The Flame in the Flood Review (PS4)

If there’s one thing The Flame in the Flood taught me, it’s that I wouldn’t last very long in a post-apocalyptic, over-saturated world. My first venture as Scout with the mighty canine Aesop by my side lasted a whopping five days before a boar ran into me numerous times. I had no supplies to cater to my injuries. There, on the dock just out of reach from the raft that could take me to potential sovereignty, I laid dying as Aesop looked on helpless. Fade to black.

The survival aspect of The Flame in the Flood is reminiscent of the Oregon Trail games I used to play on the old IBM Aptiva computers my elementary school used to have. Death by disease, death by wild animal, death by starvation, you name it–it’s all there and all too easy to fall victim. One time I died from Sepsis and had to go online to look up what it is. (It’s a really bad infection). When the boar got me, I had no way to defend myself. My stash was low and my ability to create arrows, traps, or poison had not yet been provided to me.

When I wasn’t traipsing around an island, I was drifting along the mighty current attempting to avoid floating cars, trees, and giant rocks that wanted nothing more than to demolish Scout’s humble raft. The river is swift, and from time to time intrepid rapids enforced the need for quick reflexes resulting in moments of held breath when the raft took a hit. Of the ten regions in the story mode, each has multiple islands that only increase anxiety when poor decisions and steering take Scout’s raft too far away from the dock to make landfall. With the constant need for food, water, and better gear, floating helplessly away from a missed island exploration leaves nothing but wonder about what could have been found. Maybe there was aloe or mold to make penicillin for my growing list of injuries. What about tinder? I have flint, but I need tinder for a fire. What about traps? I have a sapling, but I need rope. My inventory is full, but I don’t want to leave anything behind. Survival choices at their finest.

Ongoing worries of life and limb aside, there’s a constant sense of loneliness in The Flame in the Flood. As Scout and Aesop explore islands, the ever-blowing breeze rattles foliage that makes it feel so real. The quiet sound of bustling brush only amplifies the fact that there’s no one else around, yet you have no idea why. How did the world end up this way? Is there anyone else out there? How long can Scout go on? Really though, the last question is up to you and luck of the supply draw. While each island is known for specific amenities, like the river’s current, the ebb and flow of supplies and food cannot be counted on from one play to the next.

The yin to the islands’ yang is the river. The current slowly carries you from one region to another with episodes of rapids to help move things along and make your heart skip when something hits your raft. The soundtrack that guides the way fits in perfectly with the flow of the game, and feels–for better or for worse–like a river scene in Deliverance.  At night, the eery red eyes of woodland creatures play spy as you navigate the river. Not many things can induce fear and peace at the same time.

And that’s the biggest thing I got out of The Flame in the Flood. Depending on your mood during any given moment of gameplay it can feel calming and tranquil, or induce the “last-person-on-Earth” syndrome where every decision is constantly calculated. I’ve played with both mindsets, and that’s what’s great about this game. I can keep coming back again and again and feel like it’s a different trip each time, regardless if I make it three days or two weeks.

Scout’s journey is one that echoes most survival stories. The need to keep moving forward, never backwards. Gripping onto the hope and resolve of the human spirit when the waters rise, both literally and figuratively.

The art is one of the more aesthetically pleasing pieces to hit the market in the past year. The dark purple and blue hues at night breaking apart with the single shining light of Scout’s stick produce the sense of dread only nighttime can bring. Conversely, the bright colors of the day with the autumn-like leaves provide a feeling of warmth to fight agains the night’s cold. The use of deep colors helps bring this game to life and convey a solo survivor’s deepest feelings without a word being uttered.

The gameplay on the PS4 feels smooth. On occasion there’s a noticeable glitch, like when the docking cutscene magically transports Scout from the raft to the dock that normally involves Scout hopping onto the dock and tying off the raft. There were also numerous occasions of shooing away a crow that normally drops a feather to be used for an arrow, but the feather would land atop an object that Scout just simply couldn’t reach. There’s no jumping and no climbing. While I was free to explore whatever island I could dock on, each stop could be traversed with extremely quick turnaround time provided no wild animals decided to get in your way.

The camera angle took some getting used to, and I’m not an overly big fan of it. The angles are different enough to be unique, but often I found myself attempting to change it with the right joystick for a more simplistic view, which only did so temporarily. I’m the type of player that when I’m searching for supplies or food, I want to see certain angles that sometimes this game just would not allow. This also came into play when guiding the raft through tight spaces where depth perception was next to nil. Though as with most things, the more you play, the more comfortable with the mechanics you become.

The Flame in the Flood went from a 2014 Kickstarter campaign to a full-fledged indie darling two years later. Now available on consoles, more gamers can take a trip on Scout’s raft and put their survival skills to the test. Floods and flame, feast or famine.


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Reviewer’s note: The author of this review was provided a PS4 code for purposes of this review.

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Nick Hershey

The author Nick Hershey

Nick was born and raised in Amish country, has a beard, but isn't Amish. He's a fan of winter as long as he's at the top of a mountain with a board under his feet. He's an avid sports fan, movie junkie, tv bum, and music enthusiast who still purchases CDs for some reason.