When I was in grade school, I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. After that, I always wanted to take a trip floating down the river. As an adult and knowing the purity of the nearest river, I realize how stupid that is. Even so, there is an ember of adventure that still smolders in my jaded heart. The Flame in the Flood is probably the closest I will get to realizing that dream, and, after seeing how hard it is to survive that trip, I will never try.
The Flame in the Flood is a survival game that has you and your trusty canine companion floating down the river on a rickety raft. The game is a balance of choices. As you move down the river, there are floating obstacles to destroy your raft and strong rapids that can push you into these obstacles. Navigating the river is accomplished with the left stick and the ability to give yourself a bigger push is tied to a stamina gauge.
Beyond keeping the raft above the water, there are four important parts to your survival – hunger, thirst, sleep, and temperature. Ignoring any of these is a great way to die. After not sleeping, you will pass out, even if you are on the river. Hypothermia and hunger can kill you too. It is not pleasant for me or the increasingly haggard avatar of my character in the lower middle part of the screen. The closer you move toward death, the more she starts to look like she slurred a heavyweight boxer’s mom.
When you are not fighting the river, you can dock for supplies. There are different types of stops with unique supplies, including a fishing hut, a repair dock for your raft, and a liquor store. We all knew liquor stores would survive the end of the world. Those cockroaches have to drink something.
For food, this game is not vegan friendly. Although there are plants, meat will provide more sustenance, and is naturally more difficult to obtain. You can create traps for rabbits and skin them for food and clothes. There are also boars, wolves, snakes, and bears who would like to make you into a meal. Each can be beaten, but sometimes avoiding a fight is much safer. Your dog can help you find supplies, but he (or she) is a pacifist and will not help you fight.
When you gain new supplies, you will have new crafting recipes available. The choice on what to make becomes the difficult part. Do you make a trap for rabbits when you are low on food, or do you make something to kill the wolf on the island in order to be able to collect the other supplies?
Your inventory management is another balance. You can use your dog to store a few items, and, if you are near the raft, you can store additional items. At the start of the game, you may need to discard that stack of dandelions you spent time collecting to grab rags for bandages. You can gradually increase your storage, but the choices you make could kill you later. Did I mention I died of hunger multiple times?
Injuries are another way to end your trip early. If untreated, they will become worse and allow infection to spread. This will eventually cause you to become hungry or thirsty more quickly and die. I cannot tell you how much I hated the ants and snakes in this game. I felt certain I could avoid dying from ant bites, but I guess my diet of mulberries and polluted water did not help my immune system.
Upgrades are critical to your survival. Even your raft can be improved. You can opt for a sturdier frame to reduce damage, or you can add a shelter for safely sleeping when you are docked. The biggest raft upgrade for me was the rudder, because it gave me so much more control over the raft’s direction.
The game world is a lonely place. Although you are not alone, the places you visit are slowly being reclaimed by nature. There are small interactions with people and notes left in the world that tell you something bad happened, but it never goes into detail. The story is always in the background, but it peeks through just enough to let you know it is there. For this type of game, it never gets in the way. This is a game about the journey, but the ending circled back to the beginning in a very clever way that I will not spoil.
The music is a mix of instrumental and vocal country, folk, and acoustic instruments that really made it feel like the game was set in a post-apocalyptic American South. The vocalist, Chuck Ragan, has a gravelly voice that sounded like it was formed by 30 years of performing in smoky bars and drinking cheap whisky, and it fit the overall tone for the game.
Although the game ran very well, there were a couple of issues. The legs on the bear did not move when he charged at me. The animation looked like an invisible person was pushing a bear statue on wheels. The rest of its animations were fine (mauled to death multiple times sort of fine), but the lack of movement was especially jarring.
The only other problem was the camera. When you moved behind a building on land or on the raft, your view was obscured. When you are trying to dodge a charging boar or water hazards, this can be really frustrating. Just to be safe, I avoided these spaces whenever possible.
I enjoyed my time with The Flame in the Flood, and it has good replay value with a director’s commentary for more insight into the world. There is an endless campaign mode or the even more difficult survivalist mode with permadeath and fewer available supplies.
If you like survival games, The Flame in the Flood is easy to recommend. While it is not as deep as other games in the genre, the overall experience was challenging and fun. The game provides a little more help than other survival games, but it is not necessarily easy. When I died, it was usually my fault, and I learned something from it. The story, music, and art style held my attention, and there is enough here to keep you playing. It also just might satisfy that itch for adventure.
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* Reviewed using a base PS4.