Game Review: The Flame in the Flood

Alan Stock Alan Stock
Expert Contributor
October 13th, 2017

I'm a lover of travel, photography and video games, from the UK. I have worked in the games industry and very passionate about games and their design. Never get bored of them!

Price:
Charming

Reviewed by:
Rating:
3
On October 13, 2017
Last modified:October 13, 2017

Summary:

An immersive survival game with a unique premise and great presentation, but suffers from longevity and gameplay niggles.

Price:
Charming

Reviewed by:
Rating:

3
On October 13, 2017
Last modified:October 13, 2017

Summary:

An immersive survival game with a unique premise and great presentation, but suffers from longevity and gameplay niggles.

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The Flame in the Flood is a “Rogue-lite” survival game out now on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. It is also being released on Nintendo Switch this month. Alan Stock steers his raft over to bring you this review for ComiConverse.

The Flame in the Flood is unlike any other survival game I’ve played. It’s an unstoppable journey, a meandering adventure of warm colours and twanging country music. Although there’s a certain melancholy to its flooded American mid-west setting, this is a surprisingly uplifting post-apocalyptic adventure.

The Flame in the Flood Raft on Calm River

You control a lone survivor named Scout, followed by your faithful dog companion: Aesop. Together, you set out on a raft into a vast flood sweeping through the country. Along the way you make pit stops at islands and outcroppings amidst the torrent; places of refuge or wild clearings where you can rest or gather supplies. There is hardly any story or explanation given for the game’s events, aside from an old radio found by Aesop at the start, which provides your main goal: head downriver to find a signal. More background is revealed through the game’s visuals, snippets of NPC conversations and the occasional hanging patched quilt, telling brief tales of people who stayed behind to face the flood.

The Flame in the Flood Scout and Aesop at fire

The Flame in the Flood doesn’t need a story though, it's immediately apparent what the state of affairs are in this crumbling America. Buildings are derelict, vehicles rusting, roads overgrown and everywhere is abandoned. In the flood waters you can see where land’s been washed away, trees have fallen, and bridges have broken. Empty cars and tangles of trees bob to the river’s surface, acting as mobile hazards. It’s not entirely lifeless, but NPCs are few and far between, brief chats with them in country drawl casting a little light on their situation. Some structures seem built after the flood too, like the fisheries and boat repair docks you find along the way.  Nature is retaking the empty streets elsewhere, plants overgrow the concrete, autumn leaves blow overhead, crows caw loudly from rooftops, until you scare them off with a wave of your staff. Rabbits come out of their warrens to graze peacefully, whilst wild boars, wolves and bears are foes to be respected should you encounter them. A day and night cycle changes the mood, lighting and danger level of the environments - at night the temperature drops, wolves come out and fireflies glow dimly.

Story continues below

The Flame in the Flood Night time gas station

The game’s art style is striking and attractive, with bold colours, polygonal characters and a lithe, cartoonish feel to the animation. Accompanying this is an excellent soundscape, a multitude of country tunes from folk harmonica warbles to electric guitar ballads fading in and out during your journey. At other times you’ll merely hear the voice of the countryside - rustling leaves, cawing crows, howling wind, pattering rain, the slosh of water against your raft. The setting and presentation combine to create a special mood and a fine sense of place, from the beginning of the game you feel immersed in this flooded mid-western world.

The Flame in the Flood river raft travel

Gameplay is from an overhead perspective as you move Scout on land, or, in the flood, steer her raft from a farther viewpoint. The Flame in the Flood is a survival game at its crux - you must keep levels of hunger, thirst, temperature and fatigue above zero, or die. Other hazards include hostile wildlife, weather, disease and the navigating wild flood waters on the raft. The game is also “Rogue-lite”, there’s permadeath if you want it at the highest difficulty, but on the standard difficulty the game has checkpoints you can revert to if you die. These are far apart though, making death a serious proposition which could encompass an hour or more of play, rather than just a minor inconvenience.

The Flame in the Flood trapping boar

The land locations you can explore are usually old settlements or wild countryside. They are self-contained areas constructed from preset scenery, the only exit route being to hop back on your raft and continue down-river. There are plenty of areas to discover, and various zones as you progress offering environmental variety. Within the locations, items and creatures are randomised. You loot old buildings, vehicles and crates, and pluck plants from the ground. Rabbits can be snared and eaten. Hostile wildlife will chase and hurt you, unless you manage to trap or shoot them first. You can sleep in houses or old buses to restore fatigue, shelter from the rain and cold, or just wait out the night. Your dog Aesop (or Daisy, if you choose a female dog at the start) is a big help. He follows you everywhere, barking at threats offscreen, running to lootable objects you may have missed. Although he is of no aid in battle, his friendly companionship is welcome and handy to boot.

The Flame in the Flood rafting through industrial zone

On the water, you guide your raft through the epic flood raging through the countryside as you speed past forests and abandoned towns. The flood is a river with both rapids and calm sections, but it’s always flowing and it’s very difficult to fight against the current. Smashing into land or obstacles damages the raft, meaning you’ll die if you don’t steer well. The appropriately floaty raft handling means navigating the flood takes a bit of getting used to and at first you’ll undoubtedly smash it up pretty badly. Rapids are especially treacherous, being fast and often riddled with rocks and other hazards, but can be used to speed your progress. At regular intervals along the river are piers where you can dock at land locations. These are indicated with icons in advance, and you have to plan your route ahead of time in order to hit them and not be swept past. The icons also indicate the type of location - for example a wilderness, camp, or hardware store. Usually, two or three landing points will appear at once - but you’ll only be able to make it to one - the strong flood current preventing you to cross to the others afterwards, making for some tense snap decisions about where your priorities currently lie.

