The Flame in the Flood (PC) Review

By Athanasios 24.02.2016

Review for The Flame in the Flood on PC

Survival games are all the rage nowadays. From triple-A masterpieces like Alien: Isolation and Fallout 4, to indie gems, such as Terraria and Don't Starve, being thrown into a hostile world and having to use everything that's not nailed to the ground in order to remain alive has always been a fascinating, as well as engrossing, concept. The thing is that, similar to films like Alien or The Walking Dead, most survival-themed video games tend to deal with imaginary things, like zombies, space invaders, and so on; things that are cool, but still fictional, unlike, for instance, Cast Away or The Grey, which managed to be far more gripping and emotive by simply pitting their heroes directly against the relentless of nature - just like The Flame in the Flood, the all-Americana scavenging trip across the flooded, post-societal US South.

Aesop, the canine, first half of the protagonist duo, grabs a backpack from a skeletal corpse, brings it over to Scout, the ragged heroine, and thus begins their journey down a river and towards life; human life, that is, since the wilderness is not short of creatures with sharp fangs and claws. As nasty as a pack of angry wolves is, though, the real threat is hunger, thirst, disease, cold weather, and fatigue. This feeling of fragility, as well as the savagery of the indifferent predator that goes by the name of Mother Nature, is the first thing that The Flame in the Flood nails, and it does it so well that it leaves a strong urge to appreciate those things that are taken for granted (especially fire), which is exactly what separates great survival-themed settings from the rest.

Scott Sinclair's (BioShock art director) neo-cubist/surrealist style is evident in Scout, whose bizarre and distorted Picasso-like face is quite elegant in its own way, as well as insanely expressive - it's impossible not to care about this frail girl after taking a look at her sad "alien" eyes. Luckily, and despite a general lack in variety, the world is equally as good looking. From how the various weather effects colour this beautiful backwater landscape, or the way the depth of field effect compliments the view, to subtle details, such as glowing animal eyes, how Scout limps and staggers while injured, or simply pets Aesop, everything looks terrific. Coupled by Chuck Ragan's folk blues soundtrack (whose tear-jerking main theme is a good enough reason to reach the ending), and some pitch-perfect sound effects, the end result is nothing short of amazing.

Screenshot for The Flame in the Flood on PC

As mystifying everything is, though, this is just a trip downstream of a procedurally-generated winding river, broken by brief intervals of inshore scavenging, crafting, and hunting… or avoiding becoming the prey. The "realistic" way Scout's DIY vessel behaves will probably annoy many people, but it's actually what makes this part enjoyable. A shoddy raft is supposed to be hard to handle, it's supposed to get damaged while it moves across such a treacherous element, and it's supposed to be one of the main reasons of death. In fact, one of the most adrenaline-pumping moments is when having to approach a region full of sharp rocks and floating rubble, while trying to outrun the coming rain, and while having almost zero durability left. Yes, it needs some getting used to, but, generally, the controls are fan-freaking-tastic.

Besides being a good boatwoman, braving this post-disaster hinterland requires food, water, finding protection from the harsh weather, and finding a place to have a snooze. In essence, that means that Scout has to gather all sorts of useful resources, like edible plants and insects, jars for storing liquids, herbs or mould for curing diseases, or components needed for crafting items that range from crude tools and snare traps, to upgrades for the raft, such as a sturdier frame, a rudder, or even a water purifier(!). As for confronting "enemies," it's a pleasantly hard task, with multiple ways to deal with them available, as long their behavioural patterns are taken advantage of. Crows alert wolves, wolves and (territorial) wild boars are afraid of fire, which, in turn, attracts snakes, and, finally, when it comes to bears… RUN!!!

Screenshot for The Flame in the Flood on PC

The RNG is usually one the biggest issues with rogue-like/rogue-lites, because the caprices of the behind-the-scenes dice rolls can lead to lots of unfair situations. While this may seem to apply here, as well, that's not true. Chance is surely a factor, yet this is possibly one the few in the survival sub-genre where skill is King. It's all about planning ahead, observing the surroundings or even Aesop's signals, and thinking when, and, mainly, where to dock, since loot tends to do a lot with the type of "port" visited. Take injuries, for example: the wolf opens disease-prone lacerations, the boar can break bones, and the snake is poisonous. On whose shoulders should the blame for approaching a dangerous animal without having a medical item on hand fall down on? To the one controlling everything - that's who.

That isn't to say that everything is hunky-dory, however, since there are various mechanics that are not as well balanced as expected. The flame of the torch has an annoyingly small duration, getting wet from the rain is not as lethal as it should be, the spoils or "war" are sometimes unrewarding (like when killing a grey wolf or a King of Boars), and, generally, some minor tweaking here and there would be great. Another problem is the total absence of additional gameplay settings, which would make things much better in terms of replay value; settings that could affect loot quantity and rarity, enemy AI, rain frequency, or at least something as simple as being able to remap the controls. By the way, put away keyboard and mouse, because controlling Scout with the gamepad feels way better.

Screenshot for The Flame in the Flood on PC

Needless to say, those not into such gameplay should stay away from this, because, while great, it has many of the typical flaws found in the genre, like the need to constantly fiddle with a limited inventory (or, in this case, three), as well as the overall repetitiveness. The Endless Mode, which was the only one so far, follows the standard rogue-like formula, which is to last as long as possible. Naturally, constantly providing additional content is impossible, thus, the whole thing starts to feel the same after a while, despite the steady increase in challenge. Luckily, and despite all this, the replay value is pretty decent, since there are multiple ways to play; from a merciless hunter, to an ignorant-of-the-current-situation non-violent vegetarian… although there's no incentive to do so.

The full release brings forth the Campaign mode, which, while great in that it provides an awesome feeling of closure (since it has a hard to reach finale), is disappointing in how lacking the plot is. That isn't to say that there should be tons of exposition-heavy cut-scenes or something, but it would be nice if there was something to differentiate this from the Endless Mode, like collectable pieces of scattered lore, or more characters to talk to, for example. Despite the lack of an actual storyline, however, this journey manages to evoke a strange feeling of connection with this world and its protagonist. It's hard to verbally explain this, but it captures the imagination so well with what little it offers, that even death feels like the end of a wonderful adventure, instead of just a 'Game Over' scene.

Screenshot for The Flame in the Flood on PC

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

Anyone who has truly experienced the Great Wide Open will surely appreciate this gem of a survival-themed video game that independent developer The Molasses Flood has created; a gem that provides a world that is as immersive and beautiful as it is dangerous, and that gives new meaning to the term 'Survival of the Fittest.' It should be noted, however, that, as fun as sailing, scavenging, hunting (or running), and crafting is, The Flame in the Flood should be enjoyed as a whole because, while as a game it is flawed, as an experience, it is simply magnificent.

Developer

The Molasses Flood

Publisher

The Molasses Flood

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

There are no replies to this review yet. Why not be the first?

Comment on this article

You can comment as a guest or join the Cubed3 community below: Sign Up for Free Account Login

Preview PostPreview Post Your Name:
Validate your comment
  Enter the letters in the image to validate your comment.
Submit Post

Subscribe to this topic Subscribe to this topic

If you are a registered member and logged in, you can also subscribe to topics by email.
Sign up today for blogs, games collections, reader reviews and much more
Site Feed
Who's Online?
hinchjoie

There are 1 members online at the moment.