“I see my vessel, my companion, my child, swallowed up like a crumb too small for the deep Atlantic to taste. Waves bury her and pass.”
-Steven Callahan, Adrift: 76 Days Lost at Sea
“The following is a guest post by the Moronic Cheese Mage.”
When creating a survival game, it must be tempting to include “survive” in the title somewhere. 2015’s Just Survive couldn’t resist the temptation – gee, I wonder what you do in that one?!
To be fair, though, and ruin my point, most others don’t do this. The survival genre, whilst relatively new (although early ’90s titles such as UnReal World and SOS had a good old stab in the dark – the former is still available, and receiving updates, on Steam), has enjoyed an influx of titles in recent years thanks to technological advancements. 2014’s Alien: Isolation is, arguably, the best of the lot.
The Flame in the Flood (developed by Boston’s The Molasses Flood, who so kindly lent us a review code for the Nintendo Switch release this October) is closer to 2013 indie hit Don’t Starve than any other, but the setup is more advanced and players are expected to readily think on their feet. Do you have the nerve for it? Good! It may be an unforgiving one, but its effective soundtrack and lush graphics make this a memorable indie experience, at a time when the Switch is somewhat lacking in survival games (unless you include Breath of the Wild in that assessment).
The Flame in the Flood
As with many indie games, this made its debut on Steam last year. Again, as with many indie games, it’s absolutely perfect for the Nintendo Switch due to its portability. It’s no big surprise it made the switch (proper L oh L) so well, but it launched just over a week before Super Mario Odyssey… which is a good way to get in there before that colossus lands and overwhelms us all but, also, leaves the title slightly dwarfed by a game which has met with near perfect scores across the globe.
Indie games are special, however, and offer a special type of gaming experience compared to AAA titles. So, like many survival games, you’re dumped right in at the deep end and a process of trial and error begins in order to master the basics. I’ve always had an aversion to getting killed in games, especially those that record how many times you’ve snuffed it, probably due to some narcissistic desire to prove I’m indestructible and great at games rather than just being largely mediocre at them. Well, the Flame in the Flood whooped me big time for the first hour. Good I was not – clearly, patience and perseverance are your friends here.
You star as a young lady called Scout – lost alone amidst some post-apocalyptic world, she is joined out of the blue by a dog called Aesop (there are a couple of other doggy names you can choose, such as Daisy). Now, Flame in the Flood is an oxymoron of sorts, but you’ll be like a bloody flame in a flood to begin with (i.e. utterly ineffective) as indicated above… unless you do a bit of research for survival techniques. My advice, if you do get the game, is take to YouTube to pick up some hints and tips as this will save you from faffing about in the early stages.
As events kick off, the usual survival genre tropes are there, such as initial foraging, testing out what you can do, experimentation, exploration. You really don’t know what to expect, however, which is one of the main draws of the genre – that uncertainty. Plus, as you’re against the clock fighting for your life, the need to gather food, drink, and obtain swag is an ever-present stress. Failure is not an option!
To Forage, or Not to Forage?
The basic instructions you get at the start are as follows:
“Travel the river by raft in search of locations to explore. Collect supplies to stay fed, hydrated, warm, and healthy … Survive the wilds as long as possible!”
That’s a truncated account, but pretty much sums up what’s going on. In fundamental form, the player takes to the procedurally generated river/small land areas and tries to survive for as long as possible (your demise is, of course, inevitable, but it’s about trying to explore the 10 regions of the river as much as possible).
On my first foraging mission I stumbled across an outraged boar and, sure enough, he did me in. With some broken legs and a bloodied mug, I didn’t make it much further. Lesson one: be cautious. Lesson two: up your management skills! You’ve got to look after your health, energy, hunger pangs, thirst, broken limbs, the need to shelter during rain, and the all-important foraging. The Flame in the Flood certainly nails this side of the genre.
More impressively, your sense of isolation (there’s a Waterworld type plot involving way too much water) in a post-societal world is palpable and it takes very little to leave Scout in a limb-severed state. You do meet a few other characters on your trip but, as the game has arbitrary areas regenerated after each death, you won’t really be getting to know any NPCs.
The result? The roguelike elements of the game certainly help to mix things up – this isn’t your bog standard survival game. Between your trips hurtling down the river, there’s the chance to upgrade your little boat, massacre animals, and generally enjoy the scenery. One big downside? Whilst creating items to, for instance, capture animals for food soon becomes intuitive, the menu system (which you’ll find much-maligned by reviewers and critics online) isn’t ideal and turns management into a bit of a chore.
