It was out of pure aesthetics alone that I purchased and played ‘The Flame in the Flood’ as I don’t normally like survival games where you live off the land, scavenge for food and warmth and get sick drinking polluted water. Upon playing quite a bit of this game and almost completing (more on that later..) the mostly non existent story, I still don’t. It’s not that the game isn’t good, because it does have its moments, it just chooses to make itself difficult and tedious for you every chance it can get.
I was hungry, needed water and I could see some berries and a water pump nearby. Salvation was at hand, or at least I assumed as much. I think I even saw some saplings so I could craft my spear trap, and take down a wolf or a boar. As I approach the pump, my dog barked, it was a wolf. Actually, it was 3 wolves. One nipped at me causing a laceration, and I ran to safety to patch myself up with some of my medical gear. No matter how much I tried, I just couldn’t run fast enough to get the items I needed while those wolves were around. I gave it one more go and I managed to snag a few more items, only to run away from the wolves and straight into a bear. I died.. So I reloaded my game and I left the island to find more items on another one of the randomly generated spots along the river.
Your first mission is to find the radio tower, and after just completing that quest, my character died of starvation. Loading up my last checkpoint, It wasn’t long before Scout, the girl you play as, was exhausted and passed out. It took quite a while to even gather the items I needed to have a chance at survival, a chance at even enjoying this game. The easiest mode offered is still incredibly hard to stay alive, keep free of amassing a ton of injuries or piling on the afflictions. If you come across any wild beasts without the ability to set up a trap, or if you don’t yet have the bow, you’ll pretty much be up that certain creek without said paddle.
You’ll find various items around the environment that will lead to some crafting element or some plants or meat for eating. Water needs to be purified, meat needs to be cooked and you can even make tea to heal yourself in more ways than one. You’ll have to watch your hunger, thirst, warmth and fatigue. I don’t know how many times my character collapsed as I didn’t have access to a camp fire, or found a church or bus to sleep in. The first church I found had a strange old man outside who wanted to trade rabbit meat for one of my raft upgrade pieces. He looked kinda creepy, but my character desperately needed food, so I parted with the upgrade component for some rabbit stew, at least I like to think it was stew, and I really hope that it was actually rabbit, he did look sort of shifty..
You’ll find various cache’s around the game that give out smaller random quests like gathering items or performing certain feats, of which you are rewarded with various items like raft upgrades, healing items or crafting components. You’ll use your journal to catalog your quests, items, crafting and the gear you’ll need to brave the elements.
You’ll explore on foot and find locations via your raft. You can upgrade many different parts of it and while it can take a beating, it will wear out after smashing into obstacles while barreling down the intense rapids, or even just coasting into them on calm waters. Much like older side scrollers that had the forced moving camera, you cannot backtrack and should you be just out of reach of docking on one of the islands, you’ll have to cut your losses and find another location to scout. This can make your situation dire when your survival meters are extremely low, as I found numerous islands flooded with boars and wolves at their entrance, forcing me to leave the island and look elsewhere. I once went over 8 miles of river before I found a safe haven, only to die of hypothermia inches from the camp fire.
Visually, I love the game. The art style is fantastic and everything has a particular charm about it. While Scout has an abstract, almost Picasso look to her face, it’s still an interesting choice for a design style and it totally fits the scenery and animals as well. The music the game offers is catchy, folksy and entertaining, but I found strange extended moments of complete silence with no music what-so-ever and then long stretches of constant music. Audible sounds aside from the music are greatly executed. You’ll walk through the grass and hear the hiss of a snake, and know to back off or get bit. Boars will squeal when you get close and wolves will howl, and bears.. well.. stay away from bears.
I ran into a few glitches often in the game, one that I will mention a little later. My dog would often phase in and out and become invisible frequently. I’d reload a checkpoint only to have it black screen all while the music would continue to play, taunting me. Going down the current in the river I found it difficult to maneuver the raft to dock and only to have it pull in the opposite direction and slam me into the rocks, and when the lightning flashes the screen or you go behind a structure or set of trees, it can be next to impossible to dodge everything as you just won’t see what is going on. There is also a tremendous amount of screen tearing on the Xbox One version that is extremely noticeable, it doesn’t hamper gameplay but it is plain as day when it happens.
While it may sound like I just flat out hated my experience with the title, that is only partially true. I eventually started to enjoy myself. Once I crafted 2 pouches to carry more items, I found I was able to craft more items to keep death at bay. My initial 2 or so hours with the game was met with extreme frustration. The crafting, visuals, music and overall tone the game offers is incredible and it needs to be said. The rafting sections, dealing with creatures like Boars and Wolves when you are lacking items can be frustrating, and I understand that it is designed that way for a reason, but it also makes it less enjoyable all the same when you are sometimes unable to explore an island to find components to fend off those beasts.
I’ll mention that while playing for 6+ hours of the game, I approached the final zone when the game crashed. Upon rebooting the game and “continuing” at the main menu, it put me back at the start on day 0, erasing my entire progress. Given the frustration I had at the start of my initial playthrough, before any enjoyment really came my way, I have chosen not to finish the final area so that any more frustration does not pollute the fun I eventually had with the title. The Flame in the Flood can be an enjoyable experience, but I found the initial moments in the game rather difficult even at the lowest setting. I wish the meters didn’t lower so fast so that I could survive just that little big longer, set up my camp fire, make my dandelion tea, have a good nap, and hope I don’t get mauled by bears in my sleep.