Developed by Molasses Flood Published by Curve Digital Reviewed on Switch (also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Steam)
“Luck is a very thin wire between survival and disaster, and not many people can keep their balance on it.” – Hunter S. Thompson
The Flame in the Flood is a wilderness survival game that takes place in a post civilized world. You play as a young girl, Scout, accompanied by Aesop, a backpack wearing dog that one day approached your camp. The premise is simple: you both traverse down a river on a raft in search of something that may or may not actually be there upon arrival. Along the way you’ll need to make stops at various locations along the river to find supplies and other clues about your destination. The narrative is subtle and discreet, leaving it up to the players to piece together what happened. It tells a story about a world without humans through visual details and small narrative hints. Similar to procedurally generated roguelikes, each playthrough will be completely different from the the rest.
The main gameplay is divided into two parts: survive on your raft as you progress downstream through the river and explore various inland locales for supplies. Distance markers will indicate when you’re close to an area you can explore. If you miss an opportunity to dock your raft at an area, there’s no way to turn back. The rafting segments offering a contemplative break that also shows off the excellent environment and weather visuals. It can also be an exhilarating experience during the moments you’re forced to navigate through rough waves, islands, and man made obstacles. These moments are beautifully complimented by Chuck Ragan’s original score, which evokes both a sense of adventure and serenity at the right moments. Country music fans will definitely appreciate the twangy acoustic sound and vocals. The sound design is top notch, with each each area richly accentuated with environmental sounds and animal cries.
The other aspect is a survival simulation that that involves collecting and managing resources. These segments play like an adventure game that uses an overheard perspective. Scout is able to run, forage for resources, and attack if she’s armed. You’ll quickly have to learn how to craft tools and weapons as well. You’ll encounter various creatures that you can hunt, trap, or avoid altogether; sometimes it’s best to avoid confrontation as some of the larger game can easily injure or kill Scout. The various gauges will show you how hungry, thirsty, and tired Scout becomes over time. If you drink contaminated water instead of putting it through a filter or eat rotten food, Scout will become sick, rapidly depleting your stamina. Injuries play a huge factor as well: if Scout’s leg gets injured and isn’t treated properly, she’ll limp throughout the rest of the game. You’ll be forced to make keys decisions like whether to use your last piece of dry wood to make a splint or to repair your damaged raft.
Each time you die, all the contents in Scout’s backpack disappears, but Aesop’s pack remains intact. This motivates players to play again since they don’t have to start completely from scratch if they were prudent enough to store vital items in Aesop’s pack. Unfortunately, the clunky menu system makes it a chore to manage your resources; thankfully the controls are very responsive, making it easy to navigate the raft as well as control Scout while exploring.
The Flame in the Flood’s distinct art direction and dynamic lighting system gives the tremendous ambiance. The sun will cast long shadows, evoking a sense of foreboding isolation. Unfortunately, the game does suffer from repetition as certain environment types and structures are recycled. More variety would have been preferable for a game that encourages multiple playthroughs. On a technical level, the game runs at an uncapped framerate, leading to somewhat uneven performance as it can fluctuate greatly during certain moments. Ideally it would have been preferable to offer players the option of playing The Flame in the Flood at a locked 30 frames per second for more consistency. There’s no major discernible differences in performance or details when playing in docked or handheld modes; the game does push the hardware pretty hard, so expect around three hours of battery life when playing on the go. Overall, The Flame of the Flood is one of the best looking indie titles on the Switch and compares well to the other console versions.
The Flame in the Flood can occasionally be a frustrating experience where a successful run can be determined more by random luck than careful planning. It’s a game where some of your earliest decisions and mistakes can have a profound impact on the rest of your journey. For the bold and the curious, this is an experience that begs to be explored. It’s very much a welcome addition to the Switch’s already diverse indie game library. You’ll definitely want to keep going to see what’s around the next river bend and find out where it all leads.