Archives by Day

The Flame in the Flood

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Curve Digital
Developer: The Molasses Flood
Release Date: Jan. 17, 2017

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


PS4 Review - 'The Flame in the Flood: Complete Edition'

by Brian Dumlao on Jan. 27, 2017 @ 1:30 a.m. PST

The Flame in the Flood is a rogue-lite river journey through the backwaters of a forgotten post-societal America where you forage, craft, and evade predators.

Buy The Flame in the Flood: Complete Edition

When we reviewed The Flame in the Flood last year, we found it to be an excellent take on the survival genre. Still apocalyptic but having nothing to do with the undead, it was a faster-moving survival game that depended on loads of luck and your ability to make fast decisions without having to constantly engage in combat to survive. It stood out because there weren't as many of these types of games on the Xbox One at the time, and it did the same on the PC, a feat that is more impressive considering how it is the de facto home of the genre. Almost a year later, it has arrived on the PS4.

The opening scene starts off with Aesop, a dog that fetches a backpack from the remains of its last known owner. He runs into and befriends a young woman named Scout, who discovers a radio inside of that backpack. By some miracle, the radio still works, and there's a transmission coming through amidst a sea of static. Trying to get to the bottom of this mystery, she and Aesop get on a makeshift raft and head downstream to hopefully find a better place to decipher the signal.

The simple start eventually makes way for a world enriched by your observations and anecdotes of the characters you encounter. The rusted cars and remains of houses floating along suggest a world that was ravaged by a flood that never went away. The people you meet tell you about an evacuation or rapture of sorts where important people were taken away to safety while everyone else was left behind. It is an apocalyptic environment, but it feels fresh simply because it doesn't succumb to the same tropes as other end-of-the-world tales.

The title is billed as a survival game, and it hits many of those hallmarks. Your life is dependent on the management of four different meters: fatigue, hunger, temperature and thirst. All of those are constantly depleting, though the rate at which they deplete is completely dependent on things like the status of your clothing or whether or not it's raining. You can always replenish those things by starting fires, purifying water, sleeping in buses or churches, and eating food. As in many other survival games, your time is spent collecting ingredients to craft new items, such as snare traps for hunting small game and making jerky. You also spend your time trying to cure any injuries you take on and hoping that you don't neglect them too long to put you in a worse state. You also try to manage your initially miniscule inventory, determine what's essential, and simultaneously make sure that your goods don't rot.

Though this is a survival game, there's little to no emphasis on combat. It takes quite a bit to make a bow, and arrows require so many ingredients that they're precious and rare. More often than not, you might even forego making an arrow simply because it would rob you of the ability to make other goods. The result is a game that has you relying on movement and cunning to resolve deadly encounters. You can create smoke bombs to irritate wolf packs or kill them with poisoned meat. If you're lucky, you can get different species to attack one another while you scavenge the aftermath. Most of the time, you'll simply run back to your raft and buy a little bit of time by shooing away animals or startling them with your staff.

Speaking of which, your raft acts like a natural extension of yourself when you're in the water. There's an extra damage meter that you have to watch. It doesn't deplete automatically like the rest of the meters, but being careless around rocks and other debris can cause damage to it, and a broken raft is equal to death. The damage can be repaired if you find a port and the appropriate spare parts, and the port can give your raft upgrades, like extra maneuverability, storage, and durability — provided you can find the necessary framework, plans and parts.

Tying all of this together is the framework of a roguelike. Each playthrough is different due to procedural generation that affects everything from the river layout to the types of land masses you encounter and the items you collect. It's very easy to die, and death does mean losing your progress and the items you've collected. Optionally, you can have it so that anything Aesop has on him when you die is transferred to your new version of Scout, so you're not completely empty-handed on your next playthrough. However, some upgraded tools and clothing stay put, so the advantage on your next go-round isn't that great.

If there's a theme, it is that The Flame in the Flood never wants you to stay anywhere for long periods of time, something that's actually written on the title screen. The river always pushes you forward, and even with the most upgraded raft, lateral movement is almost impossible if you're trying to go between important landmarks. Items are always limited in the small lands you encounter, so shelters aren't feasible for long-term living. Leaving each place is permanent, as you're barred from visiting it again. The result is a game about spontaneity rather than planning; it's about thinking on the fly and hoping things turn out fine.

The game comes with two modes to explore, each one a little different from the other. The Campaign has you trying to survive 10 procedurally generated sections of the river until you reach your safe spot to investigate the radio signal. Unlike many roguelike survival games, there are checkpoints here, so while you can't save the game and come back later, you can recover from a loss at the start of a traversed section. Endless mode removes the end game goal and does away with checkpoints, making it an endurance run to see how far you can get before the many ailments of the world do you in.

Since the game is the Complete Edition, players may wonder what's different here compared to the version was first released on previous platforms. At first, it doesn't seem like much. You can now name your dog Daisy instead of Aesop, but his/her behavior doesn't change. You have a few more elements at your disposal when you begin, but from a gameplay perspective, everything is pretty much the same. The handling of your inventory has improved, so you can now craft something without moving things around to Aesop or the raft — as long as your crafting results in space being made for the new item. The big change is the presence of Director's Commentary via large cassette tapes at every dock and near some key characters. Like any good commentary track, there's tons of interesting trivia, and though it can be a pain to encounter them given the game's random nature, it's great to hear how certain elements came together in the pre-release stages and the post-Xbox One and PC releases; we need to have more features like this in games.

Of the two elements that make up the game's presentation, the audio is the strongest point. The alternative country and folk ballads work well with the subtle guitar and banjo twangs. The effects, like the rush of the river rapids, are exciting while you will cringe upon hearing your bones break when a boar pounces on you. The game sports no voices, but few people will care about that omission.

One of the reasons why the graphics work is due to the art style. The characters look like they came straight out of the movie "Corpse Bride," with their angular features and dead eyes. The stylized environments and distinct appearance are excellent, while things like rain and lightning sell you on the idea that seemingly normal weather phenomena can be panic-inducing.

After all this time, our opinion of The Flame in the Flood hasn't changed. The presentation is beautiful, and the approach to survival remains unique because of the lack of a permanent home. The lack of combat means you can't make it on brute strength alone, and the many roguelike elements ensure that every playthrough is just as tough as the last. The Flame in the Flood remains one of the better survival games on the platform today.

Score: 9.0/10

More articles about The Flame in the Flood
blog comments powered by Disqus