Ever since the release of Minecraft there’s been a wave of survival and crafting games that hasn’t seemed to stop. It’s become a genre filled with mediocrity and recycled mechanics; tons of games trying to replicate a formula that’s been done a thousand times. It starting to become stale. That’s why I was slightly hesitant before trying out The Flame in the Flood on the PlayStation 4, I didn’t want to jump into an experience I’d basically already played before. But when I first landed on the start screen I was greeted by a sweet southern harmonica, a booming river, and a lone crow’s calls; it set the tone for a marvellous adventure that calmed all my concerns.
Adding a Spark to an Old Flame
You’re given a clear objective from the start of the game: travel as far as you can on this river. It’s a pretty simple concept, but it’s hard as hell to achieve. It’s also a roguelite, meaning it has a lot of realistic resource management and when you die, you die for real. (Not in a “you die in the game you die in real life” sense, you just have to restart from the beginning.) The fact that it had roguelite elements was weird because each time I played it didn’t occur to me that if I messed up I was screwed, and I’d have to go all the way back to the beginning. I was so entranced in the simple gameplay loop they set up that I just didn’t remember the permadeath. And that came back to bite me many times.
The Molasses Flood, developers of The Flame in the Flood, did a quality job at keeping me focused on my in-game tasks, like no other survival game I’ve played in recent years. It shouldn’t come as a surprise though, it’s a company full of self-described “AAA refugees” from studios like Harmonix, Bungie, and Irrational Games. They made me like a game about camping, and I hate camping.
At the beginning of the game you’re given instructions, tools, and a rundown of your situation on a handy starter’s island. It seems that humanity has gone really downhill after a flood, and you have to survive. Once you gather your bearings you and your dog hop onto a raft and start sailing down the almost never-ending, hellish river. On your river journey you pass by islands that all offer specific resources, and you don’t really know what they are unless you dock. Most of the game is docking onto these islands, collecting all of the food, water, and resources you need and then getting off. It’s a basic concept as I said before, but the slight variations from island to island kept me going.
The Flame in the Flood is a really introverted experience. Everything in the game is reserved. But not in a way like Minecraft where it’s inspiring and you can’t stop thinking of what you’re going to do next, it’s just kind of lonely. Everything is rundown and flooded, which adds to that general feeling of despair. It makes you want to get out of each dreadful island you stumble upon, and it makes the goal of getting to the end of the river even more desirable.
The flow of the game is heavily directed by its soundtrack. Even if you’re not a fan of the genre, the powerful folk rock sounds by Chuck Ragan gives a bit more purpose to the adventure. The chords are a perfect match, offering an odd cornerstone for the unpredictable rapids you face. It just matches that country aesthetic that was established right from the load-in screen.
The game is enjoyable, but playing more than half an hour of it makes you realize it’s the same rinse and repeat formula over and over again. It gets boring after a couple of playthroughs. When you die at a part you’ve sacrificed everything to get to, and you’re just sent to the beginning is especially disheartening. The difficulty also spikes randomly when you encounter boars, wolves, and bears, and sometimes it feels impossible to survive during a playthrough. I just wish there was some sort of difficulty option that gave a bigger difference for less experienced players and veterans of the game mode. There is a slight skill difference option in the settings before the game, but it’s barely noticeable while playing.
All that being said, The Flame in the Flood is still a great survival experience, worthy of your time. It’s a game where you can hop on and play for a couple of times a day and it really scratches that survival itch. The only downfall is its disregard of difficulty, and while it did develop it’s own interesting formula, it’s still repeated to a point that gets dull. The world of The Flame in the Flood is a macabre beauty, a dark rural tone that makes you treasure the bright moments. Even though I had spent a good amount of time figuring out the methods of survival in this game, gathering resources, and setting up camp I still think camping sucks, but I don’t think that this game does.