|Platforms||PC (reviewed), XBO|
|Developer||The Molasses Flood|
|Publisher||The Molasses Flood|
|Release Date||February 24, 2016|
This game was reviewed using a key provided by PR
The Flame in the Flood is a stylistic adventure/survival game that throws players into a post-apocalyptic America and tasks them with not dying. You play as Scout who, alongside her trusty canine companion Aesop, must navigate a long river, and the perils that go along with such a journey. You need to ensure Scout’s survival against the elements and wildlife, make sure she doesn’t starve or dehydrate, and scavenge for the supplies necessary to make it to the end of the river.
The Flame in the Flood was certainly an interesting experience. I had tooled around with the game twice before I decided to record a let’s play of my first serious attempt at it. Both times I had no real clue what I was doing, why I was doing it, or how to stay alive for very long at all. Even by the end of said let’s play, which lasts just short of an hour, I barely had a handle on what I was doing. It takes a long while for “the point” to really sink in when it comes to The Flame in the Flood. It took about two hours and change for me to really get what I was supposed to be doing, and how the game worked – at which point I realised that I was doomed to die. Of hypothermia, as it turned out.
Normally I would chastise a game for not really giving me a clue what I was supposed to be doing, or explaining how anything outside of basic controls worked. But in The Flame in the Flood, it works. Everything that you do, or pick up, or encounter sets you up with a lesson to learn. It makes use of the classic “learn by doing” school of philosophy – you could go crawling through the menus, trying to memorise all of the crafting recipes (and there are some key items that you might want to keep at the front of your thinking), or you could just learn as you go.
The Flame in the Flood is a survival game, and at first glance it might seem similar to the deluge of games released on Steam in the genre. But first glances can be deceiving, and The Molasses Flood does a good job adding its stamp to the survival game. It’s all about randomly generated places to scrounge for vital supplies, and using those supplies to craft the things you’ll need to live another day. But you aren’t crafting a shelter, and survival isn’t your goal for the sake of survival. Scout is following a radio signal, one that promises a safe haven, provided you can survive the trip.
To make it, you have to travel down a long river, with danger lurking at every turn. In The Flame in the Flood you’re constantly on the move, as staying in one place is both unproductive and eventually fatal, thanks to the limited supplies at each location you visit. You can stay in one place for a while – make use of a campfire to stay warm as you catch some Z’s, or hide in a church while you wait for a wolf to lose interest in ripping you apart. I once camped out on an island for three and a half days to catch the abundant rabbit population, replenishing my supply of meat and making pouches to carry more stuff.
And while that was a fairly successful pit stop, most of the time I wasn’t so lucky. The Flame in the Flood is a challenging game of survival. When you’re lucky, the game can turn on your very quickly, and when you’re in desperate need of some luck, the game has a habit of sticking the boot in. Need to find some food fast? The chances are your next stop will see you surrounded by a pack of wolves with no way to kill them. A situation that will either end in death or injury, and will see you forced to retreat and hope that the next location will be kinder. The river only moves in one direction, and you can only visit each place once.
There are a lot of ways for Scout to die, aside from the obvious wildlife mauling. Bears and boars lie in wait to break your bones, wolves are always on hand to rip you apart, and snakes and ants tend to get very bite-y very quickly. There are ways you can deal with this – traps you can build mostly, although you can eventually get a bow and arrow, but mostly you’ll do a lot of running. What’s fun about the “combat” is that you’ll need different solutions for different problems. There’s no standard medkit to heal all that ails you. Broken bones require a splint, lacerations require a bandage, bites require aloe, poison requires a special tea. All of these things require finding the base components, and hoping they’re not guarded by wolves.
Injuries and infections lead to many complications, besides the obvious. Scout doesn’t have a health bar, rather she has four stats that require constant supervision: hunger, thirst, body temperature and fatigue. Ailments can affect these stats in a variety of ways, making them fall faster and causing you to have to stop to rest more frequently, or consume more of your precious food and water. And it’s not just the wildlife that’s out to get you – being stuck without shelter in the rain can kill you, being underdressed for the cold can kill you, poison ivy is abundant, dirty water, uncooked meat…there are plenty of ways to die in The Flame in the Flood.
