The wonder of the Nintendo Switch is that indies that might have become lost in the masses on Steam have a new lease of life. The Flame in the Flood is a charming rogue-lite survival game that completely passed me by when it was released on PC last year, but it has performed extremely well since releasing on the Switch last week.
I’ve been playing it exclusively in handheld mode, and it works really well in this way, it is easy to pick up and play for short stretches of time as you float down the flooded river that lies at the heart of the game. You might just have time to float to the next stop on your journey for a spot of exploration, or you can just as easily while away a few hours at a time, relaxing to the soundtrack created by country/folk artist Chuck Ragan. The Flame in the Flood just works so well on the Switch, it really is a perfect match.
This is a survival game after all, so how much time you have for relaxing is debateable. You take charge of Scout and her faithful canine companion, Aesop. Starting in an abandoned camping spot with a simple goal – survive the perils of the flooded river to find high ground where you can try to get your old radio working. There are some scattered supplies here to collect, before you set off on your raft down river. As you float away you will pass ruined parts of flooded Americana – yellow school buses hanging off bridges, houses floating down river, abandoned buildings and shopping trolleys. Combined with the soundtrack and ambient music, the sense of place is strong.
Navigating the river is an adventure of its own. Each playthrough offers a different twist on the river, with its mix of islands and debris, with rapids that can throw you makeshift raft around like a ragdoll. You’ve got to take care of you raft, if you take too much damage it will be game over as you drown in the flood. Weighing up the risks and rewards of navigating around the route, deciding whether it is worth the danger to try and get across to the next campsite or repair dock.
Thanks to the rogue-lite nature of the game, the river is ever changing from one playthrough to another. One adventure might see you come through a welcome, calm passage of river with plenty of locations to easily stop off at. Others will throw rapids at you in regular fashion, with stopping off points sparse, and on opposite banks of the river.
The locations you stop off at are where things get interesting. Campsites, forests, farms, there’s something of everything, each of which has its own traits while some will have a resident you can talk to for some goodies. As you land, you see a message telling you the place name and what type of items you might be able to find. You are always on the lookout for food, water and the tools to build a campfire so you can cook, keep warm and sleep. You won’t last long in The Flame in the Flood if you can’t meet Scout’s basic requirements, and the tension rises when you pass through several locations, finding plenty of items to build fires or warmer cloths…but no food.
With the right mix of items you can create traps, small ones can be used to catch rabbits, simply place it next to their holes and take a quick nap. The wildlife isn’t always as quick to run away from you as rabbits are. You might come across a solitary boar, but it can charge hard and fast, quickly causing lacerations or broken bones. Wolves hunt in packs, while snakes will lurk around you, ready to pounce if you step too close.
Patching up your wounds can be essential. If you don’t have a splint to repair a broken bone, you aren’t going to die, but will end up with a permanent limp. A simple laceration though? Without some bandages it will rapidly get worse, leading to infections and ultimately sepsis with death coming soon after unless you have the drugs you require.
Fortunately, your canine friend Aesop is on hand to offer some support barking out when he finds supplies for you to scavenge, and offers moral support when he curls up with you at a campfire to sleep. While wandering in settlements or camp sites, you are limited to twelve inventory spots in your backpack along with Aesop’s extra six. However, while standing on the docking platform you get another twelve slots on your raft. When exploring the world, you will find many bits and pieces that you might not be craft anything with straight away, but you know that one day they will come in handy. Managing your inventory between what you need in the moment, and what you are saving for later, is crucial to ensuring you can survive your journey down river.
Of course, there are a handful of different game modes to suit your survivalist tendencies. You can play the campaign (where you try to get the radio working) as a Traveller where you can reload from checkpoints as you enter new areas of the river or on Survivalist where death is permanent, supplies are few and far between and your hunger, hydration, warmth and energy will fall at a faster rate. You can also take to an Endless Game and journey the river to your hearts content.
It really is a delightful game, one where you learn from your mistakes and go on to make further progress on your next playthrough. Whether I will ever manage to get that radio working is another question entirely, but I’m more than happy to pick up my Switch and give The Flame in the Flood a quick whirl most evenings.
The Verdict – Headshot
Platforms Availble – Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Platform Reviewed – Switch
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