Things can get rather repetitious as well – all you’re doing is rinse and repeat, plus if you’ve been on a great run and find yourself brutally mauled by a ferocious wolf, or it rains and there’s no shelter (so your character shivers to death), it can be frustrating. The difficulty is high, make no mistake. This is a hardcore survival game – be afraid, but if this is your thing you’re sorted to while away some time.
Messing About on the River
Central to the game is the huge river which sweeps on down and down and down – boy, does it keep on going. Taking this on, with occasional bursts of rapids, is a fun experience and is complemented by the jaunty soundtrack. The graphics in the title are great, too, with a charming and colourful quality about them.
Back to the soundtrack – musician Chuck Ragan created this and it’s dependent on whether you like folk music if you’re going to enjoy. The instrumental acoustic moments as you paddle (or hurtle) down river are particularly lovely, although I find some of the singing grating (but then I am rather uptight with my musical tastes). A track such as “In the Eddy” provides an example of what the game is capable of.
Of course, the gameplay has to match the experience and, with so many indie games coming out, not least a near overabundance of roguelike and survival titles, does this one stand out in any way? Yes, simply put, as it’s a fun hybrid which is challenging, jaunty, and mysterious.
It’s not perfect and there’s a fair bit of repetition, but the title excels with its atmospherics and tightly knit gameplay. You’re in quite a linear, confined space as you rush downriver, stopping off at sparse destinations before moving on, upgrading your craft, and revelling in the moments of quietude. It’s a game of atmospherics, then, which won’t be for everyone, but the Flame in the Flood delivers on its premise stylishly and with a sense of fun.
The 8-Bit Review
Lean and mean – some fabulous use of shadowing, with angular characters and settings which look increasingly lovely depending on the time of in-game day. It’s a charming look and is really one of the high-points to the title – it’s a treat for the eyes.
A strong soundtrack with some excellent acoustic numbers from folk singer Chuck Ragan. I’m not overly keen on his voice at times and it’s quite a select form of music (gangsta rap fans will miss the lack of sick beats, for instance) but it generates wonderful atmospherics.
Challenging, quirky, rewarding, infuriating, confusing, enjoyable, bemusing – the title is a whole batch of mainly good, if not great, with flaws which hold it back. It makes me think of 1990 B flick Tremors, with Kevin Bacon, mainly due to the music and – it’s a flawed gem and one a certain audience will relish, whilst others will baulk at.
The survival genre certainly isn’t for everyone and this is a difficult title to launch yourself into. If you’re new to the genre and want to wade on in, here’s a good option. For die-hard survival game fans, it’s a different type of keeping yourself alive. Worth a dig!
It’s there! It’s a tough cookie and you’ll be rather frustrated early on, but anyone with experience of survival games will utilise this knowledge to forge on ahead and take in the entire experience. Perseverance is key – then you shall be rewarded, player!
Certainly for many an hour I found myself drawn back into the world, but it can be somewhat repetitive. The game’s real selling point is the sense of atmosphere it creates, which helps to alleviate some of the monotonous tasks – this, in turn, helps you indulge in the escapism which makes video games so magical.
It’s a relatively innovative take on the survival genre as it has roguelike elements. On the Switch, there’s little else like it at the moment, too, but if you have Steam on the go then it’s not going to stand out.
My Personal Grade: 7/10
If you’re a survival genre nut then you’ll be pleased with this unique addition to the (admittedly somewhat oversaturated) library of keep-yourself-alive-athons. As this is an indie title, you’ll find a condensed experience which exudes a certain sense of jaunty isolation – you have those reflective moments on the river with the acoustic music, the charming graphics, and the flowing river. Then your legs will get shattered by a boar.
It’s one tough game, but one you’ll get more from with the more commitment you put into it. For the Switch, this is a unique title, but it lands at a time when a vast influx of incredible games is nearing, not least since Super Mario Odyssey has just launched, whilst on the way we have Doom, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and other high-profile indie gems such as RiME and Axiom Verge (there’s a big physical copy release shortly for the latter).
Up against that lot, the Flame in the Flood falls short, but if you’re keen for something a touch different from the Switch’s library, this one is well worth a whirl. Just be prepared to really thump some time into it, otherwise the game will thump you.
Aggregated Score: 7.4
The Moronic Cheese Mage is also known as Wapojif. That’s Mr. Wapojif to you. He’s a self-deprecating humorist with his head on straight. For silliness and surreal humour, definitely find your way to his blog at professionalmoron.com.
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