We all know the survival game formula at this point: the world is dangerous, you have no resources or skills, and you need to not die. While you’re busy not dying, you also need to increase your character’s power, probably put together a house of some kind, and eventually become a decently competent resident of the awful world you inhabit. After that, well it’s all smooth sailing. The Flame in the Flood isn’t interested in standard formulas though. This game doesn’t want you to become an almighty character or feel safe at any moment really. Instead, it wants to make you feel unsafe, unsure, and unstable at all times. And it does a pretty good job of that when the interface isn’t draining your energy.
The Flame in the Flood takes place in rural America. Unfortunately for rural America, it’s been hit with a flood. This flood has caused a river to takeover most of the countryside. Your job is to survive in flooded rural America, just you and your god-like dog that can’t die because he’s the best. Survival means dealing with hunger, thirst, body temperature, exhaustion, and injuries. Any of these problems can kill you if they go from nagging to serious. To fix that problem you’ll need to scavenge and craft items that will help you survive. Due to the rather large river blocking your path, you’ll more than likely have to hop on your raft and explore many tiny islands before you find something useful. This leads to a bit of frustration and excitement as you hope to find what you need.
The RPG lovers among us will want to grab every item whether they’re useful or not. The protagonist, however, can only carry twelve items, as she is not the Dragonborn. On top of that, you’ll find clusters of islands that look enticing, but after exploring one or two islands in the cluster the river’s current will move you downstream and you’ll be forced to leave the unexplored islands alone.
While this mechanic is certainly frustrating, it also feels true-to-life. This is also true of the interesting world that The Flame in the Flood has around it. Learning what materials to keep and which to ditch is a crucial lesson to learn, and fast. Food spoils so should you eat it as soon as possible or save it for a rainy day? Fire can be started by multiple materials so do you use the more common materials first or keep them for when salvaging turns up nothing? This game is all about priorities and after dying a handful of times you’ll figure out which things should go at the top of your list.
Sadly, in order to craft items you need to use the game’s interface. Sorting your inventory to get an idea of your stuff is exhausting. The info you need is typically hidden behind step after step after step and when you finally think you have the right ingredients you’ll have to go check the recipe, which is in yet another category. That means that if you think you have anything but are, in reality, missing an important ingredient you’ll have to flip between menus to figure it out. For a game that has controller support I would highly recommend using the controller for gameplay and the mouse and keyboard for menus. This is such a crucial part of the game and the fact that it’s so bogged down is really unfortunate.
I do recommend playing this game with a controller, however, as the rafting bits are especially exciting. Avoiding rocks and flying down the river are some of the best moments in this game. There were times where my stamina was depleting and everything seemed to be going downhill but in a fit of desperation I pushed my raft, missed those awful rocks, and survived just barely. When I finally stopped I found myself catching my breath; I’d been holding it the whole time.
What really sells The Flame in the Flood is its art style and music. The mix of country landscape and gothic, haunting music does such a great job of heavily laying on the mood. The world around you is alive and real as you hear the river flowing and flowing, never giving up or apologizing. The music changes from happy and upbeat guitar to moody and depressing blues. There’s a beauty in this game’s atmosphere and that beauty is depressing in its full realization.
For once in a survival game I didn’t care about where I was going or what my ultimate goal was, I just wanted to live. I took risks, I acted brashly, and at times I felt like I was doing the wrong thing. Ok, that was actually 80% of the time but that’s ok. The Flame in the Flood is a fun experience that is bogged down by a clunky and frustrating interface. In a game that lives in the moment, having to pause and deal with that interface is a real bummer. Overall, I’d recommend The Flame in the Flood for those looking for a new type of survival game, and those patient enough to deal with the interface.