When The Molasses Flood first released The Flame in the Flood last year on Xbox One and PC, chances are they never thought that the post apocalyptic survival sim depicting a US in which global warming has made river burst their banks and submerged large swaythes of the landscape could become an actual reality. With the election of Trump, and his insane views on Climate change though, the waterlogged wasteland presented in The Flame and Flood, has a certain unnerving prescience to it.
The Flame in the Flood opens with mysterious canine, Aesop, waking up young female protagonist Scout who asleep by a fire at apost apocalyptic campsite and presenting her with a backpack ( he prized off the skeletal remains of the last poor bastard to follow him down the river). Inside the pack is a Radio recieving a scrambled transmission.
After a brief tutorial, and time to get to grips with the games controls, crafting systems and numerous menus(so many menus), the pair jump aboard a makeshift raft and set off down river in search of the source of the transmission.
At it’s core the Flame in the Flood is a survival game in the Don’t starve mould with players tasked with collecting and crafting various items in order to keep Scout fed, watered, rested, warm and able to protect herself from the numerous predators that stalk the (mostly) abandoned gas statons, camp sites, and churches that make up the wilds of post-societal America.
Bears, boars and wolves make up the bulk of the beasts that will happily, and very swiftly turn Scout form a happy camper into a broken, bloody mess. Initally at least, it is best to run as fast as your little legs will carry you back to the boat.
It also doesn’t pay to be rooting around in menus for too long when there’s a wolf or boar about. time keeps ticking along while Scout is pouring over her journal, looking at craftnig recipes and tinkering around in her inventory, likewise predators wont think twice about pouncing while the poor girl is unaware.
Learning to use the quick menus is essential if you want Scout to make it all the way downstream.these are accessed by using L2 and the d pad. I meantion this because i only discovered that there was a quick menu system by accident after many hours of wondering why I even bothered crafting a bow as by the time i equipped the damn thing let along fired it whatever i was going to shoot with it had already pounced and was busy feasting on Scout’s intestines.
When the coast is clear though, players will spend a lot of time routing around through the menus, especially in the crafting and inventory pages. In the ealry stages player will spend a lot of time in the inventory trying to figure out what to cram into Scouts (initially) tiny backpack, give to Aesop to hold ( anything in his pack can be used in your next run) and in the hold of the Raft, which can also be expanded greatly (but more on that in a mo).
Initally Scout’s life in a state of nature is, as Hobbe posited – nasty, brutish and short. However once players get past the inital teething period, get a few useful items crafted and a few upgrades under their belt, The Flame in the Flood really opens up, and serious progress can be made down stream.
When not stuffing anything she can find in her pockets, Scout and Aesop are rafting down stream like some kind of post apocalyptic Huck Finn. Sailing from island to island is intially a tricky affair, the raft is flimsey, the rapids fast and Scouts only means of steering from one dock to the next, as she hops from island to islands through the endless engorgorged floodplane is a large stick.
This becomes a hell of a lot easier once once Scout has visited a few Marinas – specific islands which are used for upgrading and repairing your craft with odds and sods (bolts and lumber) scavenged from the myriad ruins visited along the way. At the Marina the raft is slowly transformed from little more than a couple of lashed together palletes into a something akin to a ramshackle barge, with a rudder, motor, extra storage and eventually a stove, shelter and even a water treatment plant, greatly improving Scout’s chances of surival both on the water and on dry land.
The jaunt downstream is for the best part a beautiful one, graphically The Flame in the Floods, painted visuals tread a line between a pop up book and a Henry Selick movie ( Coraline, The Nightmare Before Christmas). Meanwhile a absolutely stonking soundtrack by former Hot Water Music frontman turned Alt Country God, Chuck Reagan marry together to convey both a sense of struggle in it’s tougher moments, and whimsey when Scout and Aesop are drifting down stream stream with the sun on their faces and the wind at their backs.
Least it does when it works, unfortuantely there are a lot of sound glitches in the Flame in the Flood on the PS4, and though it doesn’t ruin the experience it does break the sense of adventure and immersion at times when everything goes quiet for not apprent reason and then suddenly the player is treated to a musical interlude.
The choice of track often feels random as well. Though admittedly it’s onw of the finest soundtracks i’ve heard for a game in a long time (It’s spent several months in my car prior to me even playing the game it’s from) when the music hits into a driving rythum while Scout is attempting to sneak away from a pack of Wolves while Reagan’s gravelly tones wail ” There’s nothing to fear, but fear itself”. It doesn’t half drag you out of the game.
The other area that drags you out of the game a little is the Directors Commentary cassettes scattered throughout the wildnerness, which are new to the Complete Edition. Though entertaining, when trying to survive the wilds players don’t have time to hang around and listen to anecdotes about the game’s development and influences when their player character is slowly starving to death. AS such it would have been nice to be able to listen to them out of the game instead of have them play as Scout wanders around.
Ultimately, these are minor quibbles. in what is otherwise a delightful and engaging slice of post apocalyptic Americana that is well worth your time and attention.