When I previewed Floodland back at the beginning of October, I was positive and optimistic towards its brand of colony simulation. The relatively short demo gave but a glimpse of a game brimming with depth, complexity and replayability.
I’ve since spent a larger chunk of time with the full release and can earnestly state that it’s lived up to a lot of that early promise shown off in the preview. Aside from minor pacing issues and volatile inter-clan relationships which keep Floodland rising from the murky depths, it’s a great entry into the colony sim genre.
In a world ravaged by cataclysmic flooding and the dregs of humanity barely keeping their heads above water, will you enjoy shaping their journey to prosperity, or will the experience be washed away entirely? Get your leadership God-complex whirring and let’s dive in to find out.
Surviving The Watermath
Floodland has you focus on one key goal for any given New Game – rebuild the remains of humanity by means of reactivating an old nuclear power plant. Regardless of which of the 4 clans you select, this will be your true focus.
As most things disaster related however, you can’t just wonder on in and expect everything to be in working order. The world itself has been utterly devastated thanks to the actions of humanity’s past so you’ll be needing to re-establish a colony that can actually survive the elements and help your people thrive.
The 4 available starting clans each have their own unique perspective on the state of the planet and those who came before. Additionally, they each come with their own bonuses and leadership views which will dictate what makes them oh-so-appeased and what makes them oh-so-rebelliously angry.
I set out with Berkut-3 once again, who value progress and science over sentiment and kindness. They’re the antithesis to how I would traditionally run a community of people in most games, but that’s kind of where the fun lies.
Story events and random scenarios will pop up often, requiring you to make decisions on the fly that’ll either appease your clan or appease your own sense of moral indignance. Initially, you can pick the options that best keep your selected group on-side. Later on however, you can incorporate other clans into your community, meaning you’ll be firefighting every decision enraging one group or another.
Story, events and narrative are delivered through a helpful pre-apocalypse survivor who keeps you on track with the main objectives, while your clan leaders will chip in to let you know what consequences each of your decisions, laws and actions will have on your populous.
It’s surprisingly engrossing. It’s no The Last of Us, nor would I expect it to be, but there’s a grounded sense of realism in each faction’s views that helps sell the conflicts that inevitably arise.
Water, Water Everywhere
In order to help your civilisation ultimately achieve its aim of re-establishing society, you’ll need to gather resources. Lots of resources. Your fledging clan have a variety of needs that need consistent maintenance, else they go the way of the dodo and the rest of the Earth.
You’ll start off with an in-depth tutorial (nicely disguised as a prologue) which shows you the ropes of gathering food, water, waste and wood. These resources allow you to start developing homes (makeshift tents to start), resource gathering stations, basic industries and enable you to set out on completing the first act’s objectives.
It’s simplistic and accessible systems work superbly at the start, allowing you to get to grips with setting collection zones, balancing your survivors across different workstations and getting the lay of the land they’re situated in.
Each new game spawns a new “seed”, meaning the map will switch up and locations tied to the main campaign will be randomly moved about, adding a welcome bit of variety that’ll make replays more satisfying. However, this world is always flooded, hence the title, so traversal quickly becomes tricky.
The first 2-3 hours of Floodland was probably my favourite part of the experience. Setting up the embers of my society, branching into new zones and finding resources to hoover up felt satisfying, with solid mechanics that make sense both gameplay wise and in the thematic element of the universe.
Venture Out, Carefully Now
Past the first act of objectives, Floodland really opens up, showing off the colossal amount of depth lurking under the surface of these easy-to-grasp systems. It’s a genuinely wonderous moment, albeit you’ll quickly discover none of the burgeoning research trees have anything wholly unique from the dozens of other colony sims.
Which isn’t a slight by any means, Floodland has layers. You may need to reach a far off building to gather more survivors to help you run your various resource points, or man your kitchens to make safe food, or go diving into a factory to produce scrap.
To reach them, you’ll have to venture off of your safe little island onto other shores. At first, expeditions allow you to temporarily set up shop and gather what you can before returning home. However, eventually you’ll need boats, which need a sawmill to produce planks, which needs plastic to be built. So on and so forth. By the end, you’ll be juggling so many different forms of resource production plants you might as well be an oligarch.
I also started to contend with my settlements demanding more than just survival. If you don’t provide recreation for your people, they’ll get restless. You can manage your clan’s needs via a couple of handy tabs which show everything from what’s affecting their mood to how they interact with other clan members.
This is where the core gameplay loop develops. You need to constantly expand to be able to continue on the main quest, but you simultaneously have to sustain your colony when random events trigger difficult decisions, disasters affect your food supplies and you have to prevent one clan from stealing all of your resources out of spite.
With so many inter-connected systems you’d imagine that it’d become far too overwhelming to contend with, but Floodland does a great job making everything easy to understand and visible. Clan management was generally a bit of a pain though, as it almost seems hard-wired they’ll always be at odds. My solution was to banish both other clans I discovered to their deaths, the ungrateful swines. I would like to see this element evened out ever so slightly, as losing 19+ workers just to keep the peace felt like it staggered the pace, but was the only viable option for me to continue.
