So i was browsing the PSN for something on the last day of the January sales and i picked up a few cheap under £10 games like the witness and crypt of the necrodancer, but in my recommended games was something new called "The Flame and the Flood". On first inspection it just said "roguelite survival with crafting" which made me roll my eyes till i did a quick twitter search about this title i had never heard of and saw nothing but praise for what was being called a "survival, southern gothic blend of psychonauts and the road" which got my attention pretty quick, so i put down the tenner and got the game -and a surprisingly nice dynamic theme that plays some True Detective style southern blues style music- and had a look.
What the game is is actually pretty simple. You play a young girl and her dog Aesop. You start at a run down old summer camp and from then on you sail down a procedurally generated river. you dodge debris, the upper floors of sunken towns and rusted out cars caught in the eddys and flows of this mighty river that is cutting through what appears to be a post apocalypse -or at least societal collapse- on a raft. There are no monsters bar wild animals, nothing supernatural or spooky. Its just a melancholy adventure where you scavenge to eat, drink, stay warm and rested to survive while upgrading your gear, raft and inventory size/tools to keep on top of things as you head down river to find the source of the last radio signal on the air.
It has an endless mode to challenge yourself to survive, a story mode with npcs -i met two feral children and a grave digging mad man myself- and a story mode with permadeath.
I went in expecting another dont starve but its very different. over 3 hours i sailed downstream, storms would rock my little raft and cause damage i hurried to get wood to repair, i had a bad streak where i ran into 3 wolves, fire ants and a large boar at a gas station by a river bend looking for flint and bandage material and finally i had two upgrades to my raft, increased my inventory twice and had 5 jars of drinking water, a suit of warm furs and enough food to last another week.
When i opened a rusted out car trunk and got bitten by a snake and got poisoned.
I ran back to my raft, found all the materials to make a dandelion tea to cure it. But it needed brewing and i was out of firewood. i searched the station and found nothing to make a tinder with, sailed down river to a church and found only a madman talking about 'burying the past and leaving it behind upstream' and again i sailed as the poison meter rose and the tension followed. I found the half sunken remains of a small suburb and a proper voice and all song right out of the spotify "southern gothic" playlist sang a melancholy tune as i searched for a campfire to kindle or the material for my own. Midnight hit and wolves started to prowl as i began to limp and finally died.
I made it 13 days and 7 miles downstream. Dead from a random snakebite.
I could go back to an early save knowing how much i lost but felt far better restarting like the permadeath mode deciding "this time i will always keep a dandelion tea!" with more ideas to balance myself instead of hoard everything. Which is a feeling i havent had from a survival game since the Beta of Minecraft when food was introduced. It just has something i notice most survival games don't: fairness.
Games like Don't Starve or more abstract survival games like Darkest Dungeon pride themselves on a difficulty bordering on the cruel side. You barely scrape by and can never feel like you are set as every next day is a hard struggle with no let up. It becomes a war of attrition with you fighting the designers as much as the team and for the first time in maybe half a decade i found something that reminded me why survival games can be excellent and its this little indie game i had never heard of and very much enjoy.
I don't often gush about games but early access first person trash had me write this genre off but this is a cheap little title i cannot recommend checking out enough.
*i know theres been an early access pc version for almost a year but i just hit PSN this month and on consoles there is very little like this so it stands out all the more and is worth pointing our to people.