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The Flame in The Flood: Complete Edition (Switch) artwork

The Flame in The Flood: Complete Edition (Switch) review

"The Flame in the Flood is fresh, brutal, beautiful and awkward. You should probably play it."

Like many of the more interesting Switch games to arrive during these early days in the hardware's life cycle, The Flame in the Flood made previous appearances on a few other platforms. I wanted to play it for years, ever since it was originally announced as a Kickstarter project for PC, but I didn't finally get around to it until just this month. While I was procrastinating, the development team produced a "complete" version, which is the one you can now find on the eShop.

The Flame in the Flood places players in control of a hero named Scout, who with the assistance of a dog named Aesop will navigate a post-apocalyptic wasteland somewhere in the southern United States of the future. It is a survival game, one where every mistake comes back to haunt you almost immediately. You'll brave harsh weather, lethal wildlife, raging rapids and even less obviously fearsome hazards such as hunger and thirst. Together, those elements ensure that you'll spend a lot of time dying as you learn the ropes and try to survive long enough to see just a little bit more of a beautiful world that obviously wants very much to kill you. That's the game's key selling point, and it works like a charm.

The Flame in The Flood: Complete Edition (Switch) image

The adventure commences in a relatively mild environment: a deserted camp. Weeds and saplings grow around the remnants of a once bright and cheerful settlement. You can run around the introductory area with little fear of premature death, which is very nearly the last time that will ever be true. Ravens squawk at you from their perches on overhead limbs, and you are free to either ignore them or scare them away by shaking your staff menacingly. They might even drop feathers as a reward for your heroism. Meanwhile, Aesop runs around and barks as he finds new points of interest (i.e. materials you can use to craft tools and accessories that increase your chances of survival in the wilderness, if only by the tiniest bit).

Before long, you must leave the camp. That's when you board a raft and start drifting down the river. Colliding with structures or floating debris--small buildings, cars, and piles of boards and brambles--inflicts damage to your fragile vessel. You can repair and eventually upgrade it at marinas if you find lumber, bolts and parts, but you're better off growing accustomed to maneuvering the raft through the river's treacherous bends and rapids. Otherwise, the game will happily let your character and accompanying pooch sink to a watery grave.

The Flame in The Flood: Complete Edition (Switch) image

Progression quickly settles into a routine, albeit a somewhat unpredictable one: you drift down a segment of river, until finally you find a settlement and disembark to explore it. Then you leave in search of the chance to do it all again.

Your aim is always to find supplies, but you'll more often stumble across a roaming boar or attract a group of scrawny wolves that blend in with their surroundings until you're well and truly cornered. Of course you can shake your staff at them, but they don't fly away like the ravens did. Instead, they leap at you with claws extended and fangs bared. A few hits will kill you, and there's not usually enough time to deploy a spear trap... if you even have one in your inventory. Those hungry wolves are every bit as dangerous as you might expect, but even the boars you sometimes startle are surprisingly lethal. They charge angrily around the islands and knock you on your butt (breaking a bone or two in the process, of course) so you don't have time to gather supplies from chests or abandoned buildings.

Nearly every island you visit, marinas aside, holds untold danger. The environments are a pleasure to explore when the wildlife leaves you alone, but that seldom happens. Usually, you're stuck watching every shadow as it dances across rocky cliffs or blends into nocturnal gloom while torrents of rain drive you toward shelter. You must pay attention at all times, not just to the numerous visual cues, but to audio that might provide just enough warning to help you avoid a currently unseen threat.

The Flame in The Flood: Complete Edition (Switch) image

I enjoyed many of the game's survival elements, which reminded me of the old Lost in Blue titles, but even the "traveler" difficulty setting is excessively punishing. That's a problem, because it sometimes turns survival and exploration into tedious chores. Your inventory isn't nearly large enough, for one thing (at least, not until you upgrade your pouch), so you must spend a lot of time wading through menus to craft or discard items or even just move them around. The timers that affect your appetite, thirst and stamina don't bother pausing while you fight with the interface, so unhelpful urgency accompanies everything you do. Then if you do perish and are taken back to the title screen or the last checkpoint you reached, you get to go through those familiar motions all over again. It sometimes feels like work without the paycheck.

Another issue is that certain resources are incredibly rare. The rate at which they are doled out also is random and rarely works in your favor. Through no fault of your own, you could find yourself without the resources necessary to build a snare for the rabbits you need to catch, kill, skin and eat. And along those lines, the raw meat you spend so much time gathering poses new problems of its own. It might spoil before you're ready to scarf it down, or it could just make you sick. Turning the meat into jerky is a good fix, but you may or may not stumble across the requisite salt.

The Flame in The Flood: Complete Edition (Switch) image

The game progresses in ways that may surprise you, and the developers don't hold your hand any more than necessary. Their restraint is easy to appreciate on the one hand, but it also means you could spend a few hours happily gathering supplies to endure the harsher environments you'll encounter later in the campaign, and to sate your appetite, only to find out that you didn't experiment enough with crafting and now have no way to produce the clothing you'll need to equip in order to avoid dying of hypothermia. That's just one example. I'll let you discover others on your own.

As I noted at the start of this review, The Flame in the Flood on the Nintendo Switch is the "complete" version. I haven't played the original, so I don't know what all was added, but it does seem that at least one cool feature is new to this edition: developer commentary. As you explore the game's world, either in the campaign or in the even harsher "endless" mode, you'll come across audio tapes (if you first enable that content from the starting menu). You can press and hold the A button for a while to make one play as you continue your journey. Various development team members offer interesting insight into the game's design and sometimes even make comments that could teach you how to play it a bit better. I definitely recommend giving at least a few of the audio segments a listen.

I complained a lot about certain aspects of The Flame in the Flood throughout this review, but I really do recommend that you play the game in spite of those concerns. It offers the sort of fresh and engaging experience that comes along only once in a great while. Though it's too harsh for its own good (even for a survival game), and although you'll probably get sick of diving through menus, the fantastic art design and rewarding progression should keep you coming back. You'll likely spend way more time exploring the treacherous islands than you ever imagined you would. And you'll be driven constantly onward by the realization that something new and exciting could lurk just beyond the next river bend. Can you really live with yourself if you don't find out what it is?


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Staff review by Jason Venter (October 25, 2017)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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