Review – The Flame in the Flood

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OVERVIEW:

Developed and published by The Molasses Flood, The Flame in the Flood is a procedurally generated isometric survival game set in “post-societal America” with a heavy focus on foraging, hunting, and crafting.

The player controls Scout, a young woman traveling from one wrecked outpost to the next down a flooded river, holding fast to a rickety raft with her dog, Aesop. Destroyed houses spot the landscape, dangerous animals roam the land, and resources are scarce.

It’s a lonely game, and one where tragedy can befall the player at any moment.

The world may have been destroyed when the rains came, but there is still beauty everywhere.

STORY:

Our story begins when Aesop stumbles across Scout, who is resting at a campfire outside a run-down building that has been stripped clean of resources. Aesop is carrying a backpack and when Scout looks inside, she finds an active radio.

Curious to know where Aesop came from, and whether the radio could connect her to other survivors in this post-apocalyptic world, Scout and Aesop take a raft and set off down the swollen river.

Scout and Aesop set off on the unforgiving river.

The game is admittedly a little thin on story beyond this, especially in Endless mode, but the satisfying gameplay is really the star here, as it is in any survival game.

GAMEPLAY & CONTROLS:

Surviving is difficult when even time is your enemy. The hunger, thirst, warmth, and rest meters slowly tick down, and simply finding water won’t slake the player’s thirst. Not only does water need to be purified, but rags need to be disinfected before they can be used to protect the many wounds you will incur on your journey through the wasteland.

The river isn’t always calm and soothing.

The first time I encountered a boar I walked away with two lacerations. Without the means to treat my wounds, they both quickly turned into staph infections followed by sepsis. As I frantically guided my raft down the white water to try to find penicillin, the sepsis claimed me. Scout died on the river, and my journey had to begin again.

Unfortunately this highlighted a potential issue with the game’s checkpoint system, as my only options were to start some 10 seconds before Scout died of sepsis, or start the game over from the beginning.

This ended up being much less of a problem than I originally thought. Even though I had to start the game over, I was able to hold on to items I had in my inventory before my death.

Crafting is central to the experience. Adapt or die.

This turns subsequent attempts into a sort of New Game+ instead of starting from scratch, although taking a pure Rogue-like approach is still an option, depending on the game type and difficulty selected at the beginning of the game.

Some additional ease of use changes to the inventory management system would alleviate any mild annoyances experienced while moving items between Scout, Aesop, and the raft, but the systems are generally solid, and there really isn’t much here to complain about.

In my favorite bit of added flavor, warnings about dangers like inclement weather are accompanied with quotes by Robert Frost, Mark Twain, and others. While the journey is a lonely one, you are never truly alone, and reminders of civilization lie around every corner.

Bits of classic American literature and poetry add a distinct flavor to the game.

GRAPHICS & DESIGN:

The art is instantly striking. Aesthetically a cross between gems like Massive Chalice and Diablo III, The Flame in the Flood is an isometric third-person game with a heavy influence on style and mood.

The characters look like colorfully painted wooden dolls, and although Aesop is a chipper pup, Scout always looks concerned (appropriate, since this is the end of the world, and death is around every corner).

Darkness is dangerous when predators hide around every corner.

As injury or illness befall Scout, her appearance changes. Soaked by the rain, bloodied by animal attacks, feverish and in need of rest, Scout has a hard time making it in the world, and it shows.

The UI is clean and straightforward, and the most important information is always visible. The crafting menu is easy to navigate, which is important because opening Scout’s pack does not pause the game (A fact I learned when I was gored by a boar while trying to poison some bait early in my second attempt).

SOUND & MUSIC:

The Flame in the Flood takes it in turns leaning towards the folk music that sets a tone of hope and the determination to survive, and a solemn loneliness when the only sound is the raft sloshing down the, temporarily, calm river.

Setting out on Scout’s raft from the first landing, a bold acoustic folk guitar and harmonica piece began with gruff vocals soaring overhead. Just the sort of song one might hear around a campfire during a long trip.

Too bad pictures don’t capture music… yet. Somebody has to be working on that, somewhere.

I played the game mostly in docked mode with the sound pumped through a Sony soundbar. I spent a few hours playing in handheld mode through the Switch speakers and a bit of time playing the game in bed with headphones plugged in. The game sounds pretty good no matter what configuration I used, although I might prefer handheld mode.

An added note: the sound design is good enough that Finn, one of my cats, sneaked out of the bedroom where he was sleeping, and started stalking the crows on the title screen.

CONCLUSION:

The Flame in the Flood is a great survival game, able to stand against my other genre favorite, The Long Dark. The music and art design create a unique atmosphere that captures the American woodlands post-apocalypse.

Other survival games can become aggravating, especially when death feels out of your control, but the straightforward hook and streamlined gameplay systems of The Flame in the Flood have me coming back for more, time after time.

There were a few rare points where image flickering and frame stuttering occurred, but it wasn’t enough to take away from the overall experience, and the developer has assured us that these issues will be addressed in the Day 1 patch.

Overall, I feel that The Flame in the Flood is one more gem in the ever-growing catalog of excellent Switch ports, and at $15 on the eShop, it’s an absolute NintenDEAL.

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