Eleven days. That’s how long I could survive on my own. Well, I wasn’t completely alone. The dog had proven loyal and helpful. He was a walking backpack and alarm system. But he was no match for the pack of wolves I ran into when night fell just outside a ruined church. Eleven days.
The Flame in the Flood is an intriguingly named survival-crafting game. Several ex-BioShock developers formed an indie team and ran a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2014 (which I backed). Now you can play the fruits of their labor right now via Steam Early Access, with the official release coming February 24.
The only mode available in Early Access is an Endless Campaign. It’s literally impossible to win – just try and survive as long as you can. Meanwhile the natural killers of hunger, thirst, and exposure are always just a step behind you.
You play as Scout, a young woman living in a post-apocalyptic America. Post-apocalyptic usually conjures up images of ruined cities and nuclear zombies. Here we see a far more unique and interesting setting of rural America in the South. Nature is as vibrant and alive as ever. It’s the key to your survival and the cause of your numerous deaths.
At the beginning you have very little supplies. You do have two helpful allies—a dog named Aesop, and a raft. The dog acts as a second inventory space, as well as calling out useful materials you might miss—and growling warnings when he spots wolves or boars.
The raft is necessary for traversing the world, marked by one big river. You manually control the raft around debris and through rapids. Numerous stops along the way are available for foraging, crafting, and shelter. Since the river never stops flowing it’s impossible to visit all the stops, and they’re randomly generated in every game.
Wilderness zones provide cattails and saplings for ropes and snares to catch wild rabbits. You can benefit from a warm fire at a campsite, and avoid eating raw meat. Ruined cars contain valuable parts to fix and later upgrade your raft, while a demolished bus can provide shelter during a violent thunderstorm.
I particularly appreciated the realistic approach to survival, as if straight out of a Boy Scout’s handbook or survival guide. Look out for Poison Ivy. Use aloe to soothe wounds. Stitch new clothes together using animal hide and fishing line. Filter water using charcoal. Even the various maladies that afflict Scout are mundane yet terrifyingly realistic, such as simple cuts leading to infection if untreated.
Death can come quickly and often. Scout is not a super-warrior or a gun-toting badass, and Aesop does little more than growl. Scout is armed with a stick that can scare off the occasional predator. Sometimes you can rely on clever traps or tactics. Combing meat with the poisonous Devil’s Trumpet plant can distract and kill a wolf. Just don’t try it with a whole pack.
Thankfully the art direction does not mimic the gameplay’s realistic take on survival. The Flame in the Flood invokes a strikingly saturated art style that keeps the world looking fresh and interesting, despite numerous repeating zones and areas. Night takes on a sinister and dangerous tone, as it should. Thunderstorms also represent a constant terror. They make water travel more difficult, and Scout can quickly become wet and sick without a fire or warm clothes. But rain provides fresh water if you have an empty jar.
The Flame in the Flood also sports a fantastic musical score. Chuck Ragan’s alt-country modern folk music is emotionally stirring and fits incredibly well with the themes of survival, nature, and the ever-present river. The first time you get on the raft and the swelling theme song plays is a wonderful moment that sets the tone throughout the entire game.
Playing the Early Access version I did experience the occasional glitches and a game-crashing bug that seemed to occur every time I tried to enter a new zone while dying of starvation. To be fair, I wasn’t going to last much longer anyway. I also couldn’t get the in-game quest system to work at all, despite fulfilling the tasks it listed.
Otherwise everything ran smoothly, and the difficulty seemed very well-balanced. Early game is rough as you simply try to gather food and water. Once you have a decent supply stocked up, the game starts introducing more difficult tasks, mostly in the form of bigger and more powerful predators. Avoid the bears!
The concept of a nature survival-crafting game with permadeath is well executed. The art and music infuse plenty of memorable personality, and the random nature of the river helps make each run unique and interesting. The full campaign will become available when the full game launches on February 24. The Flame in the Flood is shaping up to be an incredible story of survival.