Managing to Survive as ‘The Flame in the Flood’

Snakes, wolves, and bears are now more populous along the river than people. You aren't taming the wilderness. You are on the run from it.

I’m snake bit, I’m dehydrating, I think one of my legs is broken, and there is a wold boar hot on my heels. Oh, and I’m simply having a wonderful time.

The Flame in the Flood is something of a roguelike. There is permadeath in most of its modes. You lose what you have gained for the most part when you die (your faithful dog Aesop will carry some of your supplies from your corpse to your newly reincarnated body between play sessions, but not much).

The Flame in the Flood is a survival management game. Think of at as The Sims for the desperate, those willing to take up the challenge of desperation that is.

Like The Sims, The Flame in the Flood is a game about satisfying your basic needs, food, drink, warmth, and rest. There are always four bars that display your hunger, your hydration level, your body temperature, and your fatigue. You need to keep all of those things up. Unlike The Sims, though, you aren’t living in a blissful suburban America.

You are meeting needs in a post-apocalyptic landscape, and it isn’t one that you’ll necessarily immediately associate with that genre. You’re somewhere in the South, rafting your way down river after a catastrophic flood. You’ll see cars buried in mud, buildings in ruins, and very few people. It’s just you and your faithful pack animal, the aforementioned Aesop, attempting to make it downriver, trying to survive along the way by scavenging in the wilderness and in formerly rural and urban areas for whatever you can.

Scavenging and building is much of the game, grabbing what you can and seeing if you can improve your survivability by upgrading your raft with scavenged lumber or insulating your clothing with cattails. Think of it as Don’t Starve, but Don’t Starve as if you are perpetually in motion. There is no stable, safe spot to build a fortress against the snakes, wolves, and bears that are now more populous along the river than people. You aren’t taming the wilderness. You are on the run from it.

You are always just moving, moving, moving.

This transient style of crafting and building playstyle coupled with ever present danger appeals to me more than The Sims and more than Don’t Starve. You will find that you can maintain yourself pretty well for brief amounts of time in the game, then one bad move, get mauled by a wild boar, get food poisoning or parasites from raw meat, and suddenly you are in a free fall towards catastrophe. Most of the basic needs that you have to fulfill don’t decrease that much when you are healthy, but once you are bleeding out after a wolf caught you out in a bad place in the wilderness, you’ll also find yourself dehydrated, and just when you think you have those situations under control — well, your wound just got infected. Hope you have some penicillin.

Catastrophe is often sudden, but what I really like about the game is that death isn’t. The game allows you to desperately struggle when things have gone bad, leading to some inevitable failures, but also some nick-of-time solutions that make you appreciate your own adaptability and endurance in the face of what seems like some really hopeless situations.

But that is what a good roguelike should do, make you appreciate your little victories because you realize that the challenge of the game is real and that death has some very real consequences. The campaign mode allows for this hardcore experience, but also tones the game down slightly for the faint of heart with an “easy” mode that comes with some checkpoints that save your game. Easy, of course, is relative, though, as these checkpoints are quite far apart from one another, and continuing using one often means giving up a ton of progress, items, and upgrades that you thought you had accomplished something with, but are now very much gone.

Thus, that sense of the transience of safety and security is even present in the “tamer” version of the game, which is good, because the game’s theme, adaptability in the face of desperation, remains a clear concept despite this slightly kinder, and even more slightly gentler version of the game.

If you like Don’t Starve, you’re probably going to like this, though this game is clearly a survival management game with its own identity because of its dynamism. If you like roguelikes or games that offer a punishing level of challenge, you should try this. It isn’t The Binding of Isaac or Dark Souls or FTL, which is what is great about it. It manages to convey the same sense of struggle and accomplishment that those other games do, but with a completely different style of play than any of them.

Play it and hang in there. The river is going to take you where it is going to take you, but if you cling to a bit of hope, through tenacity and a little bit of luck, you may just be able to hold back the flood long enough to survive.

RATING 9 / 10