The Flame in the Flood Rafting Rapids

Eventually you can upgrade the raft, fitting it with a rudder or engine, which gives you more leeway in crossing the river quickly, or even allow you to slightly backtrack if you mistime a docking. But until that point, and even after the upgrades, there are frustrating moments when you will just overshoot a vital location, or discover the tributary you’re on doesn’t lead where you expected. As the game escalates in difficulty the further down-river you go, missing a stop can be life-threatening. A momentary mistake, or just bad luck on the river, can cost you dearly and it can feel unfair. Aside from this, once you get the feel for the raft’s handling, it’s a pleasure to navigate the flood, soaking in the atmosphere as the country music kicks in, having to make key choices and frantically thread your way through rapids.

Story continues below

The Flame in the Flood Wilderness Looting

The survival aspect of The Flame in the Flood is akin to many of the genre. Crafting is the bread and butter. Collect items and combine them in your inventory to make better items. Kill animals and craft their skins to make warm clothing. Eat edible plants, or craft cooked meat with raw meat and an open fire (strangely, considering the setting, you can’t fish). Collect and filter water, and keep warm by taking shelter, making clothes and building fires. Build traps and countermeasures to deal with wildlife. It’s all standard survival game fare.

The Flame in the Flood Town Exploration

You must consider your resources wisely, balancing immediate needs with plans for future advancement, and supplies for emergencies. With items being so important, it forces you to consider your choice of pit-stops carefully too. Do you need a hardware store for its workbench, the wilderness for saplings, or a camp for a free fire? You also need to plan in advance what to save up for; like raft upgrades, advanced tools or weapons. But despite these intricacies, I found that after a while I wasn’t really struggling. It’s a survival game, but I rarely felt tense. From mid-way through the game I had plenty of supplies and the means to survive most calamities. Maybe I was lucky, maybe my survival game experience paid off, but I only died a few times throughout the campaign, and that was usually due to silly mistakes. For a survival game, survival seemed a bit of a breeze, even in the final desolate and hostile zones. Deliberating between pit stops or what to craft next drastically loses its impact when you are already safely set up, but you feel compelled to stop everywhere just in case things ramp up in the next zone. Of course a harder difficulty is available, but it’s strange that the default difficulty doesn’t at least provide a compelling challenge in a survival game.

The Flame in the Flood Inventory

The Flame of the Flood begins to waver when you look in other areas too. The biggest offender is the inventory. This is clunky and visually uncommunicative. You’re constantly having to manage your limited inventory space - moving items between yourself, Aesop and your raft storage gets tedious fast. You can only craft with items on your person, meaning constant reorganisation of your goods, and items stack poorly. The crafting menu has its own problems. The upshot is that you spend a great deal of the game micromanaging your inventory and in crafting menus instead of enjoying the game world. Inventory management and crafting is a staple of survival games, and it's no bad thing to have a limited inventory, but the way it’s implemented here is a detriment to the experience.

The Flame in the Flood Wolf at Night

Combat too is clunky. Hostiles like wolves will pursue you, but will not follow to the safety of the pier, for some reason. Animals can get stuck on scenery or bug out. The biggest issue is using combat items which are costly to craft. A bow, gas bombs and poisoned bait are accessed through hotkeys. But attempting to use them whilst an animal is chasing you is a lesson in frustration, forcing you to stand still and use slow, awkward controls (at least on consoles). It usually just results in you being seriously injured. Dying from the combat system flaws, when you would have had a better chance to live by crafting nothing and just running away is pretty infuriating. In the end, it’s easiest to just build traps and lure animals into those, negating the use of the items.

The Flame in the Flood NPC conversation

The Flame in the Flood also suffers from repetition in its later stages. The campaign is long - it took me over a day to finish. Initially, it feels fresh as you encounter new zones and hazards, but in the latter half of the game zones start to repeat and the layout of land environments become familiar and stale. You’ll also have likely crafted everything by this point aside from a few clothes and raft upgrades, and seen all of the main hazards. This makes the game much less interesting as you progress, although it gets harder, there’s little to strive for, the thrill of exploration and discovery wearing off. The survival element alone isn’t deep or challenging enough to keep it engaging in the long term - compared to a game like The Long Dark where the survival mechanics alone were thrilling enough to keep me playing for weeks. Other niggles abound too, including the fixed camera angle hiding hazards and items behind scenery, hard to spot items, needless progress bars and other minor issues.

The Flame in the Flood river rapids

It’s a real shame because the soul of The Flame in the Flood is both heartwarming and charming. It’s a game I want to fall in love with, and at first, I was. The water-ravaged mid-west is such a great setting and the country ambience is spot on. The survival aspect is compelling at first and the game is a rare original take on the genre with its own vibrant style. It’s definitely entertaining and immersive, but on closer inspection The Flame in the Flood doesn't quite hold up to those great first impressions. Still, I can’t bear a grudge for a game with such heart, it succeeds in many ways even if it falters in the details. The compelling loop of river rafting and wilderness exploration is definitely worth your time, even if it’s not quite up to the heights of the survival greats.

 

The Flame in the Flood

  • 3

Charming

An immersive survival game with a unique premise and great presentation, but suffers from longevity and gameplay niggles.

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