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Review: Floodland - City-building equivalent of David, up against Goliath

Published: 19:16, 14 November 2022
Vile Monarch
Floodland review
Floodland review

Floodland is where city builder and survival genres meet and even though that sounds a lot like a beloved game that already exists, it manages to carve out its own identity.

What you need to know

  • What is it? Post-apocalyptic city builder and survival mashup
  • Reviewed on: PC
  • Developer: Vile Monarch
  • Publisher: Ravenscourt
  • Release date:  November 15, 2022
  • Available on: PC

Floodland review copy provided by Ravenscourt.

When someone mentions the words "post-apocalyptic", "survival" and "city builder" in the same sentence, one would immediately think of Frostpunk as the game has been around for years and is well-established as the pioneer in the genre thanks to critical acclaim garnered over time.

It is for this reason that Vile Monarch's decision to create a game that would have to crawl out of the colossal shadow that is cast by Frostpunk's significance but the team has made the first steps in the right direction by delivering Floodland, a title that has just enough uniqueness to make it stand out on its own. 

Story

Floodlands kicks off in a similar fashion to Frostpunk - a global catastrophe has happened and now humanity is on the verge of extinction, with the player being tasked to see a clan of humans through the harsh new reality in pursuit of hope.

This premise is a carbon copy of the successful predecessor with only a few details being switched out so the homework doesn't look too similar. Instead of the planet going into permafrost, the collapse was caused by a massive tsunami. Instead of having to deal with extremely low temperatures, people need to live off the land while trying to re-establish civilisation as it once was.

Vile Monarch Floodland - It's not Tesla City, it's a powerplant we're looking for Floodland - It's not Tesla City, it's a powerplant we're looking for

At this point, we are presented with four clans that can be boiled down to former suburb inhabitants, preppers, left-wingers and right-wingers. Believing survival to be imperative over politics in such a situation, I went with the preppers, which was true initially but as the game progressed, it threw more and more politics at me.

Vile Monarch Floodland - Description of the Oakhill Survivors clan, which I called the preppers Floodland - Description of the Oakhill Survivors clan, which I called the preppers

Progression is also one of the things the story is the catalyst for. In fact, the further you get in the storyline, the more gameplay intricacies appear and it often feels like "storytelling" only serves as exposition for new gameplay mechanics that will be thrown at the player. This type of approach is not inherently bad but it does place narrative in the backseat while gameplay gets to drive the experience.

Gameplay

As I previously mentioned, the gameplay is the meat and potatoes of Floodlands. If you are curious from the very beginning and start inspecting various aspects of the interface, you might find yourselves overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information that can be gathered as well as future mechanics that are on full display.

That said, you don't get to engage in all the mechanics from the get-go as the game will pace you through them by slowly moving the narrative forward. As a result, you get to learn how the basics work and then they get gradually more complicated, allowing the players to find new challenges at a steady but fair pace.

One example would be that the early parts of the game lack the main drivers for unrest and epidemics, which are most often the starters of a settlement's decay, which can lead to the inhabitants' well-being getting degraded which then leads to thefts which can lead to a downward spiral where progress gets blocked and the leader will find themselves in an unenviable position.

Vile Monarch Floodland - Survival is one of the four tech trees you will need to develop, each of them being quite large Floodland - Survival is one of the four tech trees you will need to develop, each of them being quite large

Then again, while the game did have its challenges and moments of frustration, it never led me to such rage-inducing situations where I would quit or have to force myself to keep playing so kudos to the developers who managed to strike a great balance of difficulty, reward and preservation of the player's will to keep ploughing. That said, it's not excluded we will see balancing changes post-release when more players get to try the game out - after all, the study group of just the little old me is hardly enough of an indicator for an entire player base.

The bottom line is that you can expect to be pressured in the later parts of the game and sometimes it can be overwhelming but it's not without reward, which leads me to believe Vile Monarch created a very good simulation of what it feels like to govern a group of people. While this sounds like something that should be stated in the Story section, it was expressed through gameplay which is another positive as successful games often employ a seamless fusion of exposition and immersion through actions.

Vile Monarch Floodland - The training wheels come off, politics come in Floodland - The training wheels come off, politics come in

Graphics and audio

The visual qualities of Floodlands will hardly leave anyone impressed. The game attempts an art style similar to what was found in Disco Elysium and at best, it will be a hit or miss, depending on the type of player that tries the game out. Watercolour paintings channelled into a video game may be attractive to some players but others will find the style disjointed with characters and environments hard to define.

Vile Monarch Floodland - Watercolour works well for loading screens and cutscenes but it's debatable for actual gameplay Floodland - Watercolour works well for loading screens and cutscenes but it's debatable for actual gameplay

Audio, on the other hand, is fantastic as the tunes that follow you from the main menu all the way through the game often play with sounds of despair with a glimmer of hope on the horizon, which is exactly what the game is all about.

Performance

For a game that doesn't strive for photorealistic graphics, the performance took a few unexpected hits over the course of my post-apocalyptic settlement expansions. With Ryzen 5 3600 CPU and RX 5700 XT GPU, I didn't expect a game like this to produce frame rate dips but they did happen one too many times to ignore.

Vile Monarch Floodland graphics are not winning any awards but performance dips are still to be expected Floodland graphics are not winning any awards but performance dips are still to be expected

That said, the gameplay speed can be dictated through UI and you can even pause when necessary so regardless of the performance on your rig, the dips shouldn't cause any critical failures - you have all the time in the world to make the right decision.

Conclusion

Floodland is a formidable survival city builder but it's not a masterpiece that will blow everyone away. As such, it will have a hard journey if it wants to carve out a fan base from the market of the somewhat niche genre, which is mostly occupied by Frostpunk fans by now.

So the question is should you decide to give it a whirl? Well, for a fan of the genre - absolutely, you will not be disappointed.

If you are coming from a clean slate and haven't been introduced to a similar game before, there is a lot to learn and if you enjoy learning, the game will also offer a lot of gratification.

If you are a big fan of Frostpunk and are looking at Floodland, you can still enjoy the game but you will need to temper your expectations.

Overall, Floodland is a post-apocalyptic delight for anyone who loves careful planning and seeing those plans come to fruition, especially when they are hit with curveballs that the player manages to overcome.

The Good

  • Despite gameplay focus, storytelling plays a part
  • Gameplay complexity expands at a fair pace
  • Immersive simulation of governing people
  • Music blends in beautifully

The Bad

  • Optimisation needs work
  • Graphics are hit or miss
  • Notifications are annoying, especially when they pile up
75

Our Rating

Very Good

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