hunger, dehydration and a danger of exploding kidneys from not going to the bathroom often enough.
Here’s what I didn’t like:
Tell me a story? — The Flame in the Flood comes with two modes, Story and Endless. However, even on selecting story mode you are dropped into the game with little explanation. Your first task is to “Find the Radio Tower,” but I had no idea why, who I was, where I was and what had happened. There is little introduction to the two characters, and I only found out the girl’s name much later when I spoke to an NPC who called me Scout. Similarly, the dog’s name (Aesop) is only discovered by checking the inventory menus. Considering the strong animation already in the game, I found it odd that there wasn’t at least an introductory cut-scene to provide a little more backstory.
Lucky break — The game areas in The Flame in the Flood are procedurally generated, which means that whilst each playthrough will be different, a lot of your success depends on sheer dumb luck. I had one attempt yield no flint to make the basic tools for crafting. I also seemed to spawn deadly wolves on every dock way too early and before I was able to do anything about them. Death was inevitable. My next attempt, on the other hand, spawned me everything I required in the early stages and ended up being the run that got me to the end of story mode.
Bugs, but not the eating kind — Bearing in mind I played a pre-release version of the game, I still hit a enough bugs for them to warrant a mention. I had a few issues with traps disappearing once deployed, and on my first few runs in campaign mode, the checkpoints didn’t seem to activate. There was also some screen lagging when the game was trying to load a new areas. Bizarrely, I had a few Achievements unlock before I had actually earned them, whilst a few that should have popped still remain locked.
On the whole I found The Flame in the Flood to be totally absorbing. Despite its harsh difficulties, it’s an extremely rewarding game. I enjoyed many soothing moments sitting by the campfire drinking dandelion tea and drying off from the torrential rains from earlier. With my best pal at my side and a warm meal in my stomach, I can actually think back fondly about the boar who broke my leg, since I’m now wearing him as a hat and am filled with hope I’ll set off again down the river. Perhaps the next island stopover will be filled with corn and rabbits, and those creepy crawlies I’ve been storing for emergencies can stay uneaten.
Score: Buy It
The Flame in the Flood was developed and published by The Molasses Flood. It was released on February 24, 2016 for $19.99. A copy was provided by The Molasses Flood for review purposes.