Survival games are big money these days! It seems like not a month goes by when we don’t see the latest iteration of Minecraft or DayZ show up trying to get some of that sweet, sweet Early Access revenue. Right now we’ve got games like Ark: Survival Evolved and Rust sitting on top of the survival charts, but other challengers are always trying to take the throne. Today we’re looking at one of those: the single-player rafting/death simulator The Flame in the Flood.
The Flame in the Flood, at its core, is the best simulation of being savaged by wolves that I’ve ever played. You might think you’ve played games with a strong focus on wild canines devouring your organs, like the Tomb Raider reboot, the popular StarCraft 2 mod Kobold Tribes or even Minecraft…but trust me, The Flame in the Flood is the premier bleeding-to-death-from-wolf-inflicted-wounds simulator out there today. I could almost feel the teeth tearing into my vulnerable flesh! Video games, folks!
You play as Scout, a survivor in a flooded post-apocalyptic world with little to her name but a backpack, a staff and a loyal dog. Don’t expect her to last very long the first couple of times you try this one, as there’s a lot working against Scout. For instance, she’s frail even by survival game standards and won’t last long against anything actively trying to harm her, particularly the aforementioned wolves. Taking damage is a risky proposition, as wounds can stack up over time and cause problems. Scout also can’t carry many items early on, though you can upgrade this later, which means you’ll have to carefully manage your resources and determine the most important items for your needs. Perhaps most significantly, our heroine grows hungry, thirty and tired very quickly, so you’ll need to plan ahead to ensure you’ve got enough supplies.
You’re going to spend a lot of time scavenging in order to find crafting supplies and resources. Travel typically involves hopping on Scout’s raft and sailing down the ever-flowing river, looking for places to dock and explore. You can only go forward, so if you miss a docking point then it’s gone and you’ll have to wait for the next one. You also have to steer the raft away from obstacles, since collisions will reduce your ride’s durability and necessitate repairs.
This isn’t an easy game at first. Scout’s going to go splat many a time before you start to get the hang of The Flame in the Flood, but eventually you’ll start to develop the most important skill needed to succeed here: prioritization. Your incredibly limited inventory space and constantly nagging needs means that victory revolves around determining what will offer the most benefit per inventory slot. Once you’ve gotten the hang of this, The Flame in the Flood becomes a bit more manageable, though bad luck or risky encounters can still end your game early. Naturally, there are more difficult modes to try, namely an endless mode where you attempt to stay alive as long as possible.
My one complaint is that the game’s controls can be a little difficult to deal with at first, at least on console. This is clearly a game that was designed for PC first and foremost, so messing around with your inventory on a dedicated controller can be more taxing than seems necessary. Eventually I got the hang of playing with an Xbox One controller, but the PC version of the Flame and the Flood is bound to be the definitive option.
The real highlight of The Flame in the Flood is the game’s presentation. At first it looks a bit like a pop-up book; everything has a colorful, cel-shaded style, while Scout and her pooch stand out from their surroundings. In reality, this is one of the darker presentations of a survival game that I’ve seen. Scout looks incredibly haggard as you take damage, hostile creatures appear as something out of a nightmare and the surroundings tell a tale of loss and sorrow. It’s no This War of Mine, but The Flame in the Flood certainly lives in the same bombed-out apartment complex.
Sound effects and music are perhaps The Flame in the Flood’s defining feature, though, offering a selection of bluegrass and country style that stand out from pretty much any other game out there. I was reminded a bit of the better parts of Bastion or The Last of Us, which is definitely a positive comparison to make.
All in all, if you’re hurting for a survival game then you could do worse than The Flame in the Flood. It’s difficult and haunting at the same time, but perhaps most importantly it’s no longer in Early Access unlike the enormous number of identikit survival games flooding the various purchase-before-release channels. Don’t expect to make it too far the first couple times you try to brave the waters, but with persistence you should be able to stay afloat.