The Flame in the Flood

For this indie game, sal­va­tion lies at end of the river

XBox: The Official Magazine - - PREVIEW -

Once as thin on the ground as crops in the wake of a nu­clear blast, sur­vival sim­u­la­tions are now all the rage. The Flame in the Flood hinges on many of the same ideas as popular com­peti­tors, like Don’t Starve or State of De­cay: fast- de­plet­ing char­ac­ter re­source bars, a fear­some depth of item cre­ation sys­tems and wounds that may kill even if you man­age to emerge from a scrap vic­to­ri­ous. Fun times to be a gamer, eh?

It’s got some­thing all those other games don’t, how­ever – a river. Or rather, the river – a treach­er­ous jug­ger­naut of a wa­ter­course that sym­bol­ises all rivers, pieced to­gether from lit­er­ary mytholo­gies that range from T.S. Eliot’s The Dry Sal­vages to Joseph Con­rad’s Heart of Dark­ness. The game’s pro­tag­o­nist, Scout, must ride the waves aboard a makeshift raft to es­cape an im­pend­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter. As she be­gins each playthroug­h, she’s equipped with lit­tle more than a steer­ing pole and ac­com­pa­nied only by her dog, Ae­sop, who serves as a sort of me­chan­i­cal metaphor for the af­ter­life: die, and any items you’ve stored in the bags strapped to him will be there when you start afresh. Ae­sop will also guide Scout to­wards ob­jects of in­ter­est as you comb is­lands for food and potable wa­ter. Shame he’s not much use in a fight.

“An ini­tial seed for the game was to make some­thing about sur­vival, but to change up the stan­dard ap­proach a bit by mak­ing it about a jour­ney, rather than es­tab­lish­ing a base,” ex­plains Mo­lasses Flood CEO Forrest Dowl­ing, a vet­eran of BioShock In­fi­nite. “As we started think­ing about the forms a jour­ney could take, we fell in love with the idea of the river.” It isn’t an en­tirely ran­dom cre­ation, but born of “an ap­proach we’re call­ing hand-au­thored pro­ce­dural, in that we’re hand-build­ing tons of com­po­nents, and as you play the en­gine fig­ures out how to fit them to­gether in a log­i­cal man­ner”. Cer­tain kinds of is­land and cer­tain rough lay­outs of haz­ards may re­cur – you won’t en­counter wolves un­til you’re a rea­son­able dis­tance down­stream, for ex­am­ple. Usu­ally.

As ever with sur­vival sims, ope­nend­ed­ness is the spice that livens up the game’s un­re­lent­ing bleak­ness. One player might get lucky, stum­bling on a cache of beef jerky and a place to sleep. An­other might con­tract hy­pother­mia af­ter fall­ing off her raft, and ex­pire half-an-hour later at a trad­ing post be­cause she doesn’t have any­thing to barter for medicine. What­ever the out­come, you’ll walk away with a story to pass around at the camp­fire – and, Dowl­ing hopes, a re­newed if slightly sui­ci­dal ea­ger­ness to find out just where the river might take you next. “Our big­gest chal­lenge isn’t re­ally es­tab­lish­ing the va­ri­ety,” he ob­serves. “It’s mak­ing sure that the game never sets you down a path that can’t be com­pleted.” Ed­win Evans-Thirl­well

// The river is a treach­er­ous jug­ger­naut of a wa­ter­course//

You don’t need to visit all is­lands. It’s a po­ten­tial waste of time and en­ergy.

Scout’s raft can be up­graded to bet­ter en­dure rough stretches of river, such as rapids. She’s no fighter though, so best run from those wolves.

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