For my first review on this Indie Game Blog, I’m presenting you The Flame In The Flood (Trailer/Shop) – one of my favourite games – where the protagonist Scout goes on an adventure with her dog Aesop/Daisy to find the whereabouts of the humans that escaped after the Great Flooding. To do that, they travel on a great river with their tiny raft and scavenge, forage, craft and survive on little islands full of dangers that nature has prepared for them. It was developed by The Molasses Flood whose developers previously worked on titles like Bioshock and Halo 2.
Before you can set out for an adventure, you’ll have to choose one of two modes to play: The campaign and the endless-mode. While the campaign consists of you playing through ten procedurally generated areas to reveal the mystery of the missing humans, you’ll have to try to survive on an endless river in the endless-mode (duh.) while the difficulty is raised the farther you travel. When you die in the campaign, you’re able to either restart your journey or revive at the last checkpoint you reached – in the endless-mode however death is permanent which adds the rogue-like-ish feel to the game and has a certain thrill to it since all your boat-upgrades, collected and crafted items will be lost forever then!
After choosing the mode, you’re able to set the difficulty. There’s the “Traveler” difficulty that is recommended to newer players with checkpoints and a normal abundance of resources and the “Survivalist” difficulty that is recommended for experienced players with permadeath, fewer supplies, and stats that diminish at an increased rate. On top of that, you can tick an option that allows your pet dog’s inventory to persist through runs that decide whether or not you wanna go for a rogue-like or a rogue-lite experience. In the end, you can choose between Daisy and Aesop, your canine followers that will accompany you through your run.
Now that your journey begins, you’re playing through a small tutorial that shows you the most important information needed to survive via signs that can be found across a camping ground. Those signs show you information regarding your inventory, crafting, stats, and dangers. After that, you’re pretty much left alone and although it’s the tutorial, you’re not safe yet since your stats diminish per second. Those stats include hunger, thirst, temperature, and fatigue. If any of them reach zero, Scout will die. To prevent that from happening you’ll have to collect materials in the starting area and the little islands that you encounter on your adventure. The game consists of two types of levels: The river and the islands. While you’re able to walk on the islands, search for loot and hunt for food, you’ll have to manoeuvre your raft across the river and head for different islands that contain different loot. This, however, is easier said than done since the currents are often so strong that there’s no returning after you’re going into one direction. Most often the game isn’t forgiving you for ignoring one island or choosing one over the other. You’re usually left with little to no time to think before your raft steers into one direction, so you have to make quick decisions:
Do you visit the church to have a higher chance to find clothing, alcohol (for the medical purposes of course!) and some decent housing or do you maybe go to the docking station to upgrade your raft or repair the damage done to it by previous mistakes? Sometimes you’ll have to even think about steering near cars and other objects that may damage your raft but contain loot that may be needed later.
The river is a one-way road and there are many objects that you have to manoeuvre around to not risk sinking! The wild river is accompanied by a great soundtrack that not only makes it fun to steer through the river but also calms you down in times of quick decisionmaking and storms.
The island levels aren’t a lot safer though since you’re often awaited by wild animals and since death seemingly has his hots for you. In the early levels, you’ll encounter wild boars that are defending their territory, later you’ll also encounter even more vicious creatures like poisonous snakes, fierce wolves, and even threatening bears! Even when you don’t encounter wild enemies, death seems to be omnipresent: You may walk into fire ants, get sick or walk into poison ivy. Bites can end up in threatening sicknesses, catching a cold may result in death and having a broken leg hinders you from running away. All these debuffs have to be treated with craftable ailments, medicines, and bandages. However, resources are scarce in this post-apocalyptic world. While the learning curve is certainly steep, it isn’t insurmountable! After quite a few runs you’re able to understand priorities and improve your decisionmaking quite a lot.
As previously mentioned The Flame in the Flood is a game of choices. These choices are a part of the survival-experience and contribute to the feeling of never feeling safe. You’re not able to settle down on an island or build a base with farms and such like other games like Don’t Starve or The Forest. The only thing that comes anywhere near the word “base” is your raft that you can upgrade for more storage room, a stove or other things that help you survive. Without any upgrades your raft only has a limited storage room, the same goes for your dog’s and your own backpack. You sometimes have to abandon useful resources only because of the missing storage.
What do I leave behind? May I need these resources later? May I find these on some island along the way? Will I come across another camping ground or even another church?me, while struggling with leaving behind recources
You may ask yourself these questions but since no run is like the other, you’ll always have to count on your own instinct and the luck that you may get a fruitful scavenge later on. Since you can’t sort your inventory with a sort function, you may as well not see that some of your items could’ve been stacked. There are also items that may expire like food and herbs. Sometimes you may not even find the needed materials for the next upgrade. These things and features can be frustrating but after quite a lot of trial and error, you’re able to survive for quite some time. Using your acquired loot you’re able to build traps and weapons to catch rabbits or trap boars to receive meat and hyde. Crafting new tools allows you to craft even more items.
