It’s hard to come up with a new idea, especially in certain genres where it seems that everything that could be done has been done. In the city management genre we have the giant that is Cities: Skylines, and a few other interesting takes such as Frostpunk or Banished. But now Pajama Llama Games found a new way to make the genre work — the question is whether Flotsam will sink or float to the top.
That’s what happens when you litter
Flotsam takes place on a planet not unlike ours — one filled with cities full of skyscrapers, polluting factories and too much plastic products. Sadly, because of the hubris of the inhabitants, and their inability to change their way of living, the whole planet floods with the water from the ice caps. Now the only way to survive is on floating towns, and sailing from place to place to scavenge what you can to live another day.
The game starts with only the central part of the town and three drifters. From that point, the player has to manage buoys which tell their residents where to scavenge from, as well as build distillers, beds and walkways to make sure the supply of food and potable water is large enough.
Soon enough boats are being built, which allow for salvaging more items at once, fishing, and most importantly salvaging stuff from nearby islands and ruins sticking out of the sea. This can net you more complex resources such as metal scraps, research points, potable water or sometimes you can even rescue drifters to add to your community.
7.8/10 Too much water
Jokes about the amount of water aside, Flotsam looks really nice. The low-poly models mix incredibly well with the cartoonish visuals, and the environments and buildings are incredibly creative with their use of available resources. All of the characters are unique as well, making it easier to get attached and care for them.
It’s also chock full of details which show how much love the developers put into the project. The sea isn’t just a blue plane that waves — if you look closely you can see all the skyscrapers and roads that have been washed over with the salt water you are now drifting on. On the images the animals are trapped with plastic and other trash, making the world feel even more realistic.
The game also doesn’t spare on the audio side of things. The music is reminiscent of the ocean and the Pacific Islands, thanks to the use of flowy wind instruments, karimbas and other percussion instruments. The sound effects work well too, although I did find them a bit too loud from time to time.
Don’t go under
Once you start the game there’s a lot to familiarize yourself with — there’s a bunch of different resources, the way you get them is a bit different than in other games and you don’t really know what you need to do good. But I quickly learned that I need to place buoys to let drifters know where to scavenge from, that they all need a bed, and that dry wood is very important, so get on it fast.
The first map is very good at making sure that you get enough resources to get to know the mechanics. Once you build a salvaging ship and scavenge the nearby island you can build a sail — this allows you to sail to another location, an important part of the game.
Each location has different stuff in it — some have ruins that can be scavenged for random resources and research points, others have rocks filled with algae and seaweed that can be used, and sometimes you can find animals or drifters on small islands waiting to be rescued. Those are incredibly helpful as it means the town can be built up and managed even faster.
The research points I mentioned are only used for discovering new building so far. Some of them are pretty basic such as extra water storage and others are incredibly useful such as the fish kabob or the very powerful desalinator that distiles large quantities of water at once.
Flotsam is currently in early access. This means that there will be bugs about (I had one where the boat could grab items from the other side of the map, quite useful actually), and there might be performance issues. Most of those are being fixed as we speak, as there were two updates since I started writing this preview.
Additionally, the game isn’t too long. It took me a few hours to get to the last node on the map which just moves you back to the first node. This allowed me to go a different route and get a seagull I really wanted, but once you experience all of the different types of locations the game might stop being as interesting.
Give it a minute and dive in
Flotsam is still some time from being fully finished, but at the current state it is a very enjoyable experience for a few hours. But if you expect more out of your town builders I would advise waiting for some more time before you grab it. And also, let’s hope and make sure that this game stays a fantasy and not a reality.