From the moment I saw the trailer for The Flame in the Flood it reminded me stylistically of Don’t Starve.
Now that I’ve played it, it does even more so; both are survival games where only your wits, foraging and crafting can save you. In the case of The Flame in the Flood however, it’s a lot more realistic, a lot more intense and a hell of a lot less forgiving.
You begin as a young girl with only a rucksack, a stick and a dog to your name, exploring a post-societal, Fallout-esque America. The dog in particular is rather cool; he wears shades and his own mini rucksack so he can carry a certain amount for you. He barks at absolutely everything you can pick up though, which can get quite annoying. Looks wise, the girl is pretty scary… especially the icon that indicates her overall health. You wouldn’t want to mess with her.
You’ll spend most of your time playing The Flame in the Flood travelling across several broken islands using your makeshift – and very breakable – raft. You must forage, craft and evade predators in order to survive, which is the aim of the game. There are many ways in which you can die: starvation, wolf attack, illnesses, dehydration and hypothermia to name but a few, but for me at least, the most common cause of death was drowning.
There is a reason for this: the controls for the raft are horrendous. At first I thought you could only use the WASD keys to direct it to the left and the right. However, even after discovering that you could click in the direction you wanted to go, it was still extremely difficult and annoying to successfully control. Varying river currents make it practically impossible to steer most of the time, so you’ll miss several islands you’d have liked to explore, bash into rocks, debris and islands which brings you closer and closer to drowning – and it’s made stupidly difficult to dock at explorable islands as you have to right click them if you ever get near to them. The raft is a good concept, but poorly executed. At one point I moved around an island, but the current smashed me straight into it, where I was stuck between two constructs as the state of the raft slowly declined until I drowned once again. In the end I figured the best tactic was to just go along with wherever the raft wanted to take me.
When I wasn’t drowning to death, starvation was the next biggest killer. There is a distinct lack of food on every island, and even the food you do find doesn’t raise your stats very much unless it’s cooked. But to cook it you need a fire. And to get a fire it can’t be raining. And it seems to rain at least once each day cycle. See what I’m getting at here? This game hates you.
Whilst you search in vain for food, your path is often blocked by wolves who, unless you can build weapons and traps (not always so easy in early game), will relentlessly chase you until you find a safe place to sleep or run back to the raft. Along with wolves, there’s also a boar who is possibly more annoying. He will charge at you, breaking your bones on impact and make it almost impossible to run away. These enemies are pretty much guaranteed to be in front of something useful, or even in some cases in your way as soon as you dock. Whether it be from lack of supplies or enemies after your sweet juicy flesh; there is always something guaranteed to go badly each game.
The controls for the main character are a little awkward. The movement, running and inventory controls are easy and the same as most games, however you have to use the over-excitable mouse to search items, and press “Esc” to get out of searches. This can make life particularly difficult if you’re being chased by an animal. There were also times that the controls glitched, and I was stuck running in one particular direction until I died of starvation, or the screen shook itself at the worst possible times.
I may be sounding pretty negative so far, but don’t be fooled: it’s not all bad. The Flame in the Flood itself is a very beautiful game; the country soundtrack suits it perfectly, and despite the level of difficulty, it is actually great fun to play. There is a lot to pick up and a lot to craft; from weapons and traps to clothing and meals. The crafting system is enjoyable, but what you can make depends on what islands you manage to stop at on the way. There is some semblance of a checkpoint system based on how far you travel, and a blow-by-blow account of your journey once you’ve died. Despite the challenging difficulty of The Flame in the Flood, I rarely felt the want to give up; the prospect of succeeding and finding out what it has in store is exciting and keeps you motivated to play – despite your frequent encounters with death.
Overall, The Flame in the Flood is a frustrating, unfair, extremely difficult, masochistically addictive game. But it is fun, and each game you play is different from the last. The difficulty makes it more realistic in terms of survival; it’s nice that you don’t get everything handed to you on a plate. I would recommend playing it, but have your stress ball at the ready, and remove anyone you may yell at from the room!