Review

The Flame in the Flood Review

  • First Released Feb 24, 2016
    released
  • PC

Take Me to the River

Survival games challenge you to gain control of treacherous worlds. You typically start with very little, and need to scavenge for supplies and resources in order to craft the tools needed to help you avoid death. Success usually means having enough power to establish yourself in a higher place on the food chain, or hunkering down and building a fortified space strong enough to keep the rest of the food chain out. The Flame in the Flood doesn’t allow you to achieve either of those goals and is a consistently gripping experience as a result.

Set in a rural post-societal America, The Flame in the Flood is a procedurally-generated survival game that focuses on constant movement and improvisation. The entirety of the game’s world consists of a large, overflowing river that has engulfed the countryside, destroyed man-made infrastructure, and isolated parts of the geography, turning them into islands.

The Flame in the Flood’s audiovisual presentation is integral to establishing its strong sense of place. The art direction invokes the aesthetic of a gothic storybook. The atmospheric sound design is ever-present. The rush of the flowing river is refreshing, and the heaviness of the thunderstorms is frightening. The musical score is an excellent array of Americana, ranging from mournful blues harmonica, cheerful acoustic guitar fingerpicking, wistful mandolins, and rough alt-country vocals. Together, they give The Flame in the Flood an aura of both despair and quiet beauty.

Your protagonists are a seemingly immortal dog and a survivor whose main concerns are keeping her hunger, thirst, body temperature, exhaustion, and any major injuries under control. Because the survivor can die from neglecting any of these concerns, players must keep them at bay by either scavenging or by crafting a variety of items using resources obtained from the land. But because of the game’s narrative conceit, you’re only able to scavenge on small islands with severely limited offerings. Finding the right components to create items you need often means exploring multiple islands as you traverse the river on your makeshift raft.

Your raft can be upgraded at marinas, provided you have the right components.
Your raft can be upgraded at marinas, provided you have the right components.

There are two major constraints that make this task both interesting and difficult. The protagonist can initially carry only a dozen items in her backpack, and you’ll only be able to dock at one or two islands in a cluster of many before the current pulls you further downriver. This design is frustrating at first--the impulse to grab every item and explore every area will cause you to waste far too much time and energy rearranging your backpack and paddling against the current. But once you embrace the idea of “going with the flow” so to speak, The Flame in the Flood becomes an engaging exercise of short-term prioritization and impulsive decision-making.

Though it will take a number of failures to understand the ecosystem, learning which items are universally useful and avoiding long-term hoarding are the key to staying alive. For example, keeping uncommon fire-starting materials in order to have a method of staying warm, dry, and being able to build a safe place to sleep is more vital than hoarding food--food eventually spoils, and edible flora is common enough in certain ecosystems to snack on as you come across it. Working out your priorities and having the courage to leave valuable things behind is a stimulating challenge. The Flame in the Flood keeps you on your back foot at all times. This feels like true survival.

Unfortunately, the user interface can prove to be a source of frustration. Essential tasks, like sorting your inventory and getting a broad idea of your current crafting options feel unnecessarily taxing because of the number of steps required. All pertinent information is kept within multiple subcategories accessed from a single screen. Inventory management and crafting existing in separate subcategories, and the recipes for different kinds of craftable items are separated into subcategories under that. Finding out what components are missing for a particular tool can be tedious because of the need to flip between menus and scroll through multiple entries to reach the information. Even after hours of play, I was still wrestling with the menu system, especially when using a controller. In fact, I began switching to mouse and keyboard exclusively for menus to make navigation a little easier.

Sure. I'm cold, wet, starving, exhausted, and lacerated all over. But man, what a view.
Sure. I'm cold, wet, starving, exhausted, and lacerated all over. But man, what a view.

But switching to mouse and keyboard is not something I want to do because movement, especially piloting your raft, is far more precise and satisfying with a controller. Travelling to new locations via raft requires deft avoidance of rock formations, remnants of human infrastructure and floating debris. Lightly flowing waters regularly turn into violent rapids, which are as treacherous as they are fun to navigate--impacts are devastating on both your raft’s integrity and your own vitals. Using the last of your stamina bar to push your raft just shy of a large, jagged outcrop is consistently thrilling, and when things quiet down, gently steering your raft through the remains of drowned towns at sunset while a haunting lap-steel melody plays is a sublime experience.

