July 2, 2015 by Paul Curtin
At first glance, The Flame in the Flood looks like an artsy independent game that might make you feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside… and on the surface, it kind of is that type of game. But minutes into playing as lead the protagonist, Scout, it becomes apparent that survival is not going to be easy in the ex-Bioshock developer’s cold and cruel new world.
The Flame in the Flood‘s gameplay is also fairly simple at first glance. As Scout, you must journey down a river on a makeshift raft with your dog companion, Aesop. Along the way, Scout and Aesop can find docks where they can get off and explore procedurally-generated maps to scavenge supplies. It’s this need to scavenge in order to survive where gameplay quickly becomes more complicated than it looks and could be done better here than in any game before. In an unforgiving Dark Souls way, The Flame in the Flood can at times be downright cruel if you don’t play by the game’s rules. Permadeath restarts the game back to the very beginning with Scout’s inventory empty. So the goal is to see how many days you can last — and to also hopefully in one playthrough eventually make it to the very end. But even when trying our hardest, the longest we could make it was a few days in our hands-on preview.
In addition to its roguelike genre qualities, there are various role-playing mechanics involving trying to collect as many objects as you can to build new items and also not become overburdened when your inventory fills up. Berries can be picked to help refill the hunger meter, while building traps and catching rabbits can be even more valuable to lasting longer in the wild. Jackets and gloves can be found and equipped to keep Scout warm when the temperature goes down at night or when rain soaks her clothes and supplies. Additional elements can also be used, like fire to help dry her clothes faster and keep her warm.
The most interesting aspect was how easily it was to get ill — whether from infected wounds caused by attacks from wild animals or drinking dirty water that wasn’t boiled first by the fire — it seemed like every time we cured one ailment, another would catch us off guard. At one point I even caught something that I swear said syphilis… alone in the wild? Maybe it was a typo for “sepsis” in an early build or I’m just suffering from dyslexia… but with no doctors or clinics on the islands I explored, eventually I died from the disease when I couldn’t figure out how to cure it.
While not knowing all the diseases and infections Scout can develop and how to cure them at first could seem frustrating, it’s the process of learning, adapting, and building remedies that made the gameplay such a welcome challenge. Even with other bigger games scheduled for us to play, it was hard to put down the controller and give up on our preview. Death is usually dragged out where Scout will slowly begin to die from hunger, dehydration, infection, or other sicknesses. Every one of my playthroughs ended the same way as I slowly crawled through the forest, trying to delay death, and praying that I would come across food to eat or clean water to drink or some other random miracle cure I had yet to discover… and no, unfortunately, you can not eat the dog as a last resort… I tried… and I know… I’m a monster.
The Flame in the Flood still has no official release date but is planned to be available on both PC and Xbox One.