The roguelike survival game, complete with procedurally generated environment stages and randomly generated crafting items and events has become quite the popular game type over the last few years. With the rise of the indie it seems this genre has become a popular choice for all budding development houses with some notably superb results. Recently we have seen such gems as the hugely popular Don’t Starve as well as the emotionally draining (in a good way) This War is Mine, both excellent games that have gathered both critical and commercial acclaim. Now comes The Flame in the Flood from The Molasses Flood a small newly-formed studio made up of ex Bioshock, Halo 2 and Rock Band team members. With pedigree like that it can’t be bad right?
The adventure begins with the introduction of the games two core characters, Scout, your avatar and Aesop, your trusted sidekick throughout the adventure. Aesop is a helpful little dog who runs around barking at things, this can attract the attention of some nasties but usually he’s super helpful as he mainly barks to show you where those all important supplies are. The first area within the game is a simple tutorial containing a handful of useful signs which seek to let you know the very basics of the adventure you are about to embark on - as you run along reading and picking up some odds and ends, taking in the rich, colourful and quirky graphics, you don’t really get the initial feeling that this game is super tough and you will be dying excessively. Even Aesop is in on this running theme as he waits patiently by an item while you crawl slowly towards him, dying of any number of things that this game will inflict upon your character.
Dying is inevitable but never feels cheap, or a low blow like some games that flaunt dying in their marketing campaigns. It’s tough as hell at times for sure, predominantly given the random way in which your path is generated and the subsequent things you find along the way. Often you will badly need something, for example some food, yet your little raft is so puny in the face of a driving current that you cannot get anywhere near a location which may have food, leaving you hungry but loaded up with non-edible items.
Light on story, you are thrust onto the river via a simple rudimentary raft at the end of the short but informative tutorial area. A calm current and fantastic soundtrack greets you enthusiastically set off down the flooded river, torch alight. Light on story is an understatement really as very little is told through the early stages - it essentially is you and a dog trying to survive somehow - get to it! As a result of this lack of hand holding it’s a tough one for the newcomer, especially one which has never encountered any of the aforementioned similar titles. Your first few runs will be complete write-offs but you need to not take this to heart and use them as learning experiences.
Gameplay is broken up into two parts, both of which can be brutal in their own way, delicately mixing traditional gameplay and manipulating these mechanics to make your life as hard as possible. The river is a lesson in dodging debris, battling tides and maneuvering a battered raft towards the place you really need to go (for a specific resource) and then there are the multiple land based locations along the epic strip of water, each of which is a specific type of location for example forest, but as the resources found within are procedurally generated, what you get from that location can differ greatly. This is easily demonstrated by loading a checkpoint and visiting the exact same location ‘next’ as you travel down the river - the loot will very rarely be the same thing as previous. The river elements are generally not overly difficult, however as you progress you realise that your mode of transport is quite fragile, takes quite a lot of unique materials to repair and upgrade, as well as being touchy to control. As you hurtle from location to location you are presented with epic tranquil moments quickly followed by sharp terms, fast current-based rapids and a myriad of floating debris such as cars just begging for you to wallop into them. Dying from drowning as a result of your ‘starter raft’ breaking up into small pieces is a real concern for the first few hours of the game. Is it the least of your worries though? Not really, it’s that type of game, it’s just one of the many ways in which you can die in the beautiful yet harsh adventure.
The majority of your time will be spent keeping a really close eye on your core stats - fatigue, hunger, hydration and body temperature. As well as this there are plenty of nasties in the world designed to cause you harm: wolves will slash you, snakes will bite you, rain with make you cold and unwell (yet sometimes welcome as you haven’t drunk in two days), hunger will grip you and bring you to your knee, the list goes on. The mixture of the elements and the way in which they combine to make you suffer and ultimately die can be very cruel at times and will likely put people off as it can seem at times like it’s a battle you are never going to win. However, if you get past that early, fairly steep learning curve and take the time to learn all the mechanics at play it is likely that a moment will happen where it all clicks and becomes something worth pushing on with.
To add to the lack of newbie friendliness there are some definite technical issues on the Xbox One version we utilised for this piece. Screen tear is pretty much a constant when on land and even though this goes away when flying down the river on the raft, frame rate issues come to the fore. That isn’t the end of the technical difficulties sadly as we experienced some random boot up issues, as well as trouble on the river with the controls and some seemingly random checkpointing slowing progress through the campaign.
Gorgeous and tranquil one moment, hectic and slapping you in the face the next. The Flame in the Flood takes the roguelike survival template and adds to it. If you were even remotely fond of Don’t Starve or simply if you love a game that pits you against the elements in an unforgiving fashion then don’t waste any more time, pick upThe Flame in the Flood, you will love it. If you are new to this sort of thing, it’s a good introduction but be prepared for a tough experience.