By Tommy Robbins. This is LOAD FILE, where man will never tame the river wild. This week, Tommy reviews ‘The Flame in the Flood’ on the PlayStation 4, developed by The Molasses Flood.
The Flame in the Flood is the first project from hodgepodge indie studio The Molasses Flood, AAA developers (Irrational, Harmonix, Bungie) turned indie. With their latest survival game (released early last year, made available for the PlayStation 4 in early January 2017) they’ve crafted a unique and stylish survival adventure title that easily distinguishes itself from the sea of similar titles in the genre with its one-of-a kind stylistic choices. Unfortunately, while the good found here is really good, The Flame in the Flood suffers from a design revolving around two separate halves — both work towards their own intended purposes, but as a whole? They simply fail to complement each other.
Let’s assess The Flame in the Flood.
ALL I WANT IS TO CURE THIS LANDSICK MESSIN’ ME
The Flame in the Flood tells a story (or doesn’t, really) of Scout, a wanderer trying to survive the harsh landscape of post-civilization America, and her dog, Aesop (yep, Aesop). Together they forge the rivers of the flood, or what we are left to assume is the outcome of years of flooding.
Relying heavily on art of both the visual and audible variety, The Flame in the Flood doesn’t give the players much in the way of story building. Instead it encourages the player to immerse themselves into the sound mechanics contained within The Molasses Flood’s dark and seductive interpretation of the wilderness. Without any narrative friction that could have come from exposition or set-up, The Molasses Flood lures players into their moody world.
Let’s talk for a moment about the game’s visuals and audio. This is where it feels a majority of the attention fell when developing The Flame in the Flood. The world’s landscapes and character models are incredibly seductive. Dark color palettes and distinctive illustrative techniques coalesce into one of the more memorable visual styles of recent games I’ve experienced.
This enticing visual motif is complimented by a soundtrack full of hell-raising whiskey-country. Calling upon the musical stylings of indie punk-country artist Chuck Ragan, The Flame in the Flood’s visual successes are bolstered by bellowing vocal tracks accompanied by acoustic guitar and lap steel. When art and music collide, it produces the best moments contained within The Flame in the Flood.
All this is great. The stylistic choices are impactful and serve the player well as they drift towards the mechanical systems contained within The Flame in the Flood. And as the player is lulled into an aesthetically-appeased complacency, some of the more lackluster development choices begin to rear their ugly heads.
I LOST MYSELF IN CURRENT
Unfortunately for The Flame in the Flood, our romance with its style ends all too soon.
One segment consists of rafting down an procedurally generated river, avoiding obstacles (and potential raft damage) all the while scanning ahead for the next dock. Once docked, the next portion is initiated. Here, you leave the raft to forage, explore, and hopefully find your means to survive. The issue here is that success on one front does not equate to success on the other, leaving prosperity to be undone should something go wrong on the opposing front. This balance makes sense in theory but fails in practice.
As Scout and Aesop coast down stream, a small world of possibilities open around every bend. Raging river currents and jagged rocks threaten the safety of the raft as you search for the next landing, each with its own potential food, water, and oh-so-coveted crafting supplies. The currents though can be vastly unforgiving, easily forcing the player to wreck, or worse, miss those locations desperately needed for survival and raft improvement.
Survival, on the other hand, is surprisingly simple and accessible. Crafting menus, typically cumbersome and confusing in survival titles, are easily managed. Exploring the wilderness and discovering supplies is rewarding, if not a little heavy on the inventory management. For the large part, The Molasses Flood have made an appealing survival game in these segments. The downfall being that the exploration areas are quite small and thus push you back into the not-so-fun rafting segments.
The clash in the two halves of The Flame in the Flood is, at its best, frustrating, and at its worst, game ending. Building up raft parts only to then be swept past a mechanical station in the unmanageable rapids (where upgrades are implemented) is just one example of my frustration with The Flame in the Flood. On the “I’M DONE” side of that coin, the same upgrade preparations are made but instead of missing the opportunity to dock at a mechanical station, the opportunity is utterly stolen away when an unforgiving current comes up to smash the raft into jagged rocks, sinking it, and ending the game session.
No stranger to the unforgiving nature of survival games, I was never able to get over how unfair this felt. Realizing I needed to upgrade the raft, preparing the materials to do so, and setting out to find an upgrade station only to have my game abruptly end was a terrible, unfortunate, rage-quit inducing moment. And it wasn’t a one-time occurrence (even on the game’s easiest setting).
ALL I NEED, MOVING WATER TO SET ME FREE
The Molasses Flood have produced a successful debut with The Flame in the Flood, though that statement doesn’t come without a caveat. Their accomplishments in the realm of creative design choices shine through in a finished product that captivates, but style is stretched to its breaking point when it’s spread across too much gameplay that doesn’t feel fully realized. Far from perfect but still capable of eliciting feelings, The Flame in the Flood is easily recommendable, but it is most certainly far from a must play. Strictly for those with more free time than others.
Developed by The Molasses Flood.
Published by The Molasses Flood.
Composed by Chuck Ragan.
Platform(s): Microsoft Windows, OS X, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
6 out of 10