The Flame in the Flood encourages you to put long-term goals aside and live in the moment, to make choices and overcome short-term problems with risky but satisfying spontaneity. Despite the awkward menu system, it’s an absorbing game that lets you experience a journey in the present, and fully appreciate the sights, sounds, and joys of floating down the river in its alluring world.

Update: The Flame In The Flood’s arrival on Nintendo Switch as a “Complete Edition” comes with the mechanical refinements and feature upgrades that have been added since the game’s initial release. These include quality-of-life tweaks to crafting, an insightful developer’s commentary, and more importantly, an alternate dog companion to choose from. While the visual fidelity noticeably lower on the Switch and there are some minor hiccups in performance that aren’t present on other platforms, The Flame In The Flood still remains a unique and absorbing survival game. We have updated the score to reflect our experience with the Switch version. - Edmond Tran, Fri. October 13, 2017, 9:00 AM AEST

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The Good

  • Excellent Americana soundtrack
  • Beautiful art direction
  • Grounded survival simulation that emphasises necessity

The Bad

  • Clunky user interface

About the Author

Edmond Tran spent over 15 hours rollin’ on the river, and roughly the same amount of time listening to the Flame in the Flood soundtrack together with ambient water sounds. The Molasses Flood provided GameSpot with a PC copy of the game for this review.
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Gelugon_baat

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The camera - the effing camera.

There are quite a number of large things that can block the player's view of what is behind them, and they are not rendered translucent to compensate for this problem.

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Pyrosa

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Edited By Pyrosa

@Pyrosa: Ended up buying this and played the Hell out of it on Xbone. The menus aren't that intrusive, and the game is absolutely unique. Although it starts off rather calm and relaxing, it very quickly becomes a challenge. As with any survival game where crafting is important, you plan long before you attack -- IF you decide to attack at all.

The cheevos/trophies encourage a diverse set of playstyles.

100% recommend this game. Have NOT tried the Switch version. Got just under 50 hours out of it, although I only thought I'd get about 10.

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BUSFULOFNUNS

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The Switch version is a bore to play because of missing supplies and lack of balance on procedurally generated map of campaign mode. If you're considering it, skip it!

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Itzsfo0

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@busfulofnuns: i considered it, and enjoyed it on the switch especially with the update. enjoyed the switch version in 2018. but everyone is diff, to each their own I know 3 other people that have enjoyed the switch version as well.

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Dave1927p

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art, soundtrack. PASS. I want to have fun. I don't want artsy fartsy exclusivity.

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doorselfin

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doorselfin  Staff

@Dave1927p: You must have missed the huge part where I talked about the cool survival mechanics.

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Purpledust

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Edited By Purpledust

@Dave1927p: lel, we didnt need to read that.

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MashedBuddha

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Excellent game. Me and my gf collaborated to craft and prepare and capture deadly animals with deadlier traps. We eventually finished the game. She was scared of the rapids though so I did all the driving ;-)

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Byshop

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Edited By Byshop  Moderator

Necro bump? :)

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doorselfin

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doorselfin  Staff

@Byshop: Played the recently-released Switch version and added some additional thoughts for that audience.

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Gelugon_baat

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Has the computer version been improved too?

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doorselfin

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doorselfin  Staff

@Gelugon_baat: Yep!

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m4a5

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"Excellent Americana soundtrack"

Agreed

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Arguyle

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you guys are making a great deal for a typo. lol

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sladakrobot

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I really hoped for a X1 version but it seems the PC became 2 versions of the game instead :-)

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Cherub1000

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@sladakrobot: haha was thinking exactly the same thing!

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Pyrosa

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If they overhaul the menus, I'll definitely buy this. I enjoyed watching someone explore/learn this via Twitch last night, but that menu layout needs a complete overhaul.

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xhawk27

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typo It's on the PC, PC_ and the PC.

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berserker66666

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Hmm....I think I'll buy the PC version of this game cause obviously, PC version will play and run better than the PC version.

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stephenbarr12

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@berserker66666: PC always runs better than PC.....

