Hell of a tide
Don’t you hate it when you finish a hard day in the work mines, step blinking into the sunlight, and find out that the mountain you were on is now just a small island surrounded by ocean? So relatable. That’s how Flooded begins.
Flooded describes itself as a reverse city builder. What it means is that the world is currently undergoing flooding of biblical proportions, and you need to survive in small pockets of land, finish up your objectives, and escape before there’s no land left to dry your socks on. I wasn’t sure if this concept was really going to work for me, but now that I’ve played through Flooded, I realize that its design is not only palatable, but actually somewhat brilliant.
Developer: Artificial Disasters
Publisher: Artificial Disasters, Surefire.Games
Release: March 12, 2023
You may think that Flooded is going to have some message about climate change and the environmental impact of humans, but it’s a lot more intimate than that. You follow a small group of miners as they attempt to survive the rising sea level. They’re not sure how it all happened, but they’re pretty sure climate change doesn’t work that fast.
Rather than try to build settlements and gain population, you work to achieve your objectives and move on before the oceans swallow you up. This means gathering resources and accomplishing goals as quickly as possible. Human lives aren’t really a factor here, so long as you tick all the boxes, you move on. Screw all those consumed by the ocean. They made the mistake of trusting my managerial skills. I have no sympathy.
The setup is essentially that you need to climb through 4 “eras” by completing goals and then spending a lump sum of resources to proceed. This might mean building a ship and exploring, creating enough of a certain building, or removing obstacles from the environment. While you do this, the water level rises every few minutes, sucking down any buildings on the shoreline. You can protect some areas by building bulwarks and artificial land, but that’s only a temporary solution, as producing enough material to do so requires a lot of land.
You need mines to get resources, then housing to keep all the workers, and then water to keep those things going. Then you’ll also need warehouses to keep your excess resources and electricity to upgrade buildings. Managing what little real estate you have available is key, as is moving quickly to get everything done before you run out of time.
It’s a well-handled and unique gameplay loop. SimCity was impressive for the time, as it had no strict ending, but there’s only so much appetite for endless city builders. As familiar as I got with Flooded, I was only able to protect my most important facilities temporarily. In some of the later stages, I had to just accept that I needed to let some of my infrastructure drop into Davey Jones’ locker and just focus on the task at hand. It’s not intensely stressful, but Flooded keeps a fire under your butt. Or maybe a jet of water would be more appropriate. Flooded is a bidet.
Not my generation’s problem
There are 12 levels, a quickplay, and an endless mode available. It’s not a tremendous amount of content, but I think it’s exactly the right amount. While Flooded is immensely fun, it does require a lot of starting over from scratch, and I feel there are only so many times you can do that before it becomes onerous.
This would be a worse problem, but there’s a lot of Flooded that’s randomized. The resource you need to proceed to a new era changes each time, so if you’ve been spending your lead frivolously to try and preserve land, it could throw a wrench in the works by suddenly forcing you to pay up 12,000 units. Likewise, the island you’re on in each level is procedurally generated, and while there’s only so much it can change on you, there are definitely some configurations that are more advantageous than others.
There is a decent amount of variety in your objectives as well, and new mechanics get added each mission. Beyond building, there’s a light RTS element as your settlers will be attacked by pirates occasionally. It doesn’t go hard on this concept (except in one of the endless modes), but the fact that Artificial Disasters went out of their way to create additional gameplay mechanics that aren’t necessarily typical for the genre, just for variety’s sake.
The story is also enjoyable, but not necessarily compelling. It’s very light-hearted, featuring some decent characters and a mountain of references to other media. The writing is optimistic, so even if it isn’t necessarily the deepest plot, it at least doesn’t stumble over itself trying to be anything more than it needs to be.
I enjoyed my time with Flooded more than I thought I would. I didn’t go in thinking I’d dislike the game, but I wasn’t expecting it to be as well-executed as it is. It’s just sort of unassuming, both in concept and aesthetic, but when you dig in, it’s hard not to appreciate how well all its different facets fit together.
For being a rather unique premise, Flooded offers a very tight and polished experience. It’s the sort of thing where I’m afraid that if you either add something or take it away, it will stop working. Just a terrific execution of its thesis. I’m not certain it will necessarily soak your socks like some more expansive builders might, but your time spent stranded will be worthwhile.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]