If I’m being completely honest, it took me a little while to fully get into The Flame In The Flood, whilst the game does a fantastic job of presenting players with survival in its purest form, there’s a distinct amount of trial and error that comes when beginning this beautifully designed adventure title. As with most survival games, The Flame In The Flood assigns players with the somewhat arduous task of making it day by day through various means including looting materials, crafting objects to better survive and killing animals, whether through necessity or defence, all the while making sure to keep a constant eye on bodily stats, managing them when needed. Although the game provides plenty of real challenges that will keep players busy for a large chunk of time, attempting to juggle my time between the two different but equally important needs proved to be the trickiest part of all, as I stumbled and failed while I felt my way into the game.
Developed by The Molasses Flood, The Flame In The Flood is a roguelike survival game that follows the story of young Scout, a female protagonist and her faithful canine companion Aesop as the unlikely two attempt to make their way through a bulging and at times frantic river of post-apocalyptic wilderness in rural America, in a quest to find higher ground and more importantly, safety. Throughout the journey, the pair must make periodic pit stops at various campsites, churches and forests throughout the land in order to gather the vital resources that will keep their adventure pointing in the right direction while attempting to fend off the elements that wear the human body down, before eventually succumbing to death.
At times, The Flame In The Flood offers a very tranquil, peaceful experience as Scout and her companion paddle gracefully down the calm moonlit river while a country song softly sings a lullaby to the game’s two protagonists, this is a good feeling, your goals feel reachable, all of your statistics are looking healthy, what could possibly go wrong to change this scenic landscape of sheer beauty? however, survival games tend to change in an instant, scenarios change and in this lovable tale of survival, they change all too quickly, often with very little warning. One moment you are quietly paddling down the somber river, the next the heavens open up and you’re forced to find immediate cover to escape the vicious downpour which saps away your bodily heat, driving you to the brink of hypothermia. With The Flame In The Flood, it’s the moments you feel the most safe that can lead to your demise, that comfort you felt is merely a mirage, lulling you into a false sense of security.
When drastic changes to the weather aren’t trying to be the bearer of your downfall, the wildlife all too eagerly steps forward to take its place. Moments of silent reflection while sat beside a warm campfire slowly cooking Yucca are quickly replaced with trembling fear as the distinct sound of wolves howling change the entire complexity of what was once a simple, non-confrontational meal into a desperate fight for Scout’s very life. Wolve’s, while able to hunt alone often hunt in threes, which can pose an all too dangerous threat to your chances of survival as they take turns in dealing vicious bites with consummate ease, tearing my flesh and shattering my bones, I’m left either hobbling away on the brink of death or laying lifeless on the floor. Whenever Scout suffers a brutal attack such as this whether it be by Wolf, Snake or Wild Boar, the outlook of the game hinges on either having the correct ingredients to remove your afflictions, in this case, a splint and bandages or praying your raft will find a clearing soon with the items required, life never felt so fragile
Crafting as a whole is an enjoyable experience and very simplistic. The Flame In The Flood provides players with a handy little recipe book to browse through. Items available for crafting are pushed to the top of the page, clear to see and easy to understand. Snares can be quickly crafted to catch elusive rabbits with larger traps constructed to catch even bigger prey. Warm clothes can be stitched together from the skin of slain animals, which help to keep the protagonist warm in a world where temperature along with hunger, dehydration and fatigue are everything to survival. Food comes in many forms with plants, bugs and meat from animals all edible, although meat and certain plants can be eaten raw, it is strongly advised that players cook it first, because of the health risk it contains, The Flame In The Flood is quick to punish any errors in judgement but when you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, sometimes you don’t have a choice
Clean water is another essential item when it comes to surviving the harsh wilderness. Empty jars can be scavenged and water retrieved from either the river itself or from water pumps. Water taken direct from the river is of course, polluted and needs to be purified before it is drinkable, this can be achieved with a crafted water filter made from charcoal collected from campfires. As well as being able to drink clean water there are other options to quench your thirst including Dandelion Tea however, this proves to be a waste of clean water and fails to replenish your thirst meter fully. Life on the river is a constant struggle of juggling what you desperately need over what you would like to have, some clearings are quickly vacated because of hostile animals while you search for items badly needed to boost your health stats, this effect quickly speeds up personal need and can all too often lead to death.
While Scout and Aesop rightfully take centre stage in the telling of the story, the river never lets you forget that it exists and has a huge part to play in proceedings, both acting as your best friend and your fiercest enemy. While you need to navigate the treacherous waters to find the aid and items you need, navigating can be a tough experience. The makeshift raft bounces too and fro with the pull of the strong current and fast-paced rapids. Jagged rocks, fallen houses, uprooted trees and cars line the river taking significant chunks of health from your wooden float upon with every slight bump or crash. I love the realistic nature of The Flame In The Flood, the river pushes and prompts the protagonists through each region with sheer driving force, and steering is limited making it very easy to miss islands of interest.
There are two ways to play The Flame In The Flood. Endless Mode, which gives players a never-ending river to float down in a mode where death becomes permanent, this is more a mode of attrition and very challenging and then there is Campaign Mode which is separated into two difficulties with Survivor being the hardest, your stats drop a lot quicker, there are less items to loot making for an overall tough experience and a very unforgiving one. Campaign mode allows for checkpoints throughout but even that can prove to be tricky, throughout my experience, I learnt to quit the game upon finding myself in a bad spot, it was either that or accepting a severe loss of ground. After one death, I fell back to the previous region which cost me around 5 miles of gameplay and the loss of many useful items collected. Unfortunately, The Flame In The Flood doesn’t allow for separate save files, leaving players to choose between Endless Mode or Campaign, never both at the same time.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time spent with The Flame In The Flood despite its apparent bugs, it is a beautiful piece of design and sound. While visually pleasing it also boasts a great soundtrack that fits the game perfectly. Survival can be daunting but once you find a way to juggle your wants and needs together or find a way that better suits you, the game really opens up, allowing for some fantastic gameplay and a great experience. Navigating the hazardous river is no small feat with horrible steering until you are able to upgrade to a rudder, however, the river poses a challenge that carries with it, its own rewards. Although there is little in the way of narrative throughout the story I found myself sharing a bond with the games characters.