Flame of Memory approaches the important element of survival in an unusual manner; a survival simulation akin to This War of Mine rather than punching trees and cooking carcasses . You control the actions of two characters and try to help them survive for as long as possible.
It can be extremely frustrating because of the emphasis on trial and error when figuring out what you need to do for optimum chances at survival. But it’s also atmospheric and has a funny way of getting you to inhabit the characters.
Two Partisan fighters creep through a dense forest, only to find themselves surrounded by enemy soldiers, trapped and with night encroaching. They have no other option but to find a safe place of refuge and attempt to survive until help arrives . This basic story provides the motivation the game is crafted from. There are no cutscenes as the game opens, only the haunting twang of an acoustic guitar riff and then we are introduced to our two protagonists.
As I played through the game I found myself mentally creating and imprinting a backstory onto each of my faceless warriors. Franz propped himself up on the tree to the left, he had a daughter, his wife had been killed by the enemy and he desperately wanted to see his Sophia again. Pyotr, who lay on the right, had been a musician but is now a murderer, having butchered the enemy for the grievous wrong they had done his village.
I am incredibly driven by story in games. I enjoy the exposition of dialogue and narrative, so this was a new experience; a game which was largely silent about it’s two protagonists. It feels like an invitation by developer, Kacper Stasiełuk, for us to craft our own backstory and truly make Flame of Memory an immersive experience.
Atmospherically it’s a hauntingly stunning experience. At night, the moon peeks out from a grove of trees. Our characters seem almost resigned to their fate and the player can sense that a story is begging to be told in this unique, stylish game. But it’s one you will have to craft yourself through your thoughts and feelings as you emotionally delve through the experience.
Frustrating. This game is intensely frustrating. It’s unclear what the player needs to do. There’s a decision wheel which allows you to perform certain actions to try and keep your characters alive through the long night. I began by trying to keep their energy levels up by letting them sleep. But their fire, the only source of heat began to dwindle. I desperately tried to wake them up, but it was too late, my brave partisans fell into the frozen arms of death.
I discovered that one of the icons on the decision wheel sent them on an expedition to find firewood to keep the fire stoked and themselves warm. This is fraught with danger. You may find nothing of use or worse be injured by wild animals. These expeditions take the form of clicking an icon on a map with success or failure determine by a roll. It’s somewhat nail biting, but I would have preferred a more interactive experience.
The main focus of this title is obviously not the quality of the graphics. For me this is a strength as it encourages my imagination. It is suitably atmospheric but incredibly dark. The low lighting does make it difficult to really see what is going on but praise must be given to the visual effects, the fire sparkling and crackling pleasantly. Ultimately, it is a budget title – functional and evocative. I lean towards praising the creative and at times bold choices that the developer has made.
The musical score is scarce, but uses what’s there to maximum effect to promote the essence of the game – atmosphere. A guitar twangs with emotional resonance introducing the player to simple scene of the two soldiers resting, their bodies supported by the trunks of two large trees. That simple twang – I could feel the fear, fatigue and muffled hope they felt as it played. It’s a haunting and powerful moment and a lesson on how to effectively use minimal sound for maxim effect. The sound of the crackling fire makes you almost feel the essential, life sustaining heat emanating from it. The forest noises persistently ground your experience in a sense of realism. I commend these touches. The deceptive simplicity belies effective game design choices.
This is not an easy game to fall in love with. It is frustrating and has a tamagotchi feel to it. The key to enjoying the title is to not feel like it’s punishing you by killing your soldiers repeatedly. Instead enjoy the challenge of incremental progression and truly allow the atmosphere to wash over you. This is an experience. It can be at times captivating and engrossing as you constantly attempt new techniques to keep the Partisans alive through to morning. An achievement I have yet to accomplish. Perhaps the difficulty is a unique factor in why I kept coming back to the game, engaging it in small doses as I waited for my coffee to brew or for another game to install.
Flame of Memory is most definitely a ‘filler’ game. It’s rarely going to captivate you for long periods of time but I do ultimately believe the experience is worth it. I was engrossed by the struggle and found myself asking questions about the personal nature of war and survival. Something that doesn’t happen while I play big budget titles like Call of Duty or the Battlefield series.
This is an inexpensive title which, although initially frustrating, has the ability to grow on you.