March 4, 2024
Pixel-art tides threaten your island, but is your small colony of survivors worth keeping afloat in Flooded? The Finger Guns review:

If you’ve ever wondered what climate change disaster would look like if it was cutesy and pixel-art, you may just have no further need for cognitive wonder. Flooded takes that (admittedly very niche) thought and turns it into a fully-fledged city builder with a severe time constraint. Said constraint being water, a lot of water. So much so it’ll give you an existential crisis and crippling Thalassaphobia to haunt your nightmares.

Moving on swiftly. Flooded takes the concept of the ever-expanding city builder and sticks it in reverse. As you build, the land you can utilise diminishes, sinking away into the maws of the ever-consuming ocean. Take too long and your poor mining colony will be lost to the seas. A cool concept, one which already piqued my interest in the similar and very good Floodlands.

Does the pixel-art aesthetic and time-pressured inversion of conventional expansion prove to be a compelling video game however? Prepare your Noah’s arks and pray to all the kraken deities, for the sea is coming.

Flood The System

Flooded is a fairly minimalist type of game. The core conceit, regardless of which of the three modes you’re playing, is to complete your objectives before you’re submerged. Whether it be campaign or quick play, you’ll be tasked with finishing objectives to ascend through four “eras” – think Civilisation progression, for example.

Each era brings with it new types of structures you can manufacture and utilise, meaning there’s a constant feeling of progression and regression. It keeps things interesting, thanks to the procedurally generated maps and randomised geography. I did find it slightly tiresome to start from scratch mission after mission in the campaign, but it’s a necessary concession.

Objectives can vary from exploring the mystery icons in the ocean, to building X amount of structures. Once you’ve finished your main, and optionally sub, objectives, you’ll be required to harvest a lot of materials to move to the next era. It creates a solid gameplay hook that keeps things moving, and means you have to consistently shift priorities depending on the mission requirements.

If there’s one issue that arises, it’s that the seed generation of maps can go awry in terms of objective completion. On one map, I had to restart because the objective tracker didn’t update when I met the requirement. On another, the location I needed to discover simply never spawned. Both frustrating in equal measure. Thankfully, missions are relatively short, which saved my wrath somewhat.

Flooded review

We’re Flooding? Dam.

While expanding through eras to increase your manufacturing capacity is engaging enough, there’s a slight problem. By slight, I mean massive. Every few minutes in Flooded, every tile on the outer edge of your remarkably small island, will simply disappear. Gone. Evaporated. Building you’ve upgraded on there? Say goodbye. A block of miners living on that tile? Welcome to watery redundancy.

Should the water line reach your miner’s base, it’s game over altogether. Consequently, Flooded is less about building an ever-expansive, glorious utopia of productivity, like most colony sims. Instead, the aim of the game is to be as efficient with space as possible, maximising output so you can get the hell out of dodge. It’s a new-found pressure trying to keep your island from becoming a modern day Titanic.

As you progress through the campaign missions, more and more hazards are introduced. Tornadoes rip through structures. Oil spills slow down your ships. Acid rain wreaks havoc on your colony. You name it, it’ll be in here to ruin your day. I thoroughly respect the developers for throwing in so many unique modifiers, as it totally shifts the gameplay.

Flooded becomes a game that absolutely will not allow you to mentally check out. You’ll be, ironically, firefighting every conceivable problem, only for the fires to be drowned out when your island sinks, along with your dreams. On normal difficulty, it’s a significant challenge, which I found fantastic. However, there are easier options if the time pressure feels too much.

Flooded review

Head Above Water

Even with the majority of the systems and dynamic mechanics being a win, Flooded could be accused of taking on more liquid than it can handle. Like an especially worn out and well-sailed ship, there are holes aplenty taking on the sea’s weight. This mainly comes through systems that prove to be more flashy than substance.

Naval combat, for example, is rather clunky, to put it mildly. Whether it be unknowingly misplacing turrets or mines, to haphazardly “guiding” your ships around with the grace of a drunkard on skis, it’s not particularly satisfying. Sure, sending explosive ships to eviscerate a pirate’s base is rather enjoyable, but the act of controlling the means to do so is less than ideal.

For me, this also extended to the underground layers of islands. Especially on the campaign, this was literally only useful on the two levels that required it for progress. For almost everything else, I ignored it entirely. Due to the time pressure forced upon you, it’s rare you can do everything in a single match or level, so the peripheral systems like this lose out.

Having said all of that, Flooded does have a vast amount of depth to what would otherwise be a very simplistic gameplay loop. Producing electricity for upgrades, sailing the seas for technology and trade, leveling up scientific discoveries for boons is all very rewarding. The skill ceiling is pretty high, but I couldn’t ignore how I found myself disregarding the less essential parts of the city building toolbox.

Flooded review

Waves of Pixels

Clunky console controls (at times) and the odd glitch aside, Flooded has a positively lovely pixel-art aesthetic. Even as someone who usually doesn’t appreciate more retro graphics, I found myself admiring the quirky animations. Mining equipment juddering away, turrets pinging off blocks of firepower, it’s all very charming.

Little details like the colour of the acid rain or the intense purple of a pollution stricken area of the sea are surprisingly effective at investing you into the game. It can be easy to go too far into the colour saturation, making it an eyesore, but thankfully Flooded restrains itself to just the right balance. For the most part, that sums up the game as a whole pretty well, too.

There are three modes to endure – campaign (with 12 levels), endless and quick. The latter two options provide some replayability, especially in light of the procedural generation for every map on every attempt. Unlocking gems through story and sub-objective completion further unlocks equipable items with benefits, while you’ll gain access to six leaders, each with their own starting bonuses.

Flooded likely isn’t a game to keep you sailing on the seas for a lifetime, but it’s a great short-term journey of whimsical pressure and intensity.

The persistent threat of being submerged below the rising tides makes Flooded a tense affair, naturally encouraging efficient and smart city-building thought. Clunky console controls, infrequent yet frustrating glitches and less important peripheral mechanics mean there are holes threatening to capsize this ship, but the hull and crew keep it afloat. If you can handle the relentless pressure of the waves, you may find a lot of satisfaction in enduring this flood.

Flooded is available February 23rd on PlayStation 4 (review platform) and Xbox One, it is available now on Nintendo Switch and PC.

Developer: Artificial Disasters

Publisher: Surefire Games

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy from the publisher.

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