STAFF REVIEW of The Flame in the Flood (Xbox One)

Friday, April 8, 2016.
by Jennifer Dingle

The Flame in the Flood Box art Last year veteran staffers from development studios Irrational, Bungie, and Harmonix, joined forces to form indie developer The Molasses Flood, and launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring their vision to life. As described on their campaign page, their game, The Flame in the Flood, is “…a rogue-lite river journey through the backwaters of post-societal America.” With over 7,400 backers and $250K raised, they far exceeded their fundraising goal and released their highly anticipated game earlier this year for PC, Mac, and Xbox One.

The Flame in the Flood centres on the survival of the young heroine Scout, who we first meet shivering alone beside a fire in the midst of post-apocalyptic flood. Alongside her is her only companion, a dog named Aesop. The two set forth on a treacherous journey through the raging waters on a rickety raft. Through the flooded backwaters of America, they travel in search of food, shelter, and hope, desperately trying to find the source of a faint radio signal in the distance.

During this adventure, careful attention must be paid to Scout’s basic needs via four meters that must constantly be monitored. Hunger, thirst, temperature, and shelter must always be tended to, or Scout will quickly perish. As she begins her journey, she is equipped with a few basic items to help her make it through the first few miles, but those supplies run out quickly, and Scout (with the help of Aesop), must scavenge and scour through the remnants of society if there is any hope of survival.

You take control of Scout’s raft as she makes her way through the flood. Using the left stick to steer and the X button to paddle, you can dock at islands sparsely scattered throughout the raging flood waters. Littered with rusty old school buses, abandoned farms, dilapidated churches and marinas, these islands provide the perfect opportunity to find nourishment, find a source of clean water, sleep a couple hours, or warm up by a fire. There are plants to be picked, old lumber to be claimed, and numerous resources to be found to aid her in her travels. Most of these items, thanks to schematics and recipes found in old chests and abandoned buildings, can be concocted into new items, such as potent medicine to heal nasty infections, traps to capture rabbits for food and clothing, and other food that’s a bit more substantial than cattails or berries.

Unfortunately, Scout has very limited room in her storage bag, and gameplay quickly becomes a game of juggling inventory and micromanaging items. Anticipating her needs and leaving items behind can be downright catastrophic at times, as she not only becomes thirsty and hungry quickly, but can be stricken with an injury, become extremely ill, even encounter a wild animal who will leave poor Scout with an infected laceration or broken bone.

The flood is seemingly an entity itself, working against young Scout as she desperately tries to dock on an island. Calm waters will suddenly change, with choppy rapids, swift currents and a river filled with debris making travel a very perilous task. Combined with drenching rains and horrendous thunderstorms, if you’re not careful your raft will be sent crashing into an obstacle, leaving it in dire need of repair or the current will pull you away from docking on an island so heartbreakingly close when Scout is in great need of food and water.

Your raft itself is repairable at the few marinas remaining after the apocalypse by using nuts and bolts, old lumber and raft schematics found scattered throughout the rubble, and Scout eventually will have the option to add a motor that makes the journey somewhat easier. The raft also has a meter that must be monitored, as too many crashes will destroy it, leaving poor Scout and Aesop to drown in the flood waters.

There really isn’t much of a narrative to speak of. We know that Scout is trying to find a radio signal, but other than a few snippets of dialogue here and there when you encounter other survivors, there isn’t really a storyline to follow. Personally, I felt it didn't really need one though. Scout’s adventures in a post-apocalyptic world was captivating enough to hold my interest. This poor young girl, cold and alone, left to fend for herself, you’ll find that you’ll desperately want her to survive. You can’t help but to feel pity as she hobbles onto her raft with a broken bone after an encounter with a wild boar. You feel terrible that she is cold and wet without any warm clothes because you dropped that one item needed to make her a jacket. You wince as her poor little raft breaks apart because you accidentally let it crash into an old bus and she’s sent her flying into the water. Her attempt to survive makes for a very compelling and sometimes emotional experience.

The Flame in the Flood is not an easy game. You are meant to die, and you will die quite frequently. It’s also a permadeath game, and you will lose most of the precious items you worked so hard to gather and start right back at the beginning; however, the randomly generated maps make the game feel like a different experience every time you play, so starting over doesn't feel too repetitive. It’s rather addictive, crafting new items, and looting caches; I often found myself frequently returning for just one more try to get further down the flooded river.

There are two different game modes to play, campaign mode, where you travel through 10 different regions, and endless mode, which is self-explanatory. Considering the nature of the adventure/survival genre, it’s meant to be extremely challenging, and at times I felt it was unfairly tough, particularly the wildlife encounters. It’s extremely frustrating when you have full health, Scout is happy, your inventory is well managed, and you’ve seemingly done everything right, only to be cornered by wolves who lash out and quickly kill you before you can make it back to the raft, or be bitten by a snake with no possible cure.

Alt-country artist Chuck Ragan provides a very fitting soundtrack for Scout’s journey down the river, hauntingly beautiful at times with strains of a lonely harmonica or the twangs of a banjo. The beautifully drawn visuals perfectly capture the decaying remnants of America, with environments inspired by the Florida Everglades and the Louisiana Bayous, filled with colourful hues despite the post-apocalyptic setting. Scout and Aesop, and the other survivors, are rather odd looking characters, looking as though they’ve been plucked directly from Corpse Bride or Nightmare Before Christmas. All in all the presentation is good and adds to the to the feel of the gameplay.

While frustratingly challenging at times, The Flame in the Flood was an absolute delight to play. With addictive gameplay, a fantastic soundtrack, and lovely visuals, the adventures of a young girl left to fend for herself in post-apocalyptic America should not be missed. It is a welcome addition to the ID@Xbox collection.

Overall: 7.7 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 6.5 / 10



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