The Flame in the Flood has been finally released after both a successful kickstarter and Early Access period. Studio Molasses Flood is made up of former Irrational Games members who worked on Bioshock Infinite. While the title may look similar to other survivalist games out there, the river has a few twists and turns to it.
The Flame in the Flood takes place in a mysterious setting. We don’t know if this is after some kind of apocalypse or a breakdown of society; either way, you are a survivalist who is trying to keep going with your faithful dog Aesop. The only place to go in the world is down a mighty river to hopefully find supplies or other survivors.
Starting off, The Flame in the Flood looks amazing; featuring an intriguing art style that does a great job of capturing the mood no matter what’s going on. The game is semi procedurally generated through the use of the river and points of interest. The river itself constantly shifts and changes both during the game and when you start a new file. As you go down the river, points of interest based on set types can show up and you can choose to land or ignore them at your leisure. The general makeup of each POI is the same based on the type, but there are always surprises that can pop up.
While your main objective is to survive, it’s not going to be easy; this is where The Flame in the Flood takes some cues from Don’t Starve, but goes in its own direction.
As with other survival-based games, The Flame in the Flood’s main threat to your character is keeping her healthy. You need to monitor hunger, thirst, energy and her body temperature at all times; have any of them hit 0 and you are good as dead.
The points of interest will contain various supplies that you can pick up and there are a lot of items to find.
Like other games, there are multiple uses for a lot of items with the main one being crafting elements to make better stuff. Advanced items can be used in other crafting formulas, heal your character and other functions. Besides keeping track of your character’s stats, you also need to watch out for hazards and diseases out in the wilderness. Threats in the form of wild animals and even hazardous plants can leave you wounded until you can repair the damage.
Major upgrades come in the form of new tools that can be used for additional crafting and the ability to upgrade your raft. As with Don’t Starve, there is a progression and complexity curve built into how you acquire items. At the start of the game, you’ll be crafting simple tools and won’t be able to do much; stick with it, and you’ll be able to set up traps, hunt larger animals and make your raft as powerful as it can be.
With all that said, don’t think that The Flame in the Flood is an easy game, resources are always low and one bad encounter can leave you at death’s door.
Playing the game on survivalist difficulty or on endless mode, you only have one life and when it’s up you’ll be sent back to the start. Your dog Aesop acts as a persistence mechanic, as any items stored on him will be available at the start of your next game.
I’ve said it several times during this review, but The Flame in the Flood is very reminiscent of Don’t Starve; for what it does right and where I have some problems to discuss.
Survivalist games in general have trouble with replayability, in the sense that you are either going to see everything there is very early, or the late game becomes such a chore to get to each time that you won’t want to see it. As with Don’t Starve, The Flame in the Flood runs into the problem of motivating someone to keep coming back to it. The early game is basically note-for-note with every run in terms of order of upgrades and crafting.
Unlike Don’t Starve which featured biomes to keep the player and the environment guessing, The Flame in the Flood’s points of interest aren’t varied enough at this time to present different experience on replay.
As with any rogue-like, the further you get into a play, the more dangerous the environment gets, but each Point of Interest is pretty much defined as to what you should expect. One positive about The Flame in the Flood is that it’s a lot harder (to the point of impossible) to reach a point of self sustainability; you’re never going to be completely safe and the always forward momentum of the river keeps you from being comfortable.
Using Aesop as a persistence mechanic is also up for debate. One problem that I see with rogue-likes that go for persistence mechanics is that it makes you play for future runs; where you’ll have all the tools you need to attempt a winning play, instead of playing for each current run.
Given the vast number of items, components and tools in the game, it’s hard to know just what you’re going to need for future plays.
A big tip for those starting out, keep items that will either lead to crafting tools or upgrading your raft on Aesop at all times.
The reason is that those items in particular will always have a purpose, and the sooner you get them, the sooner you can better prepare yourself. Basically, the earlier you can do tier 2 crafting, the quicker and easier it will be to advance up the tech tree.
One idea for persistent mechanics that I would suggest is to copy a page out of Binding of Isaac’s playbook and have persistence mechanics alter subsequent plays to make the game harder/more varied, or even just aesthetics and bonuses that are unlocked. That way, the player keeps coming back to find new stuff and isn’t burdened by having to play for future runs.
Another complaint I have is the UI for crafting and the inventory is a little cumbersome. You’re going to be switching back and forth between the two to figure out what you have and what you can craft.
A smart UI that could combine both screens I think would have been a better alternative or something similar to Don’t Starve that keeps inventory and crafting on one screen. Also, making it easier to auto give items to Aesop would help cut down on inventory fiddling.
I also ran into some bugs including various crashes, but those should be ironed out over time.
Despite my complaints, A Flame in the Flood is a great game and a good example of a title with a unified design and aesthetics. There is just something hauntingly charming about the game: From the aesthetics, to the act of surviving in this mysterious world. As with any great game, the design leaves the door open for a lot of growth and expanding on the mechanics, which I hope we see.