Guest review by Rowan Rumball
Miasmata is a survival adventure game made by two brothers Joe and Bob Johnson under the studio name Ionfx, the gameplay is primarily focused around exploring the island of Eden and discovering plants to cure the plague your character is stricken with.
The story, told through notes found around the island, is surprisingly deep considering it’s told exclusively through text. It follows the persecution and dynamics between a group of scientists who you find dead. This is achieved mainly through how most of the story revelations are discovered through reading between the lines leaving it mostly to the player’s imagination, leading to some surprising moments.
Miasmata is filled with new, interesting and fun gameplay ideas which are poorly implemented. You play a cast away awakening on a desert island with no food or water, you are afflicted with a plague and being hunted by a vicious beast. Things could not get much worse for you at that moment. The games attempt a strong sense of realism through the lack of a HUD and all the management of resources taking place through a journal which is rendered and operated as if the in-game character was actually using it. All of this makes it all the more jarring when you watch a flower clip through the table it was put on.
Over all Miasmata it could be considered a puzzle game with each puzzle being how you will uncover another part of the big blank map presented to you at the start of the game. To do this you need to find landmarks in the form of stone heads, or other human made structures, by triangulating using two visible landmarks. By doing this you reveal a portion of the map around you. This becomes very difficult as you can only use land marks you have already discovered on your map or triangulated using two known positions, this all sounds very complicated but the game does a decent job of explaining it to you. There’s no marker on the map showing you where you are at any point so getting lost can be very easy, making revealing the map important for progression through the game, especially as the island design is very convoluted but this just makes it all the more rewarding when you manage to see two landmarks from a tall mountain and uncover a large portion of the terrain.
There are only two significant threats in the game, the monster constantly stalking you and the terrain itself. The monster is probably the most familiar of these threats, an unkillable monster that will randomly spawn and make its way towards you. There are a few of methods of avoiding it from straight hiding from it to running, although running is much more dangerous as you may end up in a unexplored area. It remains a constant threat through the game and acts as a way of pushing the player to be more mindful of where they are going. More than once I have looked down at a valley imagined being jumped by the monster and changing my route. The main threat however is the terrain itself, your character is quite unsteady on his feet. Running down a hill, trying to walk along a steep incline, falling any sort of distance will all cause him to tumble down and deal damage to himself. On an island filled with mountains and bushes that easily obscure your vision you will often find yourself head over heels. When damage is taken the plague infecting the character get worse, small amounts of damage will lead to your vision blurring and slower running but large amounts can make everything go black and white and even black out for extended periods of time. This can lead to a snowballing situation where you can no longer climb hills to get to a resting area as when every you try to you black out, fall down and hurt yourself some more.
These mechanics combined makes for a very interesting game, where the more you uncover on the map, the safer you are, as you can better plan your routes. Uncovering a large area is rewarding as you know you have tamed that part of the island making it feel much safer. On top of all this however is just a simple fetch quest, looking for the plants that make the cure for the plague and the formula of traveling over the island looking for landmarks to revel a little more to look for more plants rarely changes as you progress through the game. Attempts are made to change things up, for instance you are forced to travel at night time for a certain plant, but this only happens a few times during the game and after fully exploring the island there is little replay value.
When the game is not bugging out, it achieves an amazing sense of immersion in the world of Eden, after a very short tutorial area the game really gives you freedom to wander wherever you want. You are not completely without direction as you will find maps and clues to where you can find the plant to cure the plague ailing the main character. Miasmata manages to find an incredible balance between directing the player and having an open world to freely explore, which is important as much of the enjoyment gain from this game comes from exploring and overcoming geographic obstacles.
The monster of the island is established early on as of the only active threats in the game, the real sense of danger comes from knowing that you cannot kill the creature whilst it stalks you menacingly can be quite terrifying, especially if you are lost or very far away from the safety of a save point. But there’s a distinctive lack of ways that the monster can appear or track out, after the second or third encounter you quickly learn can it can be easily avoided.
Assisting the atmosphere is a large array of environments and beautiful sights you get you involved with. Much of your time will be spent finding vantage points and the game makes efforts and succeeds in making wide sweeping areas extremely beautiful. However, don’t look too close as textures and models look fairly archaic up close. The texture fade in is probably one of this games major failings, often whole trees will seem to change position as you get close enough to deserve the higher resolution model once again which is jarring and can ruin your immersion.
The lighting effects however are stunning; at times I find myself standing in the middle of a clearing in the forest and just watch. Probably the best part is how the lighting changes throughout the day and the different weather conditions. Night time is truly dark to the point where you will often find yourself falling off cliffs but it’s worth exploring just for the beauty of the dim moonlight through the trees.
To accompany the moonlight is a set of ambient sounds to set the mood, from classic owl sounds to the chirping of insects, mostly these are well placed and help with the set the mood of the time of day. The way ambient sounds change as you move around the island is a nice touch as well. The music, which mostly consists of soothing guitar music, only plays in areas where you are safe; meaning it never distracts you from being paranoid over a twig snap far away when you are traversing the jungles.
The interesting mechanics and immersive gameplay however is countered by the constant graphical glitches, crashes to desktop, and lack of intuitive gameplay. Flowers, trees and the wildlife you find will all clip into the ground often. If you try and close the map while zooming in you’ll find you character stuck in one place until you open your journal and close it again, and don’t try to use the steam chat while the sleeping animations playing because that will crash you to desktop. These bugs and more destroy any sort of immersion and turn what was a clever game into a constant worry that you should save to prevent any loss of progress.
Miasmata is a bold attempt by two brothers to make a new immersive gameplay experience with interesting mechanics, although their experiment has way too many bugs, badly programmed AIs, and monotonous the gameplay is too monotonous to create the waves it really should have. I recommend this game to anyone who enjoys survival or atmospheric puzzle games like myst, anyone else interested will probably want to wait for a steam sale before considering picking it up. I really hope that Joe and Bob Johnson take lessons learned from this game to make a much more polished and playable game in the future.
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