Cause of death: Starvation. Cause of death: Sepsis. Cause of death: Drowning.
Let me get one thing straight. You will die in The Flame in the Flood. And you will die a lot. From all kinds of horrendous things. You may get eaten alive. You may get pummeled into the ground by a vicious warthog. You may just forget to eat or you may risk drinking some water that hasn’t been purified. You will however die. Many many times.
The Flame in the Flood is a wilderness survival title of the utmost quality. From the glorious visuals (I mean c’mon, they are bloody stunning) to the tempting gameplay, each and every little part of the game has been crafted with love, attention and consideration. You play through the game as Scout and it is up to you to travel down the long winding river in order to try and survive the wilds for as long as possible. With your trusty dog, Aesop at your side throughout, it’ll be up to you to decide which of the many randomly generated stops Scout and Aesop should call in at. Will you stop at the nearest church for some shelter or do you need to stretch it out a little while longer in the hope that the next forest will have a meal. There are numerous ports of call available on your journey, but not only is it impossible to visit each one, you’ll have to weigh up the pros and cons prior to doing so. Aside from a few small encounters with other humans (humans with whom you can trade precious commodities), The Flame in the Flood is basically you, your dog and your flimsy raft against mother nature.
The wind will swirl, the rain will lash down, day will turn to night and night will turn to day – throughout it all though you’ll just need to scavenge for food, craft new items and keep away from the vicious wildlife. Unless of course you want to try and catch the vicious wildlife in order to turn it into precious food – in which case you’ll be in for a whole load of fun. And death. More death than you can imagine should you decide to take on a wolf during the dead of night.
There are two game modes in place, both of which basically do the same thing. The campaign plops you aboard your raft and asks you one question – can you find the mouth of the river? If you’re anything like me, then chances are you won’t. Ever. Especially if you decide to play on the more intense ‘Survivalist’ difficulty level; something which brings Permadeath, less supplies and a reduction in your vital stats like nobodies business. For the majority of gamers, and those who are looking to actually enjoy their time with The Flame in the Flood, the standard ‘Traveler’ mode will more than suffice but even then, checkpoints are scarce and for the most part, you will still feel like the whole world is against you.
If the campaign isn’t for you and you just want to go on some aimless white water rafting, then the endless game mode is your other option and does exactly as it says on the tin. Admittedly, if I didn’t know which of the options I had chosen before the game had started, then I would be none the wiser as they both play out very similarly. It all depends if you ever want, or need, to find some form of completion. Personally, I’m not sure I do. Total and utter exploration is more than enough to satisfy my needs.
To survive, you’ll need to eat. And drink. And stay warm. And sleep occasionally. But remember, for each action, there is nearly always a negative reaction and so should you decide to park your tired soul on a church pew for a few hours, getting in out of the damn rain and trying to warm up, then your body will require further stimulation in the way of food – normally from the very second you wake up. But what if the only food you have is a piece of raw meat, full of parasites and liable to give you a dicky tummy? Do you take the risk just in order to stop yourself from starving, or do you run around like a blue arsed fly, hoping that the next stop along the river will be able to provide you with a campfire for cooking purposes. What if there isn’t a next stop?
The Flame in the Flood is all about these kind of dilemmas and it’ll be up to you to work with what you’ve got and then just pray that the next port will be kind enough to allow you to craft further items, or be fully stocked with food. The crafting system itself is reasonably deep, but far from complicated. We’ve all been there in these survival titles, stashing a ton of gear into our bags in the hope that we’ll one day find out what it is for. Well, with The Flame in the Flood, it’s no more a case of throw said item into your bag, hit a couple of menus prompts and find out exactly what you can craft. If you haven’t garnered the correct materials, then you’ll be told exactly what you need to help you out – which in turn gives you something to aim for. You backpack is however severely limited in space, so there are times when you’ll need to drop some of the lesser essential items into Aesop’s bag, or onto the raft for another day. A little tip, find yourself on the verge of death with little to no way out and it’ll be a good idea to give your dog the best stuff, as the next time you play through, he’ll come fully equipped. It’s not a massive deal if you don’t, but when you’ve been dropping in to port after port in the hope that you will one day have enough materials to craft an exotic bear hide jacket or enough nuts and bolts to upgrade your raft to something a bit more substantial, it’s a bit of a killer to see it all get washed downstream, never to be seen again.
For the most part The Flame in the Flood is a glorious survival title, but there are bugs – although thankfully nothing too massive. Most notably these come in the form of icon prompts which don’t show correctly and the occasional complete and utter crash back to the Xbox dashboard. On the whole these are either very few and far between, or something that really doesn’t affect the stunning gameplay in any way and if I’m being completely honest, there really isn’t an awful lot that stops The Flame in the Flood from reaching top marks, at least on a personal scale. On the same hand however, I fully understand that the hit-and-miss elements and complete and utter randomness of what is to come will more than likely frustrate many. But is that an issue with the game itself? Not really. It’s more an issue with the ‘survival’ genre as a whole…something you’ll either love or absolutely hate.
And what is there to keep you going back for more? Well, not only does The Flame in the Flood tempt you in for just one more go with the promise of new loot and discoverment, but each and every time you die, you get shown a record of where you went, what exactly happened and why you went there. With a personal best ‘survival’ rating urging you to fire up Scout’s lifeless body and hop aboard that flimsy raft once more, then you really won’t be able to leave things alone.
There is one other thing which ensures that The Flame in the Flood is a must purchase. The audio and especially the stunning soundtrack. Many of you would have heard of Chuck Ragan, the highly acclaimed Alt-Country rocker, and it is this guy’s tunes that accompany your journey into the wilds. With an original full length soundtrack that brings together Ragan, The Camaraderie, The Fearless Kin and other special guests, I’m not sure I have ever heard a more fitting OST to a game. It brings the world alive to such an extent that not only will you be begging to hear the next track, but you’ll also be making your way over to Spotify, Google Play or Apple Music whenever you are away from the game. Hats off to whoever decided to get Chuck on board, as it was a bloody masterstroke.
So, The Flame in the Flood and I have some way to go before I fully understand how to cut it out in the wilderness. After numerous hours of floating aimlessly down the river, stopping off at multiple camps, churches and gas stations along the way, crafting all manner of tools, clothing and remedies and having eaten what seems like a million dandelions, I still feel that I’ve still only just scratched the surface of what is to come. Which makes The Flame in the Flood something I can see many people playing on a semi-regular basis for a good few months yet.
With a little ingenuity and a whole lot of determination, you might just survive. That’s one huge ‘might’ though.
Related: Let’s Play The Flame in the Flood on Xbox One!