At first glance, The Flame in the Flood depicts a beautifully crafted world with its use of stylized art and charming audio. What isn't quickly apparent about The Molasses Flood’s debut title is that it actually details the harsh reality of survival. Hunger, thirst, sleep, broken legs and bear attacks, it's all part of a world that is constantly trying to knock the player down. This sense of realism is spot on and is The Flame in the Flood’s greatest strength, and conversely its biggest weakness.
Set in a world where the water has risen and flooded the land, Scout and her companion dog Daisy set off to find a radio tower after discovering a radio transmission needing a stronger signal. Using a raft to sail through the raging river, players stop by different procedurally generated areas that provide supplies, shelter, and the imminent threat of death. From here the story goes through a few more updates but nothing too consistent. While the story updates feel more like mere checkpoints, the environmental storytelling at play helps give glimpses into what happened to this world. An old tire swing gives details on how long it’s been since the world changed, while random characters like the gravedigger show that there are still survivors. Unfortunately, because the areas are not the same each time they’re visited, most of these characters do not get the luxury of progressing the main story.
The overall concept is simple. Collect supplies to ensure survival long enough to make it to the next day, and keep moving down the river. And that’s about it; it’s a very repetitious cycle that won’t see any major mix ups before the credits roll. There will be upgrades to the raft that make sailing easier and different enemies that allow new items to be created, but the loop of find an area, get supplies and start sailing rarely changes. It's realistic and the atmosphere calls for it, but that doesn’t mean that it’ll be enjoyable for everyone the entire way through. Towards the end, in our case, it was becoming a routine and the sense of discovery was starting to wear off.
Every detail matters. Hunger and thirst are important factors but you will soon be dealing with the need for sleep, weapons, medicine, and a variety of other smaller supplies that would truly be needed to survive in this kind of harsh environment. Crafting is simple and there is always that sense of relief when the right item is found in order to survive. The game doesn’t joke around. Getting attacked by a boar can result in a broken leg, staying out in the rain can start a sickness, running through poison ivy can create lacerations and poisoning. The list goes on. The Flame in the Flood nails the sense of desperation and resourcefulness, and its atmosphere is its biggest strong point.
For a game as beautiful as The Flame in the Flood, a lot of time is spent staring at menus. Inventory space, while realistic, is an immediate concern from the start of the game. Being out of room and deciding what to remove or transfer will be a constant requirement that usually ends in frustration. Moving items from the backpack to the dog or to the raft plays out rather like a chore. Not being able to stack items automatically within the different inventories is another headscratcher that makes the process needlessly more complicated. A more intuitive UI would have been appreciated, especially considering how vital it is for the entire experience.
A lot of talk has gone into praising the visuals, but an equal amount has to go to the vibrant and fitting soundtrack. The classic Americana vibes put a fitting tone to the setting and the environment compliments it with its southern looks. Music plays appropriately and even gives the much needed sense of hope when the right tune plays.
Since this is the Complete Edition players can also expect an option to play with developer commentary, along with an endless mode that lets you play for as long as possible. If the repetitious nature of the game is not a hindrance, this mode will be an excellent addition to anyone that picks it up. Being able to play on the Switch is another plus; although some of the icons and text are small to read while playing in portable mode, nothing important is left out.
The Flame in the Flood is a gorgeous title that tries to find a good balance between realism and difficulty. The ideas and concepts are smart and make sense, but don’t expect them to delve too much deeper that what is presented at the start. A few nitpicks with the menu system and cumbersome inventory management take a bit away from the experience, but the core mechanics work well. The Flame in the Flood is a good addition to the survival genre, and another satisfying inclusion to the ever growing eShop library.