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Jent

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Edited By Jent

Also available on Xbox One.

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hitomo

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wow, not going to touch this ... because of the creepy mashed up face at the bottom of the Screen ... are you selling this to Kids ?

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deactivated-5e83c14458072

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@hitomo: You can't be serious.

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D-Man

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Edited By D-Man

@hitomo: cry me a river

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Gelugon_baat

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@LarkAnderson: You might want to know about a bug that has been hitting the review articles since the Walking Dead: Michone review. The labels on the platforms on which the games are made have been duplicated.

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larkanderson

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@Gelugon_baat: Thanks!

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jinzo9988

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A survival game that's actually finished? Well look at that. Amazing. What a concept. It would've been so easy to do realistic graphics and release it as Early Access and rob people the way that practically everybody else has. I hope it actually sells but something tells me it won't, which is hilarious when you look at the whole picture. Unfinished shit shows that have been in "development" for years get all the sales, a finished product (and a good one) does not. And people wonder why devs like Capcom release an unfinished game at full price.

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WetVein

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@jinzo9988: ? This game was in early access. It came out last year sometime. I became aware of it in September.. not sure when it first showed up on steam thou.

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HughTheHand88

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Edited By HughTheHand88

Should I get it for PC or PC?

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cip_raziel

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@hughthehand88: And that's how it should be, there is nothing else besides teh mustard race!

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deactivated-5c0b07b32bf03

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I want this game, but I'm really unsure of which version to get. I mean the PC version looks great, but the PC version also looks great. The graphics will probably be better on the PC version, but then, the graphics on the PC version shouldn't look too shabby either. FPS-wise the PC version will run the best, however, this is not to say that the PC version will not be locked at a decent rate. I should be able to pick up the PC version for cheap on Steam; then again, the PC version will probably also be on Steam, so this is no clear advantage.

Huh. Still don't know. I'm kinda leaning toward the PC version. But then I might go with the PC version, instead. Decisions, decisions.

19 • 
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D-Man

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@reduc_ab_: Thanks for your comment, a minute of my life I'll never get back watching someone try to be clever.

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deactivated-5c0b07b32bf03

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@d-man: No problem! Once you sharpen your wit, it won't take you a whole minute to realize you're reading something that is not clever.

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D-Man

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@reduc_ab_: ::tosses keys:: Park it. And here's a buck for a Snickers.

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ishsgames

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@reduc_ab_: i just copied that comment for arslan and swapped PC to ps4 :). I quoted with your user.....Unlike a certain Naughty Dog

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deactivated-5c0b07b32bf03

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@ishsgames: It's all good. I had a moment of inspiration while beholding Gamespot's editorial wizardry.

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streamline

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Edited By streamline

@reduc_ab_: Gamespot is going with the faster, cheaper, crappier editing these days. Maybe that is why people like Van Ord left.

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Gelugon_baat

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Edited By Gelugon_baat

@streamline: The duplicated platform label is not an issue of editing. It's just GlitchSpot.

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streamline

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@Gelugon_baat: I’m referring to editing as in editors. They are supposed to review everything before it gets published. in the digital age, it should include platform labels.

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Gelugon_baat

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@streamline: It does have platform labels.

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RogerioFM

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@reduc_ab_: Stick with the PC version, it won't have FPS cap.

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Itzsfo0

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@RogerioFM: eh didnt matter to me

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Hurvl

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@reduc_ab_: Lmao, they did it again! I just made a similar comment on the Arslan: The Warriors of Legend review which at the end stated: "Arslan: The Warriors of Legend / PlayStation 4 & PlayStation 4". Man, look at all those options, I really don't know which version I'm gonna get.

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NL_Skipper

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Looks like a neat game, I'm not big into the survival genre but if I feel inclined to dive in this might be my next choice.

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Acillatem1993

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Its so good it came out on pc twice!

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The Flame in the Flood

First Released Feb 24, 2016
released
  • Macintosh
  • Nintendo Switch
  • PC
  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One

A rogue-lite river journey through the backwaters of a forgotten post-societal America. Forage, craft, evade predators. For PC, Mac, and Xbox One.

8
Great

Average Rating

27 Rating(s)

7
Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
Teen