You know a dream is like a river… Except this river is more like a nightmare.
Flame In The Flood follows in the long line of survival games that I somehow find myself playing. I will disclose first of all that I would not have tried this game had I not received a free copy through sheer dumb luck (Thanks Aaron Greenberg and The Molasses Flood). It’s with that hindsight that I’ve come to realize that I easily could have missed out on one of the most entertaining, yet difficult games that I’ve had the fortune of playing.
Flame In The Flood is remarkably simple. The game sports an isometric, top-down view that affords the player a bird’s eye view of their surroundings. This makes it much easier to see what’s around so you can assess the situation at each stop. What’s important to note about this game is that you’re on the move, always. You’ll never settle down and build a base. Resources are finite and you’ll often find yourself at the mercy of your environment.
You start with a little tutorial that shows you the basics and then you’ll left to fend for yourself. As you progress downriver, you encounter higher challenges as you’re forced to make decisions about where you’ll stop along the way. Do you try to make it to a campsite for a little R&R, or drift towards a clinic for medical supplies?
As you go along, you’ll also have to worry about Scout’s condition. Sleep, Hunger, Thirst, Warmth, and Health will constantly be a nagging concern; which is common for a survival game. Like so many others like it, Flame In The Flood also throws into the mix a plethora of ailments and injuries to complicate things. What sets Flame In The Flood apart from the rest is that there is a degree of urgency to tending to those wounds and illnesses. Each ailment has a progress bar that continues filling as time passes. When filled, you suffer more dire consequences. You know, like death.
Death adds a bit of a wrench into the machine since dying sets you back to an earlier checkpoint up the river. That’s just in the normal mode though. There’s also Endless Mode to contend with where, as you likely would’ve guessed, it’s endless.
Along your travels you’ll come across wildlife, both docile and predatory, that will serve as a source of food or pain (mostly pain). In addition to this, you’ll also encounter other people that are trying to survive just like you. You might find yourself trading with them, collecting information, or even getting a little curative care from them as well. Most of the NPCs I’ve come across were helpful and they added a little flair to the game with their unique dialogue.
Storage also comes at a premium, as it should in a title like this. You luckily have the option of loading up your companion and storing items on your raft, which is also customizable. Many of the raft upgrade options are extremely useful, though costly. With each upgrade, you get closer to turning your raft into the equivalent of an RV, but it will definitely take time and effort.
Crafting obviously plays a big role in the game, and there are countless, very useful recipes for you to make use of. Fortunately you can sort through these recipes with ease, so you won’t need to search too much. An important thing to know is that crafting and accessing your inventory does not pause the game, so it’s best to keep your eyes forward when travelling or being chased.
Flame In The Flood definitely stands out visually. The environments and characters have an almost paper mache look to them, kinda like Tearaway. It’s pretty in its own way and it’s refreshing to see another game take a different approach to graphics instead of attempting to be another attempt at photorealism. The menus and maps have a style that I can best compare to a national park’s map, which is fitting to say the least.
What honestly struck me about the audio is how ridiculously great the soundtrack is. It seriously deserves special mention. I never felt so upbeat about rafting down a river. Even when I actually went whitewater rafting. The tempo and instrument choices are spot on and conjures up an image what it’d be like to be floating down the Mississippi River. Hearing the music for the first time put a big grin on my face. Aside from the music itself, there really isn’t much sound to speak of. All dialogue is text only and sound effects are pretty sparse, but the lack of excess sound kinda added to the atmosphere in my opinion.
If there is one thing that I didn’t like about the sound, it’s that Aesop barks CONSTANTLY. Aesop will not shut up if you stop anywhere since he barks when you’re in proximity of resources or enemies. I can understand the decision to include this in the game, but holy crap. My dog was going nuts when I first started playing. That isn’t to say that Aesop is annoying, but he definitely antagonizes my corgi, Tali.
Flame In The Flood really nails it here. Sure, there are elements of the game that hark back to other titles, but the nomad style gameplay helps mitigate those thoughts. This in conjunction with the art and sound direction puts Flame In The Flood on its own. It’s also not a game that focuses on anything other than the survival aspect of things. In many ways, it’s pretty similar to games like The Long Dark considering that it’s single player and heavily emphasizes that you need to keep moving.
It’s hard to say that there’s a story here necessarily, but I can say that there’s some story elements in the game; that’s for sure. You start at a location called Camp Pinewood, which has been picked clean. This is where you’ll complete the tutorial that shows you the basic functions and how to do things like make food and purify water. After that, you’ll be on your own to try your hand at not dying every thirty minutes.
As I touched on earlier, there are many NPCs you’ll come across. These people range from children to adults that have taken to the task of making they’re lives in the fractured world they’re in. It’s my assumption that (considering the design of the game and the name as well) things have gone to hell because of a massive river flood that has obliterated everything in its path.
All you know is that you need to head downriver. The story is really your own to make.
WILDCARD: I’VE BEEN EVERYWHERE
Like I said above, the game doesn’t encourage you to move on, it forces you to. Each stop along the river is a temporary affair designed to give you a chance to collect needed supplies and rest. Each area you visit is procedurally generated so your next attempt will not be the same as the last. And you’re going to be travelling downriver quite a few times.
Flame In The Flood is a truly unique experience. Sure it follows some of the tropes of survival games like not freezing or starving to death, but with its own little twist on the formula by keeping the player on the move, it stands out from the rest of the crowd. It’s a catchy game, one that will have you humming along to the tunes as you crash your way down the rapids and pray that there’s a boat repair station around the next bend.
It’s safe to say that I wouldn’t have thought I was missing something had I not gotten the chance to play this, but I’m glad that I ended up getting the game. The Molasses Flood did an incredible job of piecing together a one-of-a-kind survival experience, and I couldn’t be happier to have had the privilege of pretending to be a river nomad.
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