Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
Over the last few years, a whole genre of survival gaming has grown out of massive hits like Minecraft and DayZ. I’ve never been attracted to the multiplayer ones, like Rust or ARK, where you’re thrown into a sandbox with a bunch of other players who are waiting to pulverize you on sight and steal the shitty tools you punched so many trees to build, but every once in a while I do get caught up in a solo survival adventure. There’s a loneliness and—the way I play them—a gentle pressure to push ever forward that I find to be totally engrossing. Last year, it was the frozen wastes of The Long Dark (and, for a hot second before I realized it was definitely not for me, the functionally infinite cosmos of No Man’s Sky). Now I’m planning to spend my annual survival game affair with The Flame In The Flood, which made it to the Nintendo Switch this week after being out on other platforms.
The conceit of this particular game is that you’re off exploring the flooded ruins of a post-societal America. You raft down a mammoth river, stopping at the flecks of land that still rise from it to scrounge for supplies in mangled trailers and dilapidated homes. What cuts through the loneliness here is the constant presence of your dog, with whom your connection is maintained by one very clever twist on the game’s die-and-start-from-scratch structure: Anything your dog is carrying when you starve or bleed to death (it can get gruesome and quick) will be waiting in its little doggy pouches when you try again. It’s a nice, quiet reminder that all those imperative twigs and tools are transient and impermanent, while our connections are what really last.
What sets Flame apart from similar survival games is its much more specific sense of place. From its twangy alt-country soundtrack by Chuck Ragan to the dialect and folksy lyricism of its prose, it’s built to evoke the American south. Whenever you get into a conversation or head out on your raft with that music pushing you along the rapids, there’s a blast of soul and flavor that grabs you in a way most other games in this genre don’t. It’s enough to make me want to keep rafting and see what lies ahead.