The Flame in the Flood is a gorgeous and thought-provoking journey down an expansive river. The game is, at its core, a survival-based, rogue-like adventure. It’s very much in the same vein as something like Don’t Starve. The basic premise of the game is to work your way from one end of a large river, to the other. In order to do this, the player has to survive by concerning themselves with food, water, health, and shelter. The player is able to achieve the goal of survival through an equipment-based progression system.

How To Experience The Journey

There are two game modes. The first is a basic campaign. The second is an endless campaign. The campaign includes the plot and progression from one region to the next. This game mode includes two difficulties. The game calls the first easier difficulty the “traveler.” This difficulty allows the player to have comparatively more resources at their disposal. More importantly however, it allows the player to reach checkpoints. Where upon death, you can reload at these checkpoints.

The second difficulty is called “survivalist.” While playing on this difficulty, you are given less resources, and there is permadeath; forcing you to restart the game upon every demise. The endless campaign mode requires the player to survive for as long as possible in varying environments. This mode will give the game a more arcade feel as it has no difficulty setting.

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Traversing An Emotional Experience Through A Guided Narrative

The story is delivered in a slightly ambiguous way. This can sometimes works against a game. It’s similar to Limbo in the sense that much of the story you have to go out of your way to find. You end up taking many liberties in regards to the story. Your imagination sculpts much of the story. The narrative focuses on a young girl, Scout, and her dog Aesop. Both characters forced to survive and make their way down a river in a post-societal land reminiscent of northwestern America.

You slowly learn about what is waiting for them at the end of the river. Most of the story is found in the individual experiences of each particular play through. Due to its procedurally generated nature, each time you play could be different. Each time you start a new campaign you will create experience and stories for yourself. This is why I believe its endless campaign mode is preferable. It completely throws out the guided narrative, which could seem intrusive to some.

Knee Deep In The River

The Flame in the Flood’s best feature is its atmosphere. The game combines a melancholy tone with ambient sounds to create a deliciously isolating mood. The ambiance and the setting of the game go perfectly together. From the moment I started exploring, the game immersed me.

The soundtrack only added to this immersion. It feels as though guitarist and vocalist, Chuck Ragan, was born to write the score for the game. He so brilliantly has written an acoustic sound that adds to the environment wonderfully. This is the music you hear during almost every moment in the game. There is absolutely nothing to complain about in regards to the soundtrack.

The game’s lack of graphical prowess is made up for by the uniquely beautiful art design. The design revitalizes my memories of pop-up books from my youth. As you are drifting down the river, the water and trees almost look like cardboard or paper. The game uses its individualized style to its benefit. It looks like nothing I have ever played before. The character design also stands out. When looking at each character, you can’t help but feel sympathy for them. You sense their sorrow immediately. This adds to the game’s tone. I believe the developer wanted to elicit these emotions from the player.

How To Survive

Nintendo provides possibly the best way of playing this game. The portability factor works tremendously in a game of this nature. The Switch facilitates a “pick-up-and-play” model for gameplay. Due to its checkpoint system, you don’t have to sit down and commit yourself to surviving as long as possible. You can play a few minutes, and continue where you left off. In addition to this, the controls are very intuitive and responsive.

Much of the game play will be spent riding your raft through currents down river. It is imperative for a player to focus on upgrading and maintaining their raft. When you’re not riding the current of the river, you are collecting items and maintaining your health by sleeping, consuming food and water and crafting items in order to cure your ailments.

Many games have difficulty establishing a competent crafting system. The crafting system is very creative and fun to use. I wish I could say the same about the menus. The menus are extremely cluttered and frustrating at times. This makes it difficult to traverse the game’s various options or scope out your inventory.

Starving For More

Although, fun and intuitive, the game play seemed almost too simple and slightly tedious at times. There was not much depth to how you could perform any particular task. The level of skill bases itself around the particular items you are able to find. It seems unfair that sometimes you could get extremely lucky with the initial items you receive, and others you wouldn’t. Although this happens frequently in rogue-like games, the campaigns are either non-existent or comparatively shorter. The Flame in the Flood will take you about 6-8 hours to complete. This is an extremely long campaign to rely even slightly on luck.

The learning curve for the game seems extremely steep. I found myself lacking the immediate education. I died a lot initially. Eventually I got the hang of the game. However, I felt as though I wasted a lot of time starting and restarting the game in order to gain this education. This seems to be the nature of rogue-like games; but due to its simplistic goal, it seemed the only thing I was learning was how important particular items were. This seems like a cheap way of eliciting replayability in a game. Your strategy is always the same: go down the river.

 Will You Take The Bait?

The Flame in the Flood uses its atmosphere as its most important feature. This gorgeous game creates a fun experience. Yet, many of its flaws cannot be completely ignored. While the game may not be for everyone, it is at its best as a melancholy experience which uses metaphorical and emotional themes to romanticize a seemingly tedious task.

Beautiful Art Style
Enriching Atmosphere
Intuitive Crafting System
Great Endless Mode
Amazing Soundtrack
Occasionally Unfair
Cluttered Menu System
Steep Learning Curve
Sometimes Tedious

Review Summary

The Flame in the Flood uses deep themes as a driving force in its game play. The game is a beautiful and ambient journey down stream. Where its strong in artistic style and soundtrack, its weak in many of its core mechanics. While its a far cry from perfect, the juice is worth the squeeze.

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