Miasmata is probably one of the scariest games you’ll play and not for the reasons you’d come to expect when associating such notion to a video game. Instead on relying on cheap scares and violence, this impressive indie game made by brothers Joe and Bob Johnson rings in the suspense through the notion that you are alone on an island, with only your wits and a constant (which shall remain unspoiled) threat looming at large.
As Robert Hughes, a deathly ill man stranded on the island of Eden, with nothing more than a watch and a compass, it’s up to you to figure out a cure for the plague that you carry and of course, a means of escaping your lush, beautiful but deadly prison.
Finding said cure is only a slice of your problems, though, since there’s very little to go on at the beginning of the game, other than a note that tells you to combine three agents into a dose of the cure. What plants or fungi go into that composition are slowly revealed as you explore Eden and come across research notes left by a group of scientists previously stationed on the island.
Sadly for you, Eden is an enormous world and exploring it demands a great deal of care. Early on, you start with a blank piece of paper as your map and by using your compass and local landmarks such as statues and huts as landmarks, you are able to chart the island out, bit by bit. Unfortunately, getting your bearings isn’t as easy as it sounds, because you are very rarely marked on the map yourself, so a good eye and use of your compass is paramount. That said, getting lost is part of Miasmata‘s charm or its curse, depending on how you look at it.
Gathering plants is easy enough, if you are lucky enough to come across the ones you need. Local fauna is varied and colorful, and for the majority, really contrast with the background, making them easier to spot, if you know what you are looking for. Not all of them make for ingredients for the cure, obviously, but most can be combined into medications that can boost Robert’s stats temporarily and in some cases, permanently.
Most of the time, though, you’ll be making basic medicine and using it, due to how much of a klutz Hughes is. Granted, he’s ill, so it gives the Johnson brothers an excuse to make him into butter fingered buffoon. It’s incredibly easy to tumble down and lose just about everything you are carrying if you are not careful sliding down the smallest of cliffs or running around near water. Speaking of water, unless you buff up your core strength stat, you can only swim so far before drowning, which can be an issue when you consider where Miasmata takes place.
Speaking of its setting, it’s worth noting how beautiful Miasmata can look at times, especially at sunset and dawn. The game’s uniquely designed graphics engine makes for some of the best looking vistas in any game you might have played recently, even if some of the other presentation elements might not look as good. As a whole, though, Miasmata‘s visuals are impressive and help convey the sense of loneliness, as well as one of wonder, in moments when you discover yet another new visual element that contrasts with everything you’ve seen up to that point. Eden is a rich environment, one that’s worth exploring to its fullest.
It’s particularly cool how Miasmata treats you as a player, rewarding your intelligence by not showing all of its cards at any point in time. You are shown how to start doing all of the vital actions in the game right away, then are left to your own devices. Cartography is perhaps the best element in the game to make