Linearity seems like a bad fit for a survival title; such restrictions can lead to tedious, location memorisation through trial and error. It makes for a poor experience, and one that works against the theme of survival through scrounging and risking exploration for the potential reward of resources. The Flame in the Flood sports this linear setup, yet remarkably keeps things true to the tried and test survival formula by having randomly generated pit stops along the critical path, making it a more accessible survival game but one that maintains the challenging difficulty.
It’s a clever design that offers a survival experience outside of the norm, where a raging river that’s flooded towns and cities and turned the area into a wilderness, rapidly moves you forwards through 10 locations challenging you to survive the trip by making stops at randomly generated sites to scrounge for the supplies you need to fight off fatigue, hypothermia, open wounds and infection, and the wildlife that means to do you harm.
Each time you take on the river it’s different, thanks to a Rouge-lite design that procedurally generates a new torrent of water and locations along it. Once, you’ve gathered the few resources available at your start location, you must take off down the river in your makeshift raft, choosing when to makes stops at camp sites, abandoned stores and churches, marinas, etc. where precious resources may be found and danger possibly lurks.
A camp site may offer saplings to tear up to create snares, which can then be placed strategically to catch rabbits whilst you snooze at a camp fire or clamber into an abandoned building or bus for the night. When you wake you can grab your captured prey, skin and eat it, making all important gloves for warmth from the fur before climbing on to your raft and heading off to the next location.
However, wild animals threaten to tear you apart at some of these stops, preventing you for scrounging for resources or challenging you to capture them so you may use their fur and meat. It’s difficult to stay on top of nature, especially when a broken bones can slow you down, a cut can turn septic, uncooked meat can be riddled with parasites, or perhaps food and water is too hard to find in time.
The river isn’t much safer. You raft is easily damaged if you crash into rocks or the floating debris of the destroyed civilised world. Marinas allow you to repair and even upgrade your raft, if you have the resources to hand that is. Managing your limited inventory, finding the resources you need and crafting the right equipment at the right time is a challenging puzzle that frequently leads to your death.
Fortunately you’re not always thrown back to the very beginning on your demise. Checkpoints occur that allow you to reload if something horrible befall you. However, a bad checkpoint that saves moments before your death can mean reloading one from a significant time back, so progress is still hard fought. Often restarting completely is a better option, simply because you’ve learnt better techniques at surviving this hostile wilderness. Moreover, your trusty dog companion Aesop, can hold supplies that are carried across to the next game if you do choose to start over.
Unfortunately the procedurally generated nature of The Flame in the Flood does mean luck plays a fair part in your success. Resources you might of found immediately in one play-through may fail to appear in another until late in to the game, leading to what feels like an unfair death. Meanwhile, where once you found an empty camp site and fire you may find a pack of hungry wolves the next time. It’s part of what makes survival titles so compelling; the luck of the draw and risk of exploration, and The Flame in the Flood plays risk verse reward in such a way as to generate some marvellous emergent storytelling. There are plenty of moments where you’re barely alive, suffering perhaps from starvation when you find just enough grubs to keep you moving until luck finally grants you a fire to cook that raw meat you’ve been holding. It’s an entertaining and compelling challenge overall.
The Flame in the Flood also has a terrific aesthetic, painting a picture of a world not dissimilar to the opening intro of Game of Thrones. With an angular design and pastel colours, ominous lighting from flames and lightning, and a wonderfully appropriate score from Chuck Ragan and special guests that truly immerses you in the wilderness.
Indeed The Flame in the Flood captures that long told story and mythology of the river journey and turns it into a challenging and fascinating survival experience. Nature is your enemy and your saviour, and understanding how predators will react to you and how your need for supplies drives your desperation is excellent fuel for a whole host of emergent survival stories generated by your experience in-game. It’s difficulty will put some people off but if your looking for a well designed survival experience based on reality, this is it.