Flotsam is a charming little city-building, survival game from indie developer Pajama Llama. The childlike silliness of the developer’s name is pulled through right to the core of the game and I absolutely love it.
Flotsam throws you into the deep end, quite literally, by having you build your city in the middle of the ocean. Collect all manner of floating debris to construct walkways and buildings, purify water, and catch fish while you explore the seven seas. Flotsam is still in early access and requires some tweaking but shows a lot of potential so early on. I had a fantastic time during my Flotsam preview, but there are a few issues that kept this game from stealing my heart.
Flotsam is available on Steam. Check out the trailer below.
As we feared, global warning was ignored and now we’re in deep water, pardon the pun. You are stranded on a buoy in the middle of the ocean and have to scavenge any floating debris you can find to build a place to survive.
So to start, you send your people swimming to collect some plastic and wood. The wood needs to be dried before it can be used but once it’s dry you start building walkways and basic buildings. People can only swim so far so you’ll only be able to collect resources located very close to your base. After a while, you can build boats that are faster, collect more resources, and can move much farther.
You also need to ensure your people have water and food which will become the biggest thorn in your side Flotsam has to offer. Your town may be surrounded by water but as any elementary school pupil will tell you, saltwater is not good for drinking. It’s, therefore, necessary to build a distiller to purify water. This requires dry wood as fuel.
You start off with a fair amount of food supplies so your people don’t throw themselves overboard on day 3. When you create your first fishing boat, you can send people to catch some fish. Fresh fish will be dried at first and serve as your most basic food source which doesn’t provide a lot of nutrients. Later you’ll be able to cook fish, or even create sushi, which is a lot more effective. Advanced foodstuffs requires research which I’ll get to in just a bit. People can go hungry for quite some time before it becomes a problem but eventually they will die. Even Steven was my first casualty, he was a seagull. I am ashamed.
Once you’ve depleted an area of resources you move to the next area on the map. Each area in the Flotsam world has some remnants of civilization like a collapsed bridge or a broken house on a small island that managed to stay above the rising tides. This is where you find other resources like metal and seaweed which you also need for crafting and construction. You’ll also pick up survivors, in the form of people or seagulls, in these places which will then join your crew. You have to plan your route carefully though because once you’ve moved to a new location, you can’t go back, and moving to one location opens up new options while also restricting access to others.
The last “resource” you’ll find while scavenging is research points which are needed to unlock new buildings in the technology tree. From here you can unlock bigger storage units or homes for your citizens, new workshops, and better means of taking care of the food and water issue.
You have to build storage containers to store your collected resources. These storage locations can be spread out and you can specify which types of resources each can hold to make it easier when distributing items to certain buildings, but since your floating town is so small, I never felt the need for this bit of micromanagement.
The people of Flotsam have unique traits that make one slightly different from the next. Dry Mouth means that person gets thirsty much quicker, while Torpedo gives them a boost to their movement speed. This is a nice feature, but your citizens usually scurry around like ants so I never really noticed the differences between them.
You can also adjust each person’s priorities which you’ll need to do when you have a few tasks that need to be done at once. If you just leave them to their own vices, you’ll have an entire town move around building supplies and die of hunger because no one has the mental capacity to prioritize catching fish over drying wood. I do wish you had some way of seeing exactly what each person was busy with without having to select each one individually. I often assigned tasks that were left undone for quite some time and I couldn’t figure out what caused the delay.
My single biggest complaint regarding gameplay is the lack of challenge. The only challenging part is making sure your people have enough clean water which is a terrible struggle in the early game. I once assigned all my people to water collection and purification duties but they consumed it just as fast as they could produce it so after about 15 minutes I still had 0 water in storage. This leaves you to hope to find purified water while scavenging which should fill your stores for a short while. Once you unlock Solar Distillers in your tech tree, however, this struggle is over. After constructing a few of those, you rarely have to worry about your water supply anymore, and that eliminates the only real challenge I found in Flotsam.
Pajama Llama used a silly, cartoony art style which I absolutely adore. There may only have been so many different assets included in Flotsam but I enjoyed every single one of them. Despite the fairly basic visuals, I was impressed by the number of graphics options available which included resolution, Vsync, Anti-Aliasing, and an FPS limit.
On the audio side, things are kept equally simple and fun. The soundtrack is very subtle and relies mostly on ambient sounds to set the scene. There is a range of sound effects like a knock on an empty bottle when your water runs low (you’ll hear this a lot), or a rumbling stomach when you need more food. You’ll even get a visit from the occasional whale who’ll be all too happy to say hello when his head pops out the water. Flotsam even features its own Sims-like mumbling language which you’ll hear when clicking on any of your citizens.
I would like to see improvements in some of the animations though. When a boat returns after collecting resources, for example, it’ll move up to the pier and just pop into place instead of parking. I’d also like to see some voiceovers during the tutorial instead of everything being texted but this is nitpicking.
Obviously, I expected to find a few bugs during my Flotsam preview. I found some wording issues and missing tooltips, resource collection will seize while there are still resources to collect, pathfinding on boats wasn’t optimal, and I had one building which stopped functioning halfway through construction and was just a waste of space for the remainder of my game.
None of these was gamebreaking and only provided some minor annoyances. The only problem that frustrated me deeply was the performance hiccups when my town grew to a sizable settlement which I saw every few seconds, even when dropping the graphics settings as low as the game allows.
Just before publishing this article a game update was released. According to the release notes, they made some enhancements to alleviate the performance problems mentioned above and while there were still some framerate issues, it was a massive improvement.