The Flame In The Flood

EDGE - - CONTENTS - De­vel­oper/pub­lisher The Mo­lasses Flood For­mat PC, Xbox One (ver­sion tested) Re­lease Out now

PC, Xbox One

Four wolves? That’s just not cricket. And we were only go­ing to grab a cou­ple of saplings to make a snare for the rab­bits at the next stop to stave off star­va­tion for a bit longer. It’s not as if our grum­bling stom­ach is our fault ei­ther. We’ve been sub­sist­ing off fruit and flora – sadly, it turns out high con­sump­tion of mul­ber­ries pro­duces lax­a­tive ef­fects – be­cause the rain keeps pre­vent­ing us from light­ing a camp­fire and cook­ing up a batch of ash cakes from the 17 stalks of corn we’re hoard­ing. Oh, well. Now we’ve got a cou­ple of lac­er­a­tions to dis­tract us from in­testi­nal dis­com­fort.

Mother Na­ture’s own RNG is stacked against you in this Rogue­like sur­vival game from Mas­sachusetts­based in­die The Mo­lasses Flood. As grimly un­for­giv­ing as the world is, it’s a hand­some kind of dystopia: a rich chunk of rus­tic Amer­i­cana, all rush­ing tor­rents and ram­shackle set­tle­ments painted with char­ac­ter­ful de­tail in sat­u­rated colour. As the re­source­ful Scout, you’re dragged down­stream on a rick­ety raft, pulling ashore onto small patches of land to search for the sup­plies that will, with luck, ex­tend your jour­ney.

Scout’s a stoic young woman, but she’s cursed with an ex­traor­di­nar­ily fast me­tab­o­lism, one that will have her gasp­ing for a meal min­utes af­ter she’s eaten a seared rab­bit or boar steak. You’ve also got to keep her hy­drated, while en­sur­ing her body tem­per­a­ture doesn’t drop too low and that she rests of­ten enough to pre­vent her per­ish­ing from sheer ex­haus­tion. She’s not so much a char­ac­ter as a se­ries of me­ters to anx­iously watch as they de­plete, and top up when­ever you’re able.

While sim­i­lar items can be stacked, your pack only has room for 12 slots, a pal­try num­ber that means you spend much of the early game shuf­fling things around in your in­ven­tory, tem­po­rar­ily stuff­ing the least cru­cial items in the pack of your dog, Ae­sop, and traips­ing back to the pier to dump more on the raft to free up more space. A new pouch would seem to be a pri­or­ity, then, but for that you’ll need two rab­bit hides and a stitch­ing kit made from a fish hook and a fish­ing line. The most ef­fi­cient way of catch­ing a rab­bit is a snare, crafted from two braided cords and two saplings – and for braided cords you’ll need to pick cat­tails. That’s a heck of a shop­ping list al­ready, and that’s as­sum­ing you don’t pick up an in­jury on the way. You’ll have plenty of rags, but with­out al­co­hol you can’t make a ban­dage, and that’s a rar­ity. Then again, it’s get­ting dark, and you’ll need that al­co­hol to make a torch to ward off wild beasts. Could we lure them into a spear trap? Ah, but that re­quires three more saplings and braided cords, and we’ve not seen ei­ther of those for the past half-mile.

The Flame In The Flood wants you to ponder this kind of dilemma: whether to suf­fer the de­bil­i­tat­ing ef­fects of an un­stitched wound, or to wrap up against the in­creas­ing chill by us­ing the same nee­dle and thread to make your­self a rab­bit-pelt hat. To fol­low a glug of un­fil­tered wa­ter with a peni­cillin chaser to treat the sub­se­quent stom­ach bug, or to spend valu­able time and re­sources find­ing room for a camp­fire to make a re­fresh­ing drink of dan­de­lion tea. In the­ory, sur­vival is about know­ing when to keep search­ing and when to move on, and steadily gain­ing an un­der­stand­ing of where your pri­or­i­ties should lie.