I like the idea of having tough decisions that you don’t like having to make, but this feels a bit too unnecessarily punishing.
New Age Scientology
Expansion comes in a few forms, most of which are achieved through research and laws. Building a study allows your people to examine old-world items or enter academic debates to earn research points. These are then spent on 4 key areas: growth, exploration, well-being and survival. Only if the study is manned though… which it may not be if it’s all hands-on deck because you ran out of water when you weren’t paying attention…
Exploring buildings via expeditions is the speediest way to achieve this and you’ll start unlocking loads of building upgrades and technologies pretty rapidly by the mid-game. Problem is, you’ll run aground with not having the resources or manpower to adequately merge these new systems into your colony.
I did reach a bit of a bottleneck a few hours in where I was effectively waiting around with the game on max speed to build up a stockpile of items to be able to move forward. It wasn’t awful by any means, but it did slow the otherwise excellent pacing down pretty considerably.
Studies also enable you to build up XP for your chosen clan, levelling them up and allowing you to add specializations to your populous. Specializations make your workers more efficient and effective at their jobs, potentially freeing up other labourers to then fulfill otherwise forgotten tasks.
I haven’t even mentioned laws yet.
Providing recreation to your settlers builds up leadership points, which are then spent enacting laws which determine what kind of society you want to run. Do you want Police or a Militia? Will you enable centralised medical care for more efficient medicine? Will you ruin everyone’s day by enacting gym memberships? The possibilities are endless.
The level of depth in Floodland is truly quite remarkable and I was impressed with how easy it was to take it all in and pull so many different levers at once. It might be overwhelming for some, without doubt, but there’s so much to sink your teeth into here it’ll keep you invested for dozens of hours. Beware too, that should you piss off your community by failing a request or signing laws that aren’t aligned with their beliefs, you may end up losing all your leadership points and causing mass unrest.
Now, we finally come to the part of Floodland that doesn’t quite sail as smoothly as the rest of the package. It’s no sinking ship or derelict wreck by any means, but Floodland’s visual appeal doesn’t quite wow in the same way as the rest of the mechanics do. Let’s start with the positives first however.
The UI and layout of Floodland are excellent. Everything is clearly visible and accessible on the immediate screen. Understanding your clan’s relationships with each other, your various research trees and immediate feedback notifications are handled smoothly and intuitively. Setting buildings is a breeze and placing down collection zones is clearly marked.
These sound like minor boons, but they’re essential when you spend the bulk of your time engaging with these systems for dozens of hours. The map itself looks great, with various landmarks rising high over the unexplored fog giving you easy navigation for your next objective or expedition location. Little details like ruined houses and destroyed cars give the world a sense of history which fits nicely.
I wouldn’t say it’s spectacular in terms of graphics, even on high settings, but it looks good. From a high perspective, there’s a fantastic sense of scale to each map. Zoom in however and you might notice some artificially smoothed-over textures and while your little people do animate, it’s not as well defined as some other titles.
Floodland does ask quite a lot of your rig too – 16GB of RAM, in fact. This does come as somewhat of a surprise given the relatively modest graphical demands, though given the number of intricate and complex systems that are whirring away in the background all at once, it’s somewhat understandable.
Rise From The Depths
Playing Floodland was one of the most laid back few sessions of colony management I’ve played. My first few hours developing my clan, going on an adventure to a distant island and setting up industries and laws to shape my society were great fun. I even took satisfaction from sending a hostile set of survivors packing. Even when you’re making tough decisions or just about balancing every demanding need of your colony, you’ll be thoroughly enjoying yourself, watching the hours tick by.
There’s a genuinely phenomenal colony sim strategy hiding under the waves of this swamped world. The mechanics, research trees, gameplay loops and slick interfaces go a long way to making this a post-apocalyptic voyage worth departing on, but it does feel suffocated at certain points as you get slightly bottlenecked waiting around for resources or manpower to progress, or you have to deal with an unruly clan for the umpteenth time in the last 5 minutes.
With even tougher difficulty options and different clans to select from, each campaign will feel unique and distinct from your first. There’s a massive wealth of possibilities for rebuilding society which Floodland will have any strategy fan reveling in, even if there are some drowned out sections.
Floodland rises above the surface when the depth of its mechanics are given the space to breathe. It strikes a brilliant balance between complex systems that are slick and accessible, while offering a satisfying level of micro-management gameplay. For all of its wonders however, this bristling settlement sim can run aground of stagnated progress and unwieldy inter-clan mechanics on occasion, but nothing should stop you rebuilding humanity in this beautifully desolate world.
Floodland is launching on PC via Steam on November 15th, 2022.
Developer: Vile Monarch
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
If you enjoyed this article or any more of our content, please consider our Patreon.