The Flame In The Flood
PC, Xbox One
We’re hungry, sodden and deathly cold. The reason for most of that misery is that we fell from our raft while negotiating a particularly tricky section of rapids just minutes ago. After clambering back on board our rickety vessel, we managed to force it through the argumentative currents to an island. Now we approach the entrance of an abandoned church, hoping to stabilise our body temperature until we can search for firewood in the morning. But, suddenly, we have bigger problems: just feet from relative safety, a wolf leaps into our path, head down, and begins moving purposefully towards us.
It’s early days for hardship-strewn ramble The Flame In The Flood, but it’s already a powerful, melancholic entry in the survival genre. Contemporaries such as Don’t Starve might serve up plenty of adversity, but there’s little sense of a grand adventure. Here, as you work your way through the backwaters of a “post-societal” America with only a lamp and your dog, Aesop, for company, survival becomes less an abstract goal and more a requirement to see what comes next.
“There’s a lot of games out there about survival, but we really wanted to focus on the idea of travelling,” says Forrest Dowling, CEO and founder of Massachusetts-based studio The Molasses Flood, “going on a journey and presenting it in a way that has very much grown out of the personal art style of the art director I’m working with.”
That man is Scott Sinclair, former BioShock art director, and his distinctive visual style has the look of a dark, angular fairytale. Dowling was also at Irrational, leading level design on BioShock Infinite, and the rest of the studio is made up of alums from outfits such as Harmonix and Bungie. The Molasses Flood might be a small team, but it collects together heavyweight talent.
As you make your way down the river, itself procedurally generated, you’ll encounter various islands that might offer opportunities for shelter, food or items. You can choose to land and explore, or simply barrel as far down the waterway as your aching belly will allow. “The way we’re all approaching random generation is that there’s lots of different sorts of things that could appear at any given time, but it’s not like we’re planting a little math seed and the tree grows from it or anything like that,” Dowling explains. “We’re trying to straddle the line between procedural generation [and] still creating a world that feels authored. That’s one of our big goals.” Those random shores also promise encounters with other survivors. They’ll deliver the narrative through conversation, but might also offer you useful items such as clean water or rare components. One of the characters you could meet is called Magnolia, who resides in a garage and can provide useful information or a trinket, assuming your conversation with her goes down the right path. You might get nothing at all, though.
One tool you’ll keep with you throughout is your lantern, which swings precariously on your raft as you’re battered by squalls and waves. It’ll light the way if you find yourself exploring an island by night, but also serves as a means to scare off wolves. They’re persistent critters, but it’s easy enough to manage one while still going about your business. Find yourself outnumbered, however, and things will quickly turn ugly.
Faced with threats of this nature, Aesop’s heroic barking will achieve little, but he’ll still help you stay alive in other ways. As well as keeping you company, he’ll also bound over to points of interest that you might have missed and sniff out useful items. “We’re still thinking about different ways to use him and the different things that he can do,” Dowling says, “but we want to continue moving in the direction that he’s a source of information in the world. Maybe he can help actually find inventory stuff in the world that you can’t see on your own and bring it to you. I think that would be really cool.”
Lead designer Forrest Dowling previously worked on BioShock Infinite, Homefront’s multiplayer, and Frontlines:Fuel OfWar