In ac­tu­al­ity, it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to make an in­formed choice, be­cause you’ve no idea what’s around the cor­ner. Why bother re­serv­ing valu­able stor­age space for po­ten­tial im­prove­ments to your raft when you might be three miles away from an­other ma­rina? Even on the lower of the game’s two dif­fi­culty set­tings, you’re rarely af­forded the op­por­tu­nity to for­mu­late a plan, be­cause you’re al­ways hav­ing to re­act to your cur­rent cir­cum­stances. You’ll pull up to a pier with a rough strat­egy, an idea of what you’re hop­ing to scav­enge and craft, and in­vari­ably leave with­out hav­ing achieved it – more of­ten than not, hav­ing picked up an ad­di­tional ail­ment dur­ing your visit. Care­less­ness will di­min­ish your chances of liv­ing to see an­other day, but there are pre­cious few ways to ac­tively im­prove the odds. Most of the time you’re left hop­ing for a lucky break, and those don’t come around too of­ten.

Sur­viv­ing isn’t sup­posed to be easy, of course. But there’s a line be­tween chal­leng­ing play­ers and screw­ing them over, and The Flame In The Flood reg­u­larly crosses it. Your for­tunes are con­sis­tently bound to the roll of an in­vis­i­ble die, though on the third oc­ca­sion your torch has been ex­tin­guished by a sud­den down­pour while sur­rounded by an­i­mals mean­ing to do you harm, you be­gin to sus­pect some­thing more sin­is­ter than un­for­tu­nate co­in­ci­dence. An ar­bi­trary re­stric­tion on build­ing a fire near a fish­ing shack – on what ap­peared to be a per­fectly ac­cept­able patch of open ground – cost us an hour of progress when we were sec­onds away from treat­ing a ven­omous bite. This came cour­tesy of a snake Ae­sop had failed to warn us about, pre­fer­ring in­stead to bark wildly at a piece of flint we’d just dropped. An­other hour was wasted on the sub­se­quent run as Scout was left in­ex­pli­ca­bly paral­ysed by a charg­ing boar, while a later glitch saw a check­point fail to trig­ger, send­ing us seven miles back up­stream.

Lack­ing the stark chills of The Long Dark and Don’t Starve’s mor­dant wit, The Flame In The Flood best cap­tures the cen­tral woman-ver­sus-na­ture con­flict when Scout is rid­ing down­river, wrench­ing her raft away from float­ing de­bris and rocky banks as the cur­rent tries to steer her into peril. The whoosh of the churn­ing rapids buf­fet­ing her un­wieldy craft pro­vides a sen­sory thrill that’s mostly ab­sent else­where. The hu­man in­stinct to carry on no mat­ter what should feel like a primal strug­gle; dy­ing while fid­dling in­side your in­ven­tory is a pretty piti­ful way to go.

Care­less­ness will di­min­ish your chances of liv­ing to see an­other day, but there are pre­cious few ways to im­prove the odds

STREAM­ING DIS­CON­TENT The Flame In The Flood be­gan as an end­less sur­vival game with per­madeath, though feed­back con­vinced The Mo­lasses Flood to de­velop a cam­paign mode with two dif­fi­culty set­tings. Sur­vival­ist gives you fewer re­sources and drains your stats quicker, while Trav­eler is marginally more gen­er­ous with sup­plies and fea­tures check­points – al­beit ones spread some dis­tance apart. There is, too, a story of sorts. You’ll spo­rad­i­cally en­counter other sur­vivors along the way, from a pair of feral kids to a cu­ri­ous old woman at a gas sta­tion. Given the lack of hu­man con­tact else­where, such en­coun­ters are ex­cit­ing at first, though their gnomic pro­nounce­ments in the ex­changes that fol­low hardly feel like suf­fi­cient re­ward for hav­ing dis­cov­ered them.

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