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Survival city-builders put the fear of God in me. There’s just something about managing an entire civilisation of people that just shreds my nerves. Managing the last group of people alive on whatever world they inhabit has me questioning my every decision like I’m cutting wires underneath a bomb.
It’s a relief then, that Floodland is a bit more chill than some of its city-building contemporaries. Gone are the humanity-ending threats like Frostpunk’s great Winter storm, forever bearing down on you and periodically tightening its grasp around your neck. Here you have a simple group of stranded civilians looking to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of an apocalyptic flood.
To accomplish that they’ve turned to you, some omnipotent God-like being looking down from above. The game takes a much more personal approach with how you interect with its survivors than other city builders. It isn’t about navigating a world-ending crisis, but picking up the pieces in the aftermath of said crisis. The focus is how people come together – or not – in the wake of disaster and if they can put aside their differences and personal values.
You can take charge of one of four groups, each with its own statistical bonuses and predetermined worldviews. The Good Neighbours are hard-working suburban survivors with very “traditional” American values for example, while the Fire Brigade are a more liberal colony valuing personal growth and freedom above community. These traits establish some of the roadblocks you’ll face further on into Floodland. When someone drops dead of starvation or disease, the Good Neighbours will urge you to consult their family on what to do, while the pragmatic former oil workers of Berkut-3 will want to take and study the deceased. Periodic choices are paramount for managing your clan’s unrest level in Floodland. Go against their wishes too often and you risk riling them up to the point of thievery and striking.
These decisions are compounded when clans join forces. Floodland’s surroundings might be auto-generated for replayability, but you’ll always be offered the chance to team up with another group and welcome them into your community. Here’s where things get tough: the law-abiding Good Neighbours might not gel with the more libertarian Fire Brigade, so decisions over what to do with deceased clan-members might drastically rile up one party while satiating the other.
“Making decisions for the good of one faction is all well and good, but when there are two or more clans in the mix, it can come to blows”
Making decisions for the good of one faction is all well and good, but when there are two or more clans in the mix, it can come to blows. Every question now asked of you by your faction – like whether to set up a regulated sports league (priorities, people) – can have dire consequences for one group over another, leading to a breakdown in relations and even looting. It’s a simple but clever way of ramping up the decision-making stakes in a split second, and Floodland constantly puts you in the spotlight to make the tough calls.
This more involved approach to your survivor community renders some of your decisions more excruciating. Enacting laws periodically lets you shape the civilisation these people live in, leading them down certain pathways of life. Do these survivors deserve a militia breathing down their necks in the name of “peace,” or should they be free to largely police themselves, even if it leads to looting outbreaks when supplies get scarce? There aren’t any easy answers in Floodland’s law-making, making things more painstaking.
Choices that could drastically and irreversibly change your community’s future aside, the usual city-building staples are here. You’ll have to manage food and water metres, scavenging together berries, fish, and seawater to hold back the tides of hunger and thirst for your clan. Floodland quickly becomes a game of expanding and adapting for the needs of your population: if you’ve plucked all the berries in the vicinity, you’ll need to research and develop an alternate method of food production, like fishing rafts.
These decisions have knock-on effects and unforeseen consequences, though. A fishing raft might be a relatively stable source of food, but fish are classed as ‘risky,’ meaning they can potentially cause food poisoning among your population. Floodland is, at heart, a game about putting one foot forward and reacting to any disasters, constantly balancing the needs of your population against pushing forward and exploring the flooded wasteland.
It’s here that Floodland walks a mighty fine tightrope. Strategic city-builders are often a balancing act of being proactive or reactive. Does the game let you venture forth and solve problems as you go, or suddenly introduce roadblocks that you need to quickly respond to? Floodland falls chiefly into the latter category, as the game’s overarching storyline tasks you with finding solutions to problems like killer fish swarming your shores, or desperately searching the horizon for locations where lost scouts might hide out.
There’s such a bottleneck in exploration and production due to the importance of knowledge, it feels like you’re often waiting on knowledge points to accumulate before you can tackle problems
This wouldn’t really be a problem if Floodland wasn’t so dead set on forcing players down a research-dominated path. Constructing a ‘study’ building where citizens can debate and learn is your chief source of knowledge points, which can in turn be used to upgrade your civilisation with better buildings and tools. You’ll need to research welding torches to punch through and explore the hulking ruined buildings dotting the skyline, for example, or spend time researching how to build proper houses to stop folk getting disheartened.
The problem here is that the study is a slow source of knowledge income, but it’s also one of the few reliable sources of knowledge in Floodlands. Giving players too little or too much to do in strategic sims like Floodland is a tough balancing act, and because there’s such a bottleneck in exploration and production due to the importance of knowledge, it feels like you’re often waiting on knowledge points to accumulate before you can tackle problems. This makes Floodlands a more ‘reactive’ experience, which isn’t entirely redundant, it just puts the player on the back foot.
Floodland brings a nice personal twist to the city-building genre, with the people and the calamity they survived hounding your every move and decision. Blending clans and integrating societies into one another is another deft touch, giving added weight to every pivotal decision. Where Floodland falls down a little is forcing the player to react to periodic roadblocks with an increasingly tight bottleneck of production, somewhat hampering creativity in favour of a set path. It’s not a dealbreaker by any means though.