I had heard of Flame in the Flood, but I confess I originally dismissed it. Roguelikes just aren’t my jam. I get no thrill from banging my head against the wall in titles like The Binding of Isaac, although I’m pleased others get their kicks from violent self-inflictions. Then someone linked me What We Leave Behind by Chuck Ragen, and I confess my interest was piqued. So, being the sucker for good soundtracks that catch my eye, I dived into the Southern-USA romp.
Flame in the Flood: Complete Edition is the PS4 version of the survival/rogue-like title released last February. The lands are flooded and abandoned of life, so you wander. However, a radio begins to chatter about something. So you set off on your adventure through the flood as a single lonely flame, trying to stay alight.
Which your adventure through the flood, as long as you can, will be set on a small vulnerable raft. Swishing to-and-fro as the current crawls and thrashes, dragging you along to its own rhythm. You can not conquer it. The only tool is a rather crude stick in your hands, upon which mounts your flame: A solitary lit candle. You shove your oil-drums-n-planks floatation device not against the current, but with a violent shove to avoid the obstacles and debris that litter the path like potholes after an earthquake. A violent shove that could just leave you choking on water, as it is imprecise enough to send you into other obstacles.
…Okay, I guess you can tell something is up as I’m rolling words around my mouth, mincing them thoroughly. The truth is Flame in the Flood hits that sombre-without-melancholic note out the field. There’s something somewhat wistful about riding a collection of floating salvage, alone other than a dog as your companion. I guess part of it is the gameplay feels unique and, well, fluid. You don’t feel like you’re taking an active part in the way you drift to, as it is up to the current, but rather a soft guiding hand.
That isn’t all though. The soundtrack I spoke of before is slow-paced and pleasantly reminiscent of a Southern USA style, with lyrics focused only upon survival as though there’s nothing else out there to look forward to. In addition, the aesthetic style lends a feeling of vague messiness without brutality. I’d almost be tempted to call it “hauntingly clinical”, as though the overwhelming majority of the population just disappeared.
Which you’ll need all the hints you can find in the environment, as the narrative is non-direct about the “what happened to cause the mess you see”. There are suggestions out there, from the very rare NPC to the environments you stumble upon, but no one ever speaks outright and it is debatable if some of them are actually fibbing. Although to those who don’t like digging for their story, I wouldn’t worry as the core tale of Flame in the Flood is rather blunt: The survival of your character. Something that does have a…Interesting conclusion that is rather ambiguous, but fits with the clean-grim tone.
So what I’m saying is that the atmosphere Flame in the Flood gives off is thick, soupy and yet endearingly melancholic. A bit like wrapping yourself up in a thick duvet and watching something like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, just with less science and more unexplained apocalypse.
Needless to say, your journey will involve going onto the ground every so often. After all, one can’t keep your hunger staved, your thirst quenched, the cold at bay and fatigue cured simply on your boat. So you will have to go onto land to gather materials. You’ll be trying to hoard as many plants, so you can get pelts for clothes and meat for food. You’ll be scavenging all the planks and screws as you can find to help deck your floating home so you can brave the floods more. You’ll be stuffing your pack with as many rags, alcohol and charcoal so you can purify your water and fix your wounds.
Even on the harder difficulty, you’ll be stumbling back with more gear than you know what to do with. After all, as the journey continues on (as you have 10 areas to get through) and continues to get harder, you’ll be trying to prepare for when things get even tougher. This is especially as boars, wolves and even bears start appearing, whom can wreck your day if you get on their sour side (which, by the way, is their only side).
Yet, there is something that bugs me about this. It is something that I’m sure is born from my general dislike of survival games and roguelikes. All too common, your survival is pinned directly upon your chances. Do you have the necessary saplings to make traps so you can kill the patrolling wolf? No, but hey, your pockets are overflowing with dandelions. Got the necessary screws so you can build warm clothing? Nah, but you’ve got about 8 jars to store things in. It can be absolutely maddening.
You will want to try to hoard medical supplies as you can easily be caught off-guard and quickly killed though that is a very limited explanation. Say you upset a wolf by looking upon its shiny black pelt. It strikes you once. Laceration. You slow, but you’re still able to run for the raft. Another hit, laceration, you begin to slow even more so. If you’re not careful it is easy to have four bleeding wounds, which you better hope you can bandage or stitch as given time they can become septic which can eventually kill you.
Another example that happened to me was a pretty silly one thing lead to another situation. So I accidentally bothered a wolf, and upon getting away I accidentally stepped on a snake which bites me. I’m poisoned, which left to its own devices would kill me. “Ah, don’t worry, I’ve got plenty of dandelions and clean water at the raft. I’ll make a tea that’ll cure me.”. I hide in a building to help shake the wolf’s tail and then dash back, managing to avoid the wolf further. After some messing about, I find the components needed for a bonfire and the purification tea.
I get to the right spot and I’m about to set down the wood when the rain starts, which would extinguish the campfire. So I wait. Once it passes, I set up the campfire and I’m about to gobble the tea when… Dead by poison. Needless to say, I was pretty angry.
Despite this, it seems in the spirit of the game for death to come so cruelly, that death can come as fast as “one thing leads to another” or as slow burning as hunger, thirst or being cold. It also isn’t necessarily unforgiving, as on the easier difficulty there is a checkpoint at the start of the zone and the start of the prior zone you can leap back to when things weren’t so bad. If you’re really stuck, you can bundle as many valuables into your dog’s bag, die and start again with the dog’s pack filled with the items you left. These aren’t about in Endless Mode or the hard mode, but at least the option is there for a little mercy.
Of course, before we close things, we should talk about glitches as is traditional. They are relatively few, but I did stumble upon a crushing one where every time I went to load a save the game would crash. Although upon creating a new save, it was fine and dandy except the dying I kept doing (non-glitch related, just I died a lot). As the campaign length, being cautious and with some deaths, can take you about 3 to 4 hours then I’d recommend perhaps doing it in two or three sessions to minimise encountering it.
The final score of Flame in the Flood is a 7.5. I betcha thought with my dislike of survival and roguelike titles I was going to, perhaps unfairly, give it a thrashing. I confess I probably had a worse time with the survival elements due to my disposition, although I’m thankful about the simplicity of it. There was also a chance I could have become bitter and frustrated without the checkpoint system to help me through it.
Yet, where I really warmed to it was the environment. It isn’t trying to stumble a beaten path, but instead, it is blazing its own trail through the genre. It is trying to create a warm melancholy of a world gone where survival is all that is left, that isn’t so downbeat to push away those in it for the challenge. So if you’re looking for a new roguelike or survival title to sink your teeth into, Flame in the Flood is an easy recommendation. Even if you’re not usually into the genres, it might be worth digging through some music or trailers and seeing if the atmosphere clicks. After all, within the genres it lives within, it is a flame in the flood.
A PS4 Review Code for Flame in the Flood: Complete Edition was provided by The Molasses Flood for the purpose of this review