If you were in grade school around the same time as me, you’d remember The Oregon Trail computer game. Traveling west as a family having to deal with dire issues and relying on the land for your supplies. The Flame in the Flood is a rougelike that continues that tradition by pitting you and your dog Aesop against the fury of nature. You play as a little girl, whos curiosity in the source of a radio signal leads to a 40 mile journey through a flooded out region of the US with a twist of perma-death.
As she traverses the river she relies on the land to provide her tools of survival. Items such as tools and weapons are crafted from materials plucked from the land. Food is found through plucking berries and trapping animals that are found out in the wild.
The crafting systems expands to include more complicated schematics and recipes for your ever-growing needs. Cooking by the fire improves the effects of raw food or turning mold into penicillin for an ailment. The more advanced tools are the difference between surviving and thriving in the calamity.
With the bounty of land comes the danger that often lurks just out of sight. The Flame in the Flood is about fighting hunger, dehydration, exhaustion and even the cold as the temperatures fluctuate in the day/night cycles with the weather system. Caution is always needed in what is consumed, if not properly prepared the food and water can lead to various illnesses. All sickness is serious enough that it needs to be tended to as soon as you can craft the proper treatment for it.
Mother Nature is by far the most dangerous enemy in The Flame in the Flood. The terrain houses its own wild life. The Forest areas are mainly cold and wet with wolves out on the prowl where as the desert is blisteringly hot with slumbering bears. Wake up a bear and you’ll never make that mistake again if you survive the encounter.
Weapons such as spiked snares and bows with arrows to defend yourself can be crafted as well. Having a bear run through a gantlet of snares setup just for the beast is incredibly satisfying. With weapons comes the rare feeling of control in a world where the elements often decide your fate.
Floating downstream, plenty of locations to rest and scavenge are pointed out. The Wilderness, Camps, Churches, Bait Shops, and Farms have specific supplies that are most likely to be found there. A church carries rags and alcohol for healing items while camps carry flint for tools. Almost all will have some kind of shelter for resting . Occasionally a decision has to be made to visit one site over another because it has what is needed versus an upgrade that is desired.
The raft is the most important object in the game. The raft may be damaged while riding into the river and rapids. Take too much damage and the raft will sink, sentencing you to a drowning fate. The way to prevent this is to stop at a Boat House for needed upgrades, repairs and fuel. Discerning players will figure out how to get their boat fully upgraded to make the rest of the journey quicker, safer, and easier.
The Flame in the Flood is an incredible take on the survival genre. At times it’s punishing but it never felt unfair. With each day that passes, you feel a bold desperation that leaves you holding your breath as you take more risks. Sometimes those risks pay off and other times they blow up in your face. That’s the fun of the game.
Mother nature is cruel. The Flame in the Flood illustrates this viciously. The leaves in the wind or the decay in the towns is visually stunning without overtly begging for your attention. This is an example of art direction done enjoyably well, especially since it matches the tone with the soundtrack. Songs of striking out on an adventure play, perfectly placed as you take to the water ways. The banjo tracks create an atmosphere fit for wondering. The people who inhabit the trails makes the world more convincing. The strange prototypical back woods keeps this from feeling like a lonely trip. They add the missing piece of showing how others are coping in this environment.
What I enjoyed most was how you’re never really far from death. One mistake can start a downward spiral in which there may be no way to recover from. Simultaneously, a feeling of an item that can make life a little bit easier is never far from reach. When it pays off it’s always more than worth it.
Although perma-death is still a gameplay mechanic, you have checkpoints. At times you’re better off dead than using them trying to salvage a journey that only has one permanent outcome.
The only complaint I have with the game is when the camera gets blocked by a weirdly placed object in the world and it leaves you effectively blind.
The best games are the games that when all the parts are accounted for they equal more than the sum of their parts. This is one of those games. Taken alone, every part of this game seemingly doesn’t amount to much, but together they form something stunning. Despite its steep learning curve, it’s a miracle how balanced it is.Whether looking for a deep experience or a great time waster in the endless mode, this satisfies both those needs. This is an amazing adventure that you won’t want to miss.