(Disclaimer: This is a review for a title that I helped fund through Kickstarter. The thoughts are still genuine.)

When I was a young lad, I often enjoyed exploring the areas around my neighborhood. My version of “roughing it” was creating a hollow space in a thicket of shrubbery, calling it my camp, and spending a few hours there before heading home. After a bad encounter with some spiders, I developed acute arachnophobia and my dreams of growing up to become a woodsman were dashed. I still do admire the imagery, though, of those who can live off the land, surviving by sheer will and knowledge of the natural world.

That’s probably what initially drew me to The Molasses Flood’s The Flame in the Flood, featuring a woman and her dog as they’re forced to use whatever’s at hand in order to get by for just another day or two. The development team has some of the great talent from the defunct Irrational Studio, so when I saw the Kickstarter campaign, I was more than happy to toss a few bucks out to experience their story.

Everything gets started rather quickly – there are only a few seconds between hitting New Game and having full control of the character. The only story shown is a radio picking up a signal, with finding its source serving as the quest for the campaign. Scout and her companion dog, Aesop, set out on the journey in a world that has been washed away by a great flood, meaning that the only way to get around anywhere is to ride the river on a makeshift raft and hope for the best.

The aesthetics are a real stand-out here. The character designs are angular and rough, frightening in a way that reflects the very nature of what the world has become. When riding the river, the soft lyrics of Chuck Ragan provide some small comfort while searching for the next stop. Controlling the raft is no simple task, requiring a lot of reading the currents and paddling hard when dangerous objects loom ahead, so it’s nice to have something soothing along the way.

Unlike other procedurally-generated survival games such as Don’t Starve, the lesson here is that there is no going back. While traveling down the river, you’ll come across a number of islands. Dock at one of these areas and you can begin looking for supplies like saplings for wood and cat-tails for rope. Scout will never establish a permanent base, fortified with heavy walls and a plethora of crops. She’s lucky if she can scrounge enough dandelions and find a campfire to make some tea before sleeping for the night, but sometimes she’ll be forced to subsist on a handful of mulberries while barely escaping a wolf’s jaws.

 

Sometimes a bus is your best friend.

Sometimes a bus is your best friend.

Survival is the name of the game here, and Scout has to take care of 4 specific traits – hunger, thirst, body temperature, and fatigue. These can be restored with food, water, clothing, and sleeping, but it’s never as simple as it sounds. Raw meat carries disease, wet clothing actually reduces body warmth, etc. It stands out as odd that Scout cannot collect river water, potable or not, but such is the nature of video games. Different islands will have different resources available, such as a camp site having flint and bonfires while a church will offer more shelter. Sometimes people can be found inhabiting the islands, providing a bit of extra flavor to the world, but it’s a lonely journey more often than not.

Crafting is going to be key to surviving for very long, and it’s what you’ll be doing far more often than anything else. Cooked food will always be better than raw, so mix up a campfire and cook it. Clothing improved with sewing kits will provide additional protection, so mix up a fishing hook with some cord. Scout doesn’t have serious weaponry, so she must create traps to deal with nastier critters.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot to get done and that means that a huge chunk of game time is actually spent in the crafting menus, and that’s due to the laughably small inventory space. Scout’s backpack can only hold a trivial amount of items, and Aesop is able to hold a handful, but I was forced to craft items just to clear room and/or make multiple trips to the raft to try and dump excess items there. It doesn’t help that the UI can be obtuse at times, making it unclear just where certain things get done. That can sometimes be an actual danger when the menus run in real time. Most notoriously, I died while trying to craft the items needed to cure myself of poison while navigating through the menus.

Riding the river is always a gamble.

Riding the river is always a gamble.

As one might expect from a game about trying to stay alive, sometimes it just doesn’t work. There are plenty of ways to die, from hypothermia to snake venom and beyond. But the adventure can start fresh or be restarted from a checkpoint on the easier difficulty. Successive trips can even be made a bit easier through using Aesop’s pack. The loyal dog will always carry what he last had when Scout dies, so it can be a good idea to load it with items that will make the starting leg just a bit easier.

Should the campaign not be enough of an experience, there’s an endless mode that will have Scout forever sailing the open waters and discovering just what remains in her world. Without a specific end goal in mind, it’s easier to focus on the best moments in the game – simply enjoying its atmosphere through the aesthetics, encounters, and music. There’s plenty of that to carry it on through the rough rapids of clunky crafting.

 

KAIJU VERDICT

3/4 Pops: Exceptional  A significant cut above the crowd. Though flawed or otherwise not necessarily for everyone, it does things other games in the genre do not, or tries something new with a great deal of success.

Review based on a digital version of the game played on a PS4 Pro

Review code supplied by the developer

About The Author