After watching the trailer for The Flame in the Flood, I knew it was a game I wanted to review. I was blown away by its music, stylish cartoon art design, the prominent display of fearing the inevitable, the depicted exploration, and, of course, the fact that your companion is a dog. Every aspect of the presentation seemed poised to impress. While some of these facets hold up to make the game fun to both look at and listen to, gameplay becomes TFITF’s biggest downfall.
In Flame in the Flood, you play as a girl named Scout, who has somehow survived an unexplained apocalypse and is accompanied by her canine companion, Aesop. The worn/torn, post-apocalyptic setting is beautifully rendered in a hand-drawn aesthetic with splendid weather effects and pleasant character animations. This scenery also contributes directly to the gameplay as it is your mission to survive as long as you can in the harsh environment by collecting plants, fending off animals, and sleeping wherever possible.
This fateful event has led to the majority of the land mass being covered in water, which means that Scout must manoeuvre from place to place aboard a makeshift raft. Although Scout spends plenty of time on land as she scours for food, water, and other resources, she also often needs to travel to new locations. Time spent travelling is accompanied by some of the most unique, singer-songwriter, southern acoustic style music I’ve ever heard in a game, and is something that adds much to its overall atmosphere.
It’s tough to analyse TFITF without drawing comparisons to Don’t Starve. Similarities include rogue-like elements, art design, an isometric camera angle, gathering supplies, crafting, facing life-threatening creatures, and above all else, an emphasis on survival. There are four primary components in TFITF of which the player needs to be constantly aware: hunger, thirst, warmth, and energy. Paying attention to these is a must to avoid afflictions and death as each is constantly depleted. The good thing is that this component helps keep the player engaged. Scout will frequently need to consume food and water, build fires, craft weapons and items, find shelter, and plan her next move to stay alive.
However, this can sometimes grow frustrating. I occasionally found myself tired of accessing the inventory every thirty seconds or so to eat. This honestly wouldn’t be a big problem if it weren’t for the cumbersome, unintuitive inventory management system, and if you’re not a fan of micromanagement, this game will be a nightmare. What could have helped with the unnecessary exertion would have been making items and crafting more accessible without constantly opening the inventory. This feeling of awkwardness also carried over to the gameplay as actions executed by Scout force immobility; upon equipping weapons and items such as a bow or a gas bomb, the player must remain completely stationary.
The combination of very lethal foes and an inability to move often led to me using these items while in an area just out of reach of attacking boars, wolves, and bears. It made confrontations much less intimidating and more of an unexciting burden. If I reached an area that had two or more wolves, and I wasn’t equipped with the right items, I would simply leave knowing I didn’t stand a chance. If I did have the items, I would sit in a spot where the wolves couldn’t reach me, and use items on them until they died.
With these aspects in particular, I see what the developers were attempting to do. It’s similar to having crafting done in real-time and increases the player’s recognition concerning the protagonist’s susceptibility to negative consequences. In this regard, it’s as though the game goes out of its way to make things more difficult than it should actually be. Some may appreciate this, but I disliked every component that was forcefully implemented to make things more of a hinderance.
What I thought may help in various mishaps would be having a canine friend but, unfortunately, that isn’t so; despite the fact that Aesop is constantly with Scout, I’m inclined to speak only of Scout regarding gameplay. This is because Aesop is essentially a non-factor. From what I can tell, Scout’s companion has two functions. The first is to point out items and threats in the environment; unfortunately, this aspect of Aesop becomes useless as visual and audio cues often alert Scout to these instead. The second function is a magical one in which every item in Aesop’s inventory will stay from one playthrough to the next. This can lead to pre-emptive strategy as players can stock Aesop with key items before succumbing to hunger or fatigue.
These functions actually work relatively well and I have no problems with them. Where I found disappointment with the inclusion of Aesop is within the relationship and story between the characters, or more specifically, the lack thereof. In the majority of games, a dog as a companion is pleasant because of their connection to the protagonist. In TFITF, this relationship doesn’t exist. There’s no development and hardly any interaction. There are no story points that hinge on Scout’s connection to Aesop. He’s just there.
This is also how I came to feel about the game’s story. Within the campaign, the protagonist is occasionally given goals, sometimes runs into people who live in the environment, and technically experiences an ending yet the entire journey is lacklustre. The goals and interactions are relatively benign as they lead to more of what already exists, such as continuing down the river and collecting items that can be found in the environment. And while I personally enjoyed the ending, I have to admit that the game concludes in an abrupt fashion that seems to exist solely because the player clicked a button labelled “campaign.”
I will admit that, for a period of time, I grew to enjoy TFITF’s charm and micromanagement after initially viewing its gameplay as a constant grind. The problem is that this enjoyment was short lived. After several cycles of collecting items, digging through the menus for crafting, building, killing an animal, and then sleeping, eating, and drinking, I grew tired of the process. It then felt flat. The biggest disappointment is just how much promise The Flame in the Flood initially showed. It’s a gorgeous game with an incredible soundtrack and a solid survival premise, that trips over itself around nearly every corner, falling short when it comes to critical gameplay components.
Drowning in Disappointment
A survival game with an enviable presentation that ultimately flounders important aspects. Fans of the genre may be able to look past glaring flaws, but anyone who dislikes constant menu use and inventory management will quickly find The Flame in the Flood discouraging.