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The Flame in the Flood Review: River of Hope

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<i>The Flame in the Flood</i> Review: River of Hope

The most beautiful part of The Flame in the Flood is when you’re on the open water and rafting your way toward the future. The world of the game, a strange bleak southernist apocalypse space, has been overrun with water. One has to assume that it has destroyed everything in some kind of scenario that has changed the land permanently. One gets the sense that there is no going back. It’s a post-lapsarian fantasy of humanity sunk beneath waves where no waves should be, and the navigation of those waves is some of the most peaceful excitement in memory.

There should not be peace in this action. The player controls a raft that travels along what might be a river that’s swelled so far beyond its banks that you can’t even estimate where they might have been. The raft is made of barrels, tires and planks, so scraping land or running full-on into the supports of shattered overpass is bad for you. Each hit makes the model a little more ragged. There’s a meter that tells you exactly how close you are to drowning in floodwater muck, and you can get down to the smallest sliver, praying that you can make it to the next marina so you can spend some nuts and bolts to get a little bit of safety back into your life.

That’s what The Flame in the Flood is all about: safety. It’s about managing your life and the life of your dog, Aesop, a strange mutt with a backpack who rolls around the apocalypse barking at every damn thing he can get near.

The barks are helpful because they’re what help you stay alive. This game, like many in this Age of Videogames, is based around survival and crafting. It is hard to be a person of vague age trapped in the American wasteland. If you get wet, you need to get dry or you’ll suffer the consequences. If you get cut, you need to get bandaged. Thirsty? You need to drink. Hungry? Better generate some food quickly. You can also get cold, get gored by a hog, or get attacked by a wolf. And there’s always the beautiful death of being launched from your raft into the rushing waters that have taken over the landscape.

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All of these systems are managed in a way that is familiar to anyone who has dabbled in this newish genre. There are many items to be picked up in the world, and lots of them can be combined with one another to make things that you might need. Fishing hooks help you stay alive, as do snares for catching rabbits, and arrows help to stave off the boar that charges you. All of these items fit into a limited number of inventory slots that are carried by the player character, the dog Aesop, and the player’s raft. I found myself cycling items in and out of these different inventories incessantly in my attempts to have the right things in my pockets at the right time.

It wouldn’t be a problem if there wasn’t so much stuff. The sheer number of items in the game isn’t astounding or anything, but it certainly isn’t small. Corn turns into baked cakes. Hides turn into clothes. Stone knife leads to metal knife. From the moment you pick up that first item and look to the crafting menu, you can see that the world is laid out for you. There’s hope in it. Maybe you can craft enough items and upgrade your raft enough that the world might come back into some kind of order. There’s hope in item construction.

There’s also hope in the world down the river. The Flame in the Flood is, as far as I can tell, a procedurally generated space. There are different locations and location types that one can find along the banks of the river, and each one of them brings opportunity. Some, like a camp, will have a fire and some basic supplies. The church will have a shelter. The wilderness might have nothing at all. Every now and again you’ll find a person.

I found some feral children who told me that the world was forever changed and that things couldn’t go back to the way they were. They told me that things might get better if people stuck together and were good to one another. I got back on my raft and continued down the river after they gave me some arrows. There was a wolf on the other side of the map.

The Flame in the Flood gives us familiar territory. The world has gone back. There’s jangly southern-style music with heartfelt vocals. There’s crafting. But there’s real wonder in those moments when you’re just trying to get another mile down the river so that you can live a few more days. There’s something special about staying afloat in all of that ruin. The Flame in the Flood is a beacon, something golden, in a worn-down world.





Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman and writes about games at thiscageisworms.com. His latest game, Epanalepsis, was released on May 21. It’s available on Steam.