Luckily there are plenty of ways to survive it too. With luck, skill, and good inventory management you can craft everything you need to survive. Spear traps will kill wolves and boars, snares will catch rabbits, dandelion tea will cure your snake bites, water filters will…well, you get the idea. The Flame in the Flood is about effective inventory management as much as it is about exploring random locations for crafting materials, and it’s an addictive loop. Finding exactly what you need at just the right moment can lead of a moment of exhilaration few games can match – a small crop of cattail can literally be the difference between life and death.
And the game isn’t completely random. As you travel down the river, you’ll be alerted to the presence of locations ahead of time. Once you’re within a couple hundred metres of a landing site, you’ll know it’s there. Each location is marked by an icon that identifies what kind of place it is. Wilderness, churches, campsites, drug stores, bait shops and more are marked for you ahead of your arrival. You won’t be able to stop at every place you find, but luckily each of these locations carries the same type of loot. You can be confident of finding medical supplies at the drug store, for example. It adds a level of control to an otherwise fairly random experience, and once you’ve figured out what’s what, it makes you feel like you’re actually getting better at the game.
When you do die, however, that’s it. Depending on what difficulty you’re playing at you can reload your last checkpoint, though whether that’s a good thing or not depends on how badly your situation was at that point. On higher difficulties, or if you’d been boned for a while, death means starting again. Despite playing for ten hours and restarting numerous times, The Flame in the Flood never felt repetitive. Each new run I embarked on felt fresh. In part thanks to the randomness of the games locations, but also because every move forward is constant accomplishment. Even being chased away from a church by a bear is an accomplishment, because you lived to tell the tale.
You can also collect random tasks from mailboxes that keep giving you short term objectives, and rewarding you with invaluable supplies. Though who keeps giving out these objectives, and filling subsequent mailboxes with your rewards, is a question I didn’t fancy pondering on for too long. Outside of the campaign, The Flame in the Flood also features an Endless Mode. Which is the same game but…endless. You just get in your raft and keep going down the river, which feels like incredibly fitting with the world the game has built. My last run in the campaign saw me travel just over 32 miles before reaching the end of the game, and I do wonder how much further I could have made it…
The game isn’t without some small issues, however. You’ll spend probably a bit too much time sifting through menus, juggling your inventory between the limited space in your bag, on your dog, and on your raft. Expanding your inventory space compounds this problem – as the more space you have the more you carry. I constantly found myself having to juggle all of my stuff around to make sure I had the right items at workbenches. And while you can filter crafting items by type, you still need to trawl through menus to find the wolf-based clothing, because it has the audacity to start with a ‘w’. And, as with most games lately, a controller over keyboard and mouse is a must – especially during the very fiddly rafting sections.
But the best part? The Flame in The Flood oozes with atmosphere. Its cartoonish, almost storybook art style both fits the game world perfectly, and contrasts brilliantly with the moody soundtrack, by Chuck Ragan, which is probably the best game music I’ve heard all year. The music and art always fits with whatever is happening on the screen – whether you’re navigating some dark, dangerous forest or sailing past some destroyed homes that hint at the world that used to be. It always works. The story here is minimalist, and told in the best way possible, with hints and clues about what happened to the world, and then what happened next, dotted around for those that choose to look. But front and center is survival, and that’s a story the game can’t dictate – that one’s all you.
The Flame in the Flood is an excellent game that brings a variety of its own ideas to a survival genre that is becoming a tad overcrowded. Rather than anchoring you to one place and tasking you with building and upgrading a shelter, this game sends you on a perilous adventure downriver. The art style, music and general world building all combine to create a fantastic atmosphere, and the underlying gameplay is rock solid. It’ll take some time, and probably a death or two, before you truly get to grips with what you need to survive the trip – but it’s one that is well worth taking.
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