What is Miasmata?
What is Miasmata?
Miasmata places you in the shoes of Robert Hughes on a fairly bleak island called Eden, with only one goal Ė find a cure for the plague that will soon kill you. The island is supposed to be home to researchers and scientists alike, drawn there by the flora that could contain your cure, but Ė just your luck Ė something has gone terribly wrong.
It's a first-person survival game of exploration, discovery and a completely rational fear of the dark. You're given the opportunity to explore the game however you want, at whatever pace you wish - so long as you keep an eye on your vitals. Your strength is low, you run a little slower than you might like and your plague curses you with fever and dehydration. Keeping all of these things in check and scavenging the huge array of plants to test what might cure you leaves you in a desperate state of confusion about your priorities and to top it all off, youíre being watched.
Of course, curing yourself is not an easy task. You can craft basic medicines at the various scientific laboratories around the island to combat your fever while you look for a permanent cure, though you can only carry a single dose. The tiny inventory is a little frustrating, and probably the least realistic aspect of the game.
Experimenting with various plants will give you the option to increase your strength, perception or endurance (which all start off as Ďlowí) which are the stepping stones to ultimately curing yourself. Each plant or fungi youíll find has a unique property, and some of them hold the secret to curing the plague. Youíll need to harvest plants, then run lab experiments to determine their worth. It does feel a little silly since youíre essentially brewing Ďmagic potionsí, but there isnít even enough time to consider that Ė thereís something on the island that wants to stop you altogether.
The deadly enemy on the island will hunt you near constantly, and the only way youíll know itís nearby is by the sound of your heartbeat rising through the speakers. While itís absolutely threatening - youíll often need to flee if you donít want to lose everything youíve just spend hours searching for - it looks about as scary as a Pokemon.
Regardless, it can stalk you for hours on end, hiding in vegetation before finally confronting you. It's also far more aggressive at night time - when the sun goes down, your best move is to find a bed. Youíve got the option of sneaking away quietly and evading it after a while, or you can attempt to fend it off with whatever youíre holding. Donít get a sense of security, though, because it will always come back and it only gets more persistent. Itís made utterly terrifying by being a permanent threat thatís interfering with your one and only priority, and it desperately wants you to fail.
On the other hand, thereís also the somewhat annoying occasion where your impatience might end up throwing you off a cliff and quickening your fever, so youíll end up losing the plants youíve just vigorously searched for. Thatís more of a design issue than anything, since Robert doesnít seem to know how to slow down very well. Maybe the inertia is all part of the plague.
Losing your plants on dying is not only sensible, but a smart mechanic for encouraging caution. Itís just really, really frustrating when you can only carry 3 at once each time you venture out. What kind of man can only carry 3 plants!? Plus, you often arenít aware just how cautious you need to be a lot of the time, since the movement is fairly awkward.
Since thereís no convenient mini-map, youíve got very little way of knowing whatís ahead of you while youíre running from the creature, either. You build your own map of Eden almost from scratch, with certain points of interest allowing you to loosely pinpoint yourself. Your map will slowly unveil various landmarks around the island as you find them or you can pickup scraps from outposts, but it will never tell you where you are.
Youíll have to triangulate your location by drawing lines between the things you can see, or use your compass to assist with direction. Itís real, unassisted exploration, with a lot of getting lost. Alongside the map youíve also got a handy journal that serves as your inventory. It tells you your statistics, when you need medicine, collects all the notes youíve found and keeps the screen absolutely HUD-free.
Frantic multitasking and prioritising are the only real narrative in the game. Thereís no importance given to the back story at all and your need to survive is what keeps you playing. Since thereís no inventory menu, no loading screens, no HUD and no music either, Miasmata is so immersive. The lonely silence of chirping insects and running water is almost calming at times - until you hear your heartbeat quicken, reminding you of the ever-present enemy.
Itís you versus an entire island of (mostly) passive hostility and the intensity and pressure all build and build upon you. Donít expect every combination of fungus and plants to work, either, because you are not a God in Miasmata, you are plagued, decaying and absolutely human.
It feels a little ridiculous to criticise a hugely ambitious indie game developed by only two men, but itís really not graphically satisfying. Environmental effects are fantastic but textures are missing, scenery seems to pop in and props lack shading. To counter this, though, thereís a variety of wildlife, different environments, eerie statues and useful huts all around the island. Exploring isnít all that aesthetically appealing, but it never becomes an issue since itís absolutely necessary to survive.
Regardless of movement and small graphical flaws, Miasmata it is outstandingly innovative and its absolute lack of assistance is really, really refreshing. Fully exploring the island and revealing notes, landmarks, strange statues and experimenting with botany takes time to get through, but itís definitely worth it. With a practically invincible enemy and all the odds against you, this game is intense, terrifying and yet absolutely outstanding.
Miasmata is out now. It was created by IonFX and can be purchased from GOG and Steam. Alanah is a video game journalist, the presenter for Xbox Australia on YouTube and NewGamePlus on TV, and also a radio co-host on Brisbane's 102.1FM.You can find her on Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube and Instagram all under the name "Charalanahzard".
Recent News Entries
The Xbox One Makes Perfect Sense To Me
Call of Duty Ghosts - First Look
Microsoft reveals the Xbox One
Sony announces Australian launch of PlayStation First
Rhode Island putting Kingdoms of Amalur up for sale