There’s not too many AAA titles that genuinely push artistic boundaries. Sure, games like Uncharted 4 or Final Fantasy XV can look and sound astounding, but in some ways having access to all of the resources that huge developers have doesn’t force them to push boundaries elsewhere. Indies can often produce more visually and aurally arresting work under more challenging circumstances. The Flame In The Flood, a roguelike game from The Molasses Flood, is one such title.
The aim of the game is to survive in the wild for as long as possible, whilst exploring down the river on your raft. You do this by foraging for food and finding items that you can craft into a variety of other things, from tools to medicine, all in a bid to keep yourself alive. As you journey further downstream, you start to discover what has happened to the world, often by encountering the people that still inhabit it.
Difficulty-wise there’s Traveller or Survivalist options, with Traveller recommended for new players as it features checkpoints and an abundance of supplies. Survivalist features permadeath, fewer supplies and your stats diminish at an increased rate. It’s certainly not for the faint hearted.
Whichever mode you opt for, you’ve got to keep an eye on your character’s health, with her hunger, thirst, temperature and rest levels all requiring attention as you explore. It’s not as simple as just finding food and sleeping occasionally though; you can be attacked by wild animals, causing broken bones that’ll need setting with a splint, contract an infection, or even just being caught out in the rain can lead to a slow death if you don’t take shelter or dry off by a fire.
Each playthrough is judged by the distance travelled and number of days you’ve made it through, with additional goals also set by finding mailboxes dotted about the world. At times, when the sun is shining and there’s rabbits bounding about, it can be a serenely beautiful and relaxing experience as your faithful dog companion points out nearby saplings. However, once night sets in, or a storm is blowing, everything takes on a more sinister edge and you’ll be hoping to find an old bus to bed down in to escape the worst of it.
Things can become increasingly bleak in this post-apocalyptic take on middle America, as you find yourself bleeding, starving, dehydrated and dying of some horrible infection in your gut. Often all at the same time. You have to push inexorably on down the river though, perhaps just in time to find some penicillin, or maybe find the items needed to make some if you’re particularly lucky, all the while having to slug polluted water that is making you sicker.
Forks in the river often force you to decide what is more important to you – do you need to repair the raft or find a homestead with plenty of wild game to catch? It’s worth remembering to be as well-fed and rested as possible before getting on your raft, as there can be extended sections of the river that don’t have any stopping points. My first playthrough was going swimmingly until I found myself dying of starvation on a sparsely populated part of the river.
You’ll certainly spend a lot of time tinkering with your inventory, with just twelve slots in your backpack, five in your canine pal’s bag, and a further twelve on the raft. You’ll soon fill them all, and begin the cycle of juggling what things you need, crafting some into more useful items, and discarding what you can do without. You can upgrade your raft as you progress, including its storage, taking it from a hastily pieced together craft to a hardy river-going vessel.
There’s some occasionally muddled thinking with the inventory management, though. I kept trying to select the polluted water from my inventory and choose an option to filter it, but instead you have to head into the crafting tab to create clean water. That’s despite the fact that you then have to go into the inventory to refill it once you’ve had your fill. There are also one or two visual hiccups, such as textures flickering as you move, though the occasions it occurs are few and far between and a launch day patch is incoming.
Otherwise, it’s a lovingly created and fully realised world, with a distinct art style that equally suits the game’s moments of peace as it does its brutality. The soundtrack, created by singer-songwriter Chuck Ragan, matches it perfectly, with its evocative Americana adding greatly to the game’s journey through the wilderness. Shades of Darren Korb’s work on Bastion coming through at times. In fact, it could have been on our list for best soundtrack last year – why not take a listen?
While the original version arrived last year for Xbox One, PC, Mac and Linux, the Complete Edition for PS4 treats you to various upgrades including the addition of a directors commentary from The Molasses Flood, with portions of it playing each time you discover a spinning cassette tape. It’s a great and insightful extra that you don’t see often enough in the gaming world, and one which is implemented deftly. On top of that, there’ve been various other gameplay enhancements that have ensured that this is the definitive edition of a fantastic survival game.
The Flame In The Flood is a remarkably well crafted entry in the survival genre that sets itself apart with compelling gameplay, an intriguing setting, and a stellar soundtrack. Having released on computer and Xbox One last year, its arrival on PlayStation 4 with the Complete Edition will hopefully see it find a new audience to entice on a beautiful, and bleak, journey down the river.
Version Tested: PS4