We don’t want to watch young Scout – heroine protagonist of The Flame in the Flood – die again. The guilt weighs heavily on our souls. Each death is harder to bear than the last, and each is undoubtedly our fault. Next time we’ll do better. Next time, Scout will survive.
The Flame in the Flood, the debut game from developer The Molasses Flood, has made the long-awaited leap to Nintendo Switch. This is a stylish, soulful survival adventure that will steal your heart, and then break a little piece off with each failure to keep Scout alive.
Like many survival games before it, The Flame in the Flood presents you with a harsh environment and few resources, and nudges you out into the world to fend for yourself. Set in the “backwaters of a forgotten post-societal America,” you’ll travel downstream on a rickety raft of questionable design, explore a forgotten landscape and meet all manner of idiosyncratic inhabitants.
And die. A lot.
The harsh reality of survival in this flood-ravaged landscape is initially masked by the gorgeous visuals. How can something so beautiful be so deadly? The reality is that I should be used to beautiful, deadly things, like DomosaurXX who’ll happily one-shot you, or Glenfiddich IPA cask, which’ll do the same.
It’s not long after first meeting Scout that you realise just how dangerous her world is, and you’ll soon regret leaving that first camp fire for a (short) life of rafting and exploring. But take a moment to enjoy the beauty of the world, of a river glowing gold from the rising sun, of campfire smoke wisping into the sky, of black and ravenous wolves intent on ripping out young Scout’s throat.
Those damn wolves.
And listen, too. The alt-rock-country soundtrack is a perfect tonal match for Scout’s adventure – full of hope and sorrow, of adventure and despair. We can’t think of a game and soundtrack that are more perfectly suited. It’s a stunning package.
The Flame in the Flood bills itself as rogue-lite, and it’s easy to recognise the elements – every play through will be different and, if you understand the meta at play here, should see you get that little bit further down the procedurally-generated river. On each (inevitable) death Scout will lose all she has gathered, crafted and carefully stored in her backpack. Anything that she has entrusted to her canine companion (either Aesop or Daisy) though, is resurrected for the next play through.
This wonderfully simple device delivers an exquisite tension as Scout’s fortune wavers and things start to go wrong. Do you use the last of your supplies to get that little bit further down the river, using up the last of your food to ensure Scout can make the next landfall? After all, she could find a bounty of supplies. More likely, though, all that waits are more of those damn wolves. Or wild boars. Or bears. Or worse.
The sensible thing to do, then, is recognise the futility, the fragility of Scout’s position, store the best of your resources with your canine companion, and watch Scout die.
Every death is painful. Mauled by wolves, beset by infection, dehydration, starvation, or exposure. All terrible ways to go. Can you really do it? Can you really condemn this poor girl to a painful, drawn-out death when you have bandages, medicine, food, water or the makings of a fire to stave off the inevitable and ease her pain, even for a little bit?
You can? You monster.
Even if you are that monster, even if you have a heart of stone and the mind of a sociopath, Scout’s journey will never be easy. It will take resilience, patience and a little luck to unravel The Flame in the Flood’s mysteries and reach river’s end.
It’s difficult to find fault with The Flame in the Flood. The Molasses Flood have given us a game that’s perfectly balanced, beautiful, beguiling, challenging and charming. It’s a supremely confident game that holds no hands and yet welcomes you with a heart as big as the river you’re rafting. And then takes delight in breaking yours, time and again.
We love it.
The Flame in the Flood is a real gem of a game, and we couldn’t be happier to see it have such a successful launch on Nintendo Switch. It’s translated brilliantly to the Switch, and though some of the crafting and inventory screens had us squinting at icons and text, that’s more do to with the failing eyesight of age than anything else.
Survival games aren’t for everyone, but The Flame in the Flood is one of the very best. Play it, if only to be transported down your own river by that wonderful soundtrack.
Release Date: 12 October 2017 on Nintendo Switch (the game enjoyed a release on other platforms in 2016)
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4, Steam