Review by Katie Tarrant
Edited by Sam Hughes
Developer: The Molasses Flood
Composer: Chuck Ragan
Sound Designer: Pat Balthrop
Reviewed on: PC
Survival games are something many of us know and love. With more being released every year, there’s a growing pressure for developers to find new ways of reworking the survival concept in order to stand out from the crowd. Then came along The Flame in the Flood. Named after the tragic Boston disaster, indie developers The Molasses Flood are responsible for this quirky survival creation, based on the very disaster the company’s name originates from.
The Flame in the Flood centres around a girl and her trusted canine companion, as they navigate America’s flooded waters and fight for survival by foraging, crafting and fending off enemies. Naturally, the difficulty increases as the story progresses and what starts off as a game of pleasant exploration soon requires forward-thinking and strategy.
Being set around a flood, the bulk of your travel depends on sailing via your rickety handmade raft, which you can guide downriver to small docking locations. Each location bears different resources, enemies and facilities, although the varying tides of the river means you can’t always guarantee reaching the locations you need. The majority of the game’s score is heard during the sailing gameplay, sporting a beautiful country vibe crafted by renowned singer-songwriter Chuck Ragan. Each track Chuck has written for the game compliments the atmosphere perfectly and he has nailed the sensations of travel and exploration.
Often when you dock your raft, the music fades and you are left with silence so you can concentrate on your surroundings. The aural divide between the game’s two states is a great example of how silence can sometimes be the better option. The absence of music really created a parallel that emphasised my feeling of being safer on the raft than I was on land. However, the main benefit was to enable the player to focus on the sound design which frequently dropped vital clues, such as the snort of a nearby boar, to aid your exploration and ultimately stay safe.
As well as the standalone tracks, The Flame in the Flood exhibits a great relationship between the music and sound design, with unique touches like the four softly strummed guitar chords that are integrated with the player’s inventory navigation. Crafting and using certain items will trigger these chords to play and ring out before they loop again once the progression is completed. Despite being built out of only four chords, it never becomes repetitive and makes for a unique take on the traditional ‘flick’ or ‘click’ navigational sounds.
The game features a unique art style so I was curious to see whether that would affect the choices that were made for the audio. As aforementioned, my favourite thing about The Flame in the Flood has been experiencing how sound designer Pat Balthrop has crafted the sound for each game state. Exploration on land is often a very solitary affair and that is reflected in the soundscape, whilst being on water is a much more active affair. Despite this, Pat has ensured the sound design is beautifully adaptable, with the quieter moments still sounding rich, whilst the heavier sections are still well-balanced in the mix.
The sound design operates not only as a source of feedback but as a strong supporting mechanism for the player’s experience. Your awareness of any surrounding enemies is enhanced by the hisses and growls that warn you of their presence. The familiar crack of thunder that sounds before a storm is also a valuable pre-warning to run for shelter. Your canine companion, Aesop, becomes your forage finder when he barks beside anything that you are able to search or pick up. Plus, the transitions between a gushing current and a gentle trickle are also sonic guides for when you are sailing over faster and more dangerous tides. All of these elements collated to form a soundscape that became an essential part of guiding my path through the game.
Overall the audio caters fantastically to the game as well as the player. My minor criticisms were the crash of when your raft strikes surrounding land or obstacles was at a level and frequency that I found grating, but at least it helped deter me from being sloppy with my steering! Moreover, there were a few moments when the integration felt a little unstable. The crossover between sounds for the faster and slower currents was quite sudden, drastically blooming from a tiny trickle to the huge crash of waves. It would have felt more realistic to hear a combination of water sounds that alternated in intensity when crossing the faster waters, as opposed to two set sounds transitioning between one another.
In summary, I have found myself effortlessly loving each moment of this game. The story plunges you in at the deep end and offers no tutorial nor much on-screen instruction. Whilst this left me a little lost to start with, I thought it was a nice touch. It reinforced the isolated survival experience seeing as you wouldn’t have any ‘helpful hints’ in real life. I soon found my feet and my survival skills are honed enough that I’m no longer working my way through all of the death cut scenes. The Molasses Flood have created a true work of art. Even with no dialogue, the characters are still memorable and unique in their own way and I rapidly developed an attachment for my little explorer and her pup. Chad LaClair’s art style is beyond words and, amongst the mass of survival games I have played, The Flame in the Flood stands strongly as one of my favourites.
The Sound Architect