Set in a rural post-societal America, The Flame in the Flood is one part Noah’s Ark, one part Oregon Trail, and two parts grit and determination. Complimented by a soundtrack that is exactly what you would listen to while floating down the Everglades, The Mississippi Delta, or Louisiana Bayou, developers The Molasses Flood create a perfectly balanced mood between hope and suffering in their roguelike survival game. You play as a girl named Scout who – along with her canine companion, Aesop – must navigate the often turbulent river to discover the source of a radio signal. Docking at various points along the way – campsites, farms, marinas – to find water, food, shelter, clothing, and medical supplies will provide all the necessities for survival.
Having played the endless mode first in early access, I appreciated not dying as often of dehydration or starvation, but found myself coming face-to-face more often with boars, wolves, and snakes. And I drowned a lot. But being able to survive for longer periods of time on a piece of beef jerky and a jar of water not only allowed me to get further down the river and explore dilapidated roadways, but also allowed me to get more acquainted with the crafting system, which shines but can be cumbersome at times.
The Flame in the Flood takes an immense amount of strategy and resource management, sometimes to the point of micromanagement. Inventory slots are as precious a commodity as corn – you won’t always be able to carry what you need when you need it. This gets especially tricky when you start crafting some of the medium and larger ticket items crucial for survival, like snare traps and raft patches. You can find yourself floating a ways down the river in search of a campsite site for a pre-lit fire – all that rabbit meat isn’t going to cook itself – and dying from intestinal parasites is faster than starvation. The most useful upgrade you can get is to increase the storage space on your raft. This will almost eliminate the need to micromanage your inventory and allow you to store “immediate need” items such as food and water, and save things for later like medical supplies.
The save system is somewhat frustrating; you are able to save your progress at any point by docking, but if you die while on the way to a major checkpoint down the river, you don’t get to pick up right where you left off. After making it 10 miles, I hit a rock in some rapids and drowned. This happened five, maybe six times in a row. I was given the option to either start over around three miles from the beginning or at five and a half miles. Starting the player so far back after they have made a decent amount of progress can potentially kill the game experience. It makes sense to do this in endless mode or the extreme survival mode of the campaign, but it’s really hard to make any progress on the story, for what little there is; this happens whether you die on land or on the river.
On the other hand, it does make sense to do this because the game is returning you to a “safe” point where your health levels are decent (assuming – mine were pretty good at the five and a half mile checkpoint) instead of returning your levels to one-hundred percent at the same point where you died. It would go against the survival mechanics. A compromise could be to have more checkpoints along the river, but I’m not sure the best way to resolve this issue other than making it easier to navigate your raft or by learning to die less.
The Flame in the Flood allows you to play only one game at at time, unfortunately. Want to switch from campaign to endless or from endless to campaign? You’ll have to give up your only instance of the game every time.
Narrative-wise, there is not much added. Every so often, you’ll run into people along the way, always at random thanks to the procedurally-generated content – feral children and a witch, for example. Everyone will have something to offer you. The children offered me arrows and the witch offered to heal any ailment I might have. Their offers are a one-time only deal, so if you accidentally hit the wrong button, you won’t be able to take advantage of their help. Some people will tell you brief stories. I ran into an older woman with a gun closer to the first checkpoint – asked her if she knew about the flood and she said she didn’t for a while. Quilts do make a few appearances throughout the campaign, too, as in endless mode.
While there are a few additions to the campaign, not much differentiates it from endless mode. Dying over and over again will get frustrating, but there is a lot of joy in crafting items; it’s highly satisfying to take down a wolf with a trap and eat it for breakfast. The soundtrack is impossible to get sick of. If you want to kick back on a pontoon and float lazily down a real river, it’s available for purchase here. The Flame in the Flood will test your tenacity to the max.
Platforms: Windows PC, Mac, Xbox One | Developer/Publisher: The Molasses Flood | ESRB: T | Controls: Mouse/keyboard, Controller
This review copy of The Flame in the Flood was played on PC via Steam and was provided by the developer.