Could The Flame in the Flood be the saddest game ever created?

Enjoying the river's pretty-looking misery.

NOW PLAYING

In Now Playing articles PC Gamer writers talk about the game currently dominating their spare time. Today, Samuel laments the threat of constant death in The Flame in the Flood. 

It’s day one of Scout’s journey up the river with her dog, Aesop, and she’s just been mauled to death by wolves in a forest after her raft got battered by rocks. I’m starting again.

While the colourful presentation of The Flame in the Flood and the presence of a dog suggest a warm journey across a flooded United States, it’s actually one of the cruellest survival games I’ve played. There is a campaign mode with a presumably happy ending at the other end of the river, but reaching it requires hours of horrible deaths. Scout can die of starvation, thirst, cold, drowning, excessive bleeding or being mauled by animals. And these are just the ones I know about. It’s as if The Road had loads of alternate endings, including one where Viggo Mortensen got battered to death by a bear for trying to craft penicillin. 

On my second run, I learn my lesson: avoid wolves. The Flame in the Flood is broken into islands, each with a different icon indicating what you’ll find there: shelter, a place to refuel and so on. My mistake was stopping at a wilderness icon. This is where you’ll usually find wild animals, which you can’t fight off unless you’ve crafted traps to keep them at bay. I try to stay out of their way.

Unfortunately this gives Scout parasites, and her hunger bar starts deteriorating quickly.

The first island is fine. I find edible flowers and corn, and sleep in the back of a school bus. I leave and drift down the river some more, stopping at a settlement where I gather some mulberries, which don’t satisfy much of Scout’s appetite but are better than nothing. Another island turns up a little way down the river, this time with rabbits scampering in and out of holes. Since I don’t have the parts to set traps, I sadly leave the bunnies to their natural habitat and continue searching the island. I’d have cooked their asses in a second if I had the chance. Me and Aesop could’ve had a feast. 

I find something called a mouldy lump in a crate. It doesn’t sound too appetising, but it does keep hunger at bay. I’m carrying three, it turns out, so I decide to eat all of them. Unfortunately, this gives Scout parasites, and her hunger bar starts deteriorating quickly. I get back on the boat and panic slightly. I stop at the next island in the hope of finding food, but I’ve made a fundamental error—this is another wilderness stop. Aesop barks to indicate he’s found some corn, and I get Scout to eat it quickly, but the parasites make her hungry again instantly. A hog suddenly jumps out and attacks, breaking one of Scout’s bones. I scramble back on the boat, and reach another settlement. There are some scraps of food here but it’s too late. Those parasites are fast. 

Rather than watch Scout slowly starve, I decide to let her sleep through her hunger in a small nearby house. She dies in the middle of nowhere with just her dog for company. Crikey hell, how bleak is that? Imagine this was a film about a girl and her dog, where she sails to four islands in search of life then dies from eating some mouldy food out of desperation. I’m surprised they don’t just go the whole hog (so to speak) and show Aesop munching on your rotting corpse because he’s starving too. 

I cheer myself up by eating a sandwich in real life, which is delicious. Could The Flame in the Flood be the saddest game ever? Back to Stardew Valley, I think, where the animals work for me rather than against me.