If The Walking Dead: Season Two left left you hungry for more flannel-y, folky adventure, it might be time to go ahead and grab your chukkas and refill your granola supply.
‘Oh no, not another roguelike,’ you, the typical gamer, might think. Don’t worry, though. The Flame in the Flood isn’t an ordinary roguelike; this might be the world’s first “downriver” roguelike.
The game is centered around a young girl and her dog who must navigate a randomly-generated river while managing to survive the harsh wilds of the post-apocalypse. The main character is equipped with a stick that can be used for a variety of things, such as scaring off predators. Your dog will scamper around the map, alerting you to the scavengeable resources that dot the area.
The treacherous river provides the player with access to an on-going selection of small maps, which are navigated on-foot. Every location is one of a few different types. You can wind up at a farmstead where edible crops are plentiful. Or, you can explore a wilderness area and hunt animals for meat and skins.
In the roguelike tradition, this game is tough; you’re going to die a lot. In my experiences with the game’s ‘endless’ mode (there will be a fully-fledged campaign mode in the final release), I managed to die from starvation, exhaustion, wolf attack, boar attack, parasites, snake bites, and probably more. Sometimes even all at once. It’s pretty much a good simulation of how my last days would play out in the real-life wilderness.
Travelling down the river on your raft isn’t simple. You will frequently encounter obstacles, which can be compounded when you are thrust down the river on rapids. If you collide with too many obstacles, you’ll have to use your scarce time to repair your raft.
There’s a lot to manage in this game. There are four stats that allow you to gauge the protagonist’s relative health: hunger, thirst, body temperature, and fatigue. Hunger and thirst diminish over time and must be replenished. There’s a lot of different edible things that the protagonist can consume. Be careful, though – plenty of food is unsafe. For example, polluted water or raw meat will give you intestinal parasites. Body temperature diminishes whenever the character is exposed to the cold, and fatigue diminishes over time, too. When the character is getting tired, it’s up to you to find a shelter to sleep in, at the expense of waking up a little bit hungrier and a little bit thirstier.
There’s a lot of environmental hazards, as well; in addition to the aforementioned boars and wolves, at the time of playing, the developers have recently added bears and snakes to the mix. When you’re not worrying about the wolves, you’re going to be keeping an eye out for other obstacles like poison ivy and sharp brambles.
The Flame in the Flood also features a crafting system. The materials you gather can be used to create helpful tools, such as a knife or a rabbit trap. Gathering materials and crafting new items is key to survival and progress, so you’re going to want to pay attention to it. Your items are kept in your typical inventory bag, but can also be stored in your dog, Aesop’s, bag. Items stored in this section persist through death, so choose wisely.
The game’s aesthetic incorporates a lot of folk-art qualities, seemingly inspired from rural Americana. It’s also pretty cartoony looking – think Psychonauts era. You will frequently find yourself foot-deep in bayou water gathering cattails, or seeking refuge in an old-time church at the riverside. The developers have even commissioned an alt-country soundtrack by musician Chuck Ragan. In my experience, the soundtrack was mostly instrumental country/folk, with the rare appearance of a fully vocalized track.
With the proliferation of roguelikes floating around out there on Steam, The Flame in the Flood is sure to have a lot of competition. Will its Southern Gothic veneer and its unique river-rafting angle elevate it above its peers? We’ll just have to see. In the meantime…
BRB, y’all – gotta go grab my hiking backpack.
The Flame in the Flood releases on February 24, 2016 for Steam and Xbox One.