The Flame in the Flood Review (PC)
Wolves. It always comes down to the wolves. One or two isn't so bad. If you're swift enough, you can evade one while buying time to trap the other. When there's a third, or an elder around? You may as well make peace with your maker, for your chances of seeing the sun rise again are slimmer than they've ever been. You can't help but think, "Why did I stop at this campground at night?" Well, because you were hungry, cold, and in desperate need of some sleep after wrecking your raft on the rapids. At least once the wolves are done cutting you to pieces, you'll finally be able to get some rest.
Life after the flood isn't easy, and The Flame in the Flood reminds you of that at every turn. With nothing but your loyal dog and a keen sense of crafting, you'll have to survive as long as you can if you hope to learn what happened to the world before the flood. The Flame in the Flood is a challenging survival game, but one that eases you into its world and mechanics well, allowing you to learn from your experiences without getting frustrated too early on. The longer you play, the more adept you get, and the more satisfying it is to make it down river. It's also that much more crushing to lose everything to those damned wolves.
The Flame in the Flood begins with a warning. "Do Not Idle" is smeared onto a sign next to a skeleton with a backpack. Your dog brings it over to you, thus starting your adventure in the wilds of the post-flood riverbanks. It's not clear where this game takes place, though the soundtrack and style create a picture of southern America. The locale isn't super important since it's been so devastated by the constantly raging flood still flowing through the heartland, but there's an inviting warmth to the aesthetic that pulls you along to each new location and area. You know, to counter all the death and danger awaiting you at every new stop along the way.
This backpack is more than just a symbol of the pain that awaits, it's also key to your survival. The items to find along the way are plentiful, ranging from cattails and flint to fish hooks and lumber, but your storage space is limited. Learning which items to stock up on early in your adventures takes a few runs. Don't be surprised if your first adventure down the rapids lasts just a few short days. It's easy to want to snag everything you see, but you'll soon find that there isn't enough room to accommodate hoarding even with your pack, your dog's pack and the storage on your raft.
Inventory management is the one big knock on The Flame in the Flood. It's incredibly tedious, especially in those first few hours when you're learning how to play. Crafting and gathering resources is easy. Recipes appear when you've got enough ingredients, and you can craft most anything you need right away including food and traps. That is, provided you have the space in your inventory. You'll find yourself constantly swapping items around between yourself and the dog early and often, and dumping large chunks of crafting goods on your raft at every opportunity as well. Nothing brings the excitement and tension of exploration to a grinding halt like opening your resources to make room for new additions.
Though that learning curve won't be a challenge for those familiar with survival games, it can be a bit overwhelming to novices of the genre. Where TFITF makes up for that is in how quickly you can get back into the swing of things after dying, and by making its character's vitals management incredibly lenient. You will need to eat, drink and stay warm during inclement weather, but the system isn't punishing in the least. The Molasses Flood has done a great job making things like hunger and exhaustion easy to manage and track, and after a few runs you should be able to keep these stats in line fairly easily for however long you manage to survive.
You'll also get better at being prepared for the randomness of the wilds. During the campaign mode, some pre-built locations will crop up along with the randomly generated ones to give you a glimpse at the world before the flood. There's no story to speak of, but you'll encounter some characters along the way who offer cryptic conversations about the world as it is and was. There's also a set number of zones to pass through, but you have to be extra skilled to make it to whatever awaits at the end of the river. During the endless mode, it's more about just seeing how long you can make it, with conditions continually getting more difficult along the way. The challenge escalates quickly, but if you're able to make it two or three weeks into the journey, you have a strategy that will likely keep you alive for a decent time if you don't get sloppy.
The Flame in the Flood is a survival game that will test your skills, but it's good at keeping its difficulty spike from rising too quickly. Whether you're just starting out or deep into a run, the challenge remains consistently balanced. You're going to die in the flood, but with every death comes a new wrinkle to your strategy for living another day or ten. It's beautiful to explore, its mechanics are easy to grasp, and before long, you'll find yourself pushing harder to make it just one more camp, just one more night and just one more week. Provided you can stave off the wolves.
This review was completed using a download of The Flame in the Flood provided by the publisher for PC.