Some of the features like expired food or certain other mechanics may also be used in other ways. Meat can be crafted into a poisoned bait to kill some of the predators that lurk in the shadows and sometimes you can also simply eat it, get sick but then immediately treat the sickness (although that’s more of a last resort). Interactions and mechanics like these make the game quite a lot of fun! It may be described as a true survival game where you’re holding onto the last bit of hope and fight your way to the goal of the game!
Your canine companion is also a great help since he not only carries his own inventory but also is able to point at collectable resources and nearby dangers. If you don’t deactivate it, you can also plan out your next run and make it easier for you to survive early on by putting materials, tools and other items into its pouch, which would make it a rogue-lite-game.
Not only has the player to fight with inventory-management but also with the previously mentioned stats. Every stat has a different way to tend to it. You need food, clean water, warmth and rest – and the latter also influences the rest of the stats since by sleeping you’re not only passing time but also getting hungrier and thirstier, the longer you sleep. This mechanic is nice when you want to wait out a storm but sometimes puts you into a dilemma: Do you pass time until the storm is over but get hungrier or do you risk a cold and continue your journey? Again, there are choices!
As for the presentation, the game’s overwhelmingly beautiful. The art style is astonishing and the river is able to convince you of the beauty of nature. Between biomes, there’s a fluid transition, just like with the different times of the day. Dusk and dawn are probably my favourite times to be on the river while the night shows you the dangers of nature with red eyes and approaching storms. It sometimes seems like a double-edged sword that you can enjoy these small moments of peace on the river at daytime and feel scared at night or when it’s getting stormy. The environment is truly enigmatic and influences your experience positively. On the islands you sometimes alarm crows when walking near them which then alarms boars and other dangers, so you always have to watch out for those. There’s also red eyes at night staring at you from the dark, proving that the abyss stares back when you look into the abyss. However, I feel like the main focus of the presentation laid on the river since that is also the main part of your adventure. The Molasses Flood could have tuned up the island-environment a bit more to make even those levels a bit more atmospheric in my opinion but it doesn’t bug you all that much while playing – it certainly didn’t bug me.
Another strength of the game is the soundtrack that is brought to you by songwriter and singer Chuck Ragan and further strengthens the game’s adventure-feel. It’s fun to hear his voice while manoeuvring through currents and steering forward into the unknown, although it sometimes changes abruptly and even may leave you alone with nature and the sound of the river. It sometimes also occurs that the soundtrack switches to another song when changing biomes which I didn’t like all that much but for the most part the soundtrack transitioned fluently.
While playing the game I tested out both the controller and the mouse and keyboard configurations and I must say that I prefer the controller. The controller makes this game a lot easier since you’re able to use the D-Pad to use your most important items on the spot without having to open your inventory, select the item and then use it after a few steps. By you using the left trigger you can switch between useables, meds and placeables which improves the pace of the game by quite a lot.
Another thing that I noticed was the fact that the camera sometimes gets in the way of you which leads to you sometimes running into fire ants without noticing at all. While you are able to tilt the camera a bit with the right joystick, it still could have been improved a bit here with a free camera.
I’d say The Flame in the Flood is a great game that presents you not only a beautiful presentation and a great soundtrack but also quite a few mechanics that make your journey(s) enjoyable for at least 15 hours or even more if you’re a completionist and want to meet all the NPCs or if you’re a hardcore gamer and want to challenge the odds even more by competing for the longest journey in the leaderboards. Once you get over the steep learning curve you’re able to enjoy the game even more even with small bugs that you may encounter every now and then or the fact that you can’t sort through your inventory unlike in other games. There’s also the fact that the endless-mode and the campaign don’t really differ all that much except for the finality of the latter. Most of the information that you need to proceed is available only through signs that can be found every now and then but you can also miss useful information by just steering to another island which is another minus-point for the game. But to counter that you also have a quest-system that rewards you for crafting certain necessary items which act as some sort of mini-goal to work on, even in endless-mode. There’s also bits and pieces of side-stories that can be found sporadically through quilts and NPCs which also may be missed, although it adds a bit of replay value to the game. For the completionists, there are 36 achievements but other than that you’re probably going to run out of stuff to do once you’ve seen everything at least once.
At last, I’d say that the game is an interesting survival-experience with a steep learning curve, a great presentation and a lot of fun for fans of the genre and newcomers. While it has a few flaws, the good points that speak for the game are clearly overwhelming, which is why I’m recommending this game to you. If this game sparked your interest, you can get yourself The Flame In The Flood for PC, PS4, Xbox One and the Nintendo Switch.