Dying often, and of everything, in The Flame in the Flood

Flame in the Flood

Update! Shortly after this post was published (like, an hour later), a patch for The Flame in the Flood was released. Among other things, it delays the spawning of wolves in new games (take that, wolves!), and makes the river initially less difficult to navigate.

I lasted almost two whole seconds in my first game of The Flame in The Flood before injuring myself. You begin the survival roguelite, which just entered Early Access, next to a campfire, and my first step was a bit too close to that fire. I got burned, as you might expect (though somehow I didn't expect it). It was an omen of things to come, because just about everything in The Flame in the Flood can hurt you.

Riding the rapids downstream is no picnic either. It's how you get around in the game, riding the river on your way to visit campsites and dilapidated buildings to gather supplies, craft gear, eat, drink, and rest. Even navigating a relatively peaceful stretch of river can be tough as you slide your raft between rocks and floating debris, and the rapids are far worse, as the changing camera angles makes it hard to spot threats and the increased speed makes it hard to react to them when you do spot them. The controls don't feel great: you steer by holding a mouse button and row by hitting the space bar, but there's no real precision, possibly to mirror what it'd be like actually steering a clunky raft down a swollen, roaring river. I crash a lot, in other words, which damages my raft and soaks me with water.

Before long I had a broken bone (from being rammed by a wild boar), a bacterial infection (from drinking tainted water after I ran out of filters), listeria (from I don't know what), a laceration (from a wolf attack) and a second burn (from another campfire I ran into while fleeing that wolf). Plus, I was drenched from falling off my raft. And, I was starving and dehydrated.

How did I finally die? I drowned, after my raft hit a rock and fell apart.

Flame in the Flood

On the plus side, at least that wolf didn't kill me. Many others have. Wolves (occasionally boars) can appear at your various stopping points along the river, and they usually do. There might be a wolf at the very first camp you visit, when you've had absolutely no time or gear to prepare for them. After several deaths while trying to evade wolves, and several escapes with severe injuries that hampered my progress, I came up with a new plan. If I docked my boat, and a wolf was there, I just left. Immediately. No searching, no sleeping, no eating or drinking, just leave and try the next stop along the river.

It works, in a way. I haven't been killed by wolves in a while! But it amounts to completely missing the chance to gather supplies, and with rapidly dwindling hunger, thirst, and fatigue meters, and the sheer danger of rafting voyages, you can't really avoid land for long. You've gotta stop. If there's a wolf there when you do (there probably will be), and your meters are so drained you have no choice but to stay, well, it was nice knowing you.

The only pinned post in the community discussions section of The Flame in the Flood on Steam is titled "Note from the designer on Difficulty." This is a great relief to me, because the Flame in the Flood does currently feel extremely punishing and, dare I say it, unfairly weighted toward killing you before you've had much of a chance to do anything. It can be hard for me to judge how difficult a game is—is this too hard or do I just suck at it?—but it sounds like it's a common issue among players, and it sounds like the developers are looking at making a few changes so the game isn't quite so discouraging right off the bat. I hope they do: it's lovely looking with a great soundtrack and a world I want to spend a lot more time in.

Flame in the Flood

It's not that I think the game's wolves should be easy to deal with. I'm a kid (in the game), often an injured, starving, dehydrated, and sick kid, and the wolf is a wolf. It makes sense that it's not an easy adversary. I'm also not saying safely traveling down a roaring river in a rickety boat should be easy. But I think it should be hard in a way that feels like I'm fighting the river, not fighting the shifting camera angles and sluggish controls.

Amid my horrible and sometimes discouraging deaths, I am having occasional enjoyable moments. One sunny day I paddled to a sprawling camp with no wolves or boars. I got to take my time exploring and gathering. I got to dry my clothes by the fire, and take a leisurely spin through my crafting options to decide what I wanted to make. I napped in a bus, I drank my filtered water, I baked some cake using corn I'd found. When I left that camp, everything was full: my health, my belly, my backpack, and my spirits.

I immediately crashed my boat, which exploded, so I drowned.

Flame in the Flood

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.