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The Flame in the Flood review
Meh
by JustCozzie

Some games are enhanced by an amazing soundtrack, some games (like Sayonara Wild Hearts) are so intertwined with their soundtrack it'd be impossible to separate the two, and some games, if you took away the soundtrack, would leave very little behind.
The Flame in the Flood is a survival game through and through (think Don't Starve and you've got 90% of the idea) with the gameplay revolving around keeping your character's four gauges - Food, Hydration, Temperature and Shelter - constantly topped up to avoid death.

On paper the big innovation to the formula is how the game is split into distinct two parts: your standard scavenging for items and crafting takes place on small islands, but to get from one island to the next you have to navigate the rapids and obstacles of this flooded world on your upgradable raft.

That's on paper though - in reality the big unique thing this game has going for it is its atmosphere, and that's where the music plays such a crucial role. The game's artstyle is pretty great, with its buildings dripping in ramshackle Americana and its lo-fi character and animal models having an almost other-worldly feeling (Your character in particular is slightly unnerving in a special kind of way reminiscent of Coraline) but it's Chuck Ragan's FANTASTIC Folk music soundtrack that breathes life into this damp, post-societal world. Time spent cruising down through the backwaters to one of the rare - but all the more impactful for it - vocal tracks is easily the highest high point the game has to offer.
Like many survival games The Flame in the Flood is - at it's core - a game about inventory management and, unfortunately for something you spend the majority of your time doing, it's a bit of a ball-ache. The frustrating part, though, is that it didn't NEED to be. So many design choices seem to have been made simply to increase the time you spend in the menus.

Your inventory is tiny at the start of the game, to the point it'll probably be filled after the first two islands (and this is AFTER it was doubled in a patch). Picking up or crafting anything after that requires shifting things manually to your dog's separate inventory. You're never apart from your dog so there's no real reason to separate the two inventories and you can't even send him to pick up items directly when your inventory is full - a feature that I'm finding extremely useful in Fate, a (15 year old!) game that I'm playing at the same time.

You instead have to transfer an item to the dog to make room, pick up the new item, transfer back the old item, then finally move the new item to the dog (making sure you keep one free square the whole time to give you space to move things). The only upside to this cumbersome system is that finding an inventory expanding pouch in game actually feels like the astounding reward it's meant to be.
There's also the problem of the "hold to interact" prompts that plague so many modern games. It's not as bad as, say, No Man's Sky (moving inventory items doesn't require holding, thank god) but it's still mostly backwards from what you'd expect: easily cancel-able actions like looting crates and sitting at a fire need a hold but crafting an item, which I'd expect to be a hold until the progress bar fills, is a single press. Then, in the very rare occasions you meet another living human, you can accidentally skip entire pages of dialogue (and agree to who-knows-what) if you hold the button longer than a millisecond.

That's a shame because there's very little writing in the game and, between the quilts and rare NPCs, everything you DO find is written in an appealing writing style that fits the setting and makes the tiniest piece of text feel like a refreshing aside.

One reason I can think of for why the game is so insistent that you hold buttons down is that the world doesn't pause when you're in menus, meaning that any time spent looting or reorganizing your bag is time that things can go wrong in an INSTANT. I underestimated the danger of a boar being in the general vicinity as I crafted items and after a broken bone, two lacerations, and having to use up all my hard earned healing items I definitely didn't make that mistake again.
Wildlife in general is surprisingly dangerous for a game without any actual combat so to speak of. My first run was ended by a single snake bite because I couldn't find clean water in time to craft a cure for it (although that earlier boar sure didn't help) and that's when the game really decided to surprise me by offering to restart me from an earlier checkpoint.

There'd been no mention of saving (either automatically or an option to manual save) and everything about the game's set-up (the genre, the randomly generated islands, and the dog carrying over items from a nameless skeleton) had made me think it was going to be a perma-death roguelike experience. That did turn out to be an optional setting for hard or endless modes but I'm very glad it wasn't a case of having to redo everything from scratch because runs in this game are LONG - at least 10 hours before I first saw credits.

The game is split into 10 distinct areas and (after starting out deep in the countryside) the third sees you ride the currents into ruined cities and urban sections which, despite being gorgeous to look at, are too large. Every single island starts to take such a long time to explore when there are so many cars and houses to loot and around the fifth region it all started getting a bit too routine, with nothing new being introduced to keep up variety.

Luckily area 5/10 isn't the halfway point of the game (as you'd be forgiven for assuming) and the latter leg of the game is punctuated with short story-based segments, so the island-hopping never gets a chance to feel too long in the tooth, but by this point I was so well stocked with items on my little floating home that stopping at ANY island felt like more of a risk than it was worth, leaving my last few hours confined almost entirely to the rafting half of the gameplay.
Unfortunately, as with any time spent on the US backwaters, there's also a fair amount of bugs.
Crafting things in a certain order with rabbits in your inventory that lets you make a pouch from their skins before skinning them (and therefore not using any materials). The free inventory upgrade is much appreciated but probably not intended.
As often as not when I disembarked the raft my stick and pack would duplicate themselves and float on back in mid-air and the raft is also a deceptively dangerous ride; getting caught on a single obstacle and being unable to steer away because of the current can leave you smashing into it over and over with no way to break free.
When you hear a thunderstorm coming and run to shelter to sleep it out you'll often wake up and walk back outside only for the rain to last just a millisecond before it becomes sunny again but completely drench you anyway, like you'd been trying to avoid by seeking shelter in the first place.
Upgrading your starting clothes unequips them without telling you - best hope you're paying attention or your newly insulated boots won't do much to stop you freezing while you walk around barefoot.

Most of those are easy enough to overlook but, as bad luck would have it, the worst one came right at the end of the game. Having the quick menu open as you enter the final area's cutscene trigger makes you lose all control of your raft which (combined with a manically flickering horizon) steals all impact from what should be a fantastic moment of finally hearing the game's climactic title track and then leaves you stranded, unable to dock, right before the end of the game. After rebooting the game and going through the unskippable cutscene a second time I found out it'd locked up in what was literally the final MINUTE of the game.

The Flame in the Flood has a beautifully unique atmosphere (excepting the possible contender, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine), and lots of heart serves as a charming distraction from mundane gameplay, but the jankiness and repetition wear it down long before the game draws to a close.
«Buggy as hell»

Other reviews4

Not sure I'd classify it as rogue-lite, as I didn't die very often and, when I did, nothing was persistent through death. However, unlike apparently most people, I really enjoyed the basic gameplay loop. A couple of design choices I didn't like, such as the game not pausing in menus, but the art style and the soundtrack add up to a wonderful peaceful atmosphere of drifting down a flooded river.
Translated by
Microsoft from Deutsch
A very great Game with a charming World and unique Graphics. Also, the Soundtrack has succeeded in mega and fits the Apocalyptic Mood. The Game is very much to be assured of who is looking for a quiet Survival game with Authenticity Factor is well served here. This is about pure Survival. You start in a World that has been flooded. One is one of the few Survivors in the World. As a Companion, my one has a Dog. You move away with a Raft and travel from Island to Island. There are different Things here. With these Things you can craft Useful things that make survival possible. On the Island, however, there are also sneaky Animals that can make you beige like Fire Ants or other Animals. These can inflict Wounds that if you don't treat them properly with Medzin is an Invitation to Infections or other Diseases. But even an Ivy that is poisonous can quickly node out to us. But You can also get food Poisoning through bad Food. You have to sleep, eat, drink regularly or look for a roof over your Head in a Storm. You also have to adapt to Unworldly influences with the right clothes. Pro-Very good and matching Soundtrack! From the Field of Folk and Bluegrass-Beautiful Graphics-It's not necessarily easy-Here everyone has to decide for themselves whether they consider it pro respectively. Contra sees-There's plenty to discover and get done-Wonderful Atmosphere Contra-When you die, You start over. This is just about making the Game the perfect Survival game. Could be frustrating for some, though. -No Multiplayer Purchase is very worthwhile!
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Translated by
Microsoft from Deutsch
Product received for free As a Foreword: I'm not saying right at this Stage whether I think the Game is good or bad. In this Review, I summarize all the positive and negative Aspects. Pros: The Game has a super Game idea. It's a Survival game where you're out on a Raft. The Concept I find really interesting and it is also Animal fun to drive the Raft through the Area. Survival Mechanics is also very gracious on the Difficulty level "Traveller." So You can look at the World in Peace. I also find The Graphic Style very beautiful as well as the musical Accompaniment. In addition, one is accompanied by a small Dog. I like the Menu guide very much, it is very clear. Cons: First of all, I noticed negatively that the Lyrics are partially cut off and therefore illegible. I don't know if it's because of my Screen Resolution. Furthermore, I have found it difficult to capture the Background Story, you get little Evidence of it. In some Places the Conversations seem very strange and I was hardly able To draw information from them. My biggest Criticism is that the Raft is sometimes very difficult to control and you miss a lot of moorings as a result. This gives me the Impression that I don't get a lot of the Game with me. One last small Criticism is that I don't know until now how to bypass the wild Animals. I only recommend the Game further because I think the Game principle is very good. The Criticisms have not been so serious for me so far that I would say I never touch the Game again. Do you like to Form your own Opinion, this is just what I noticed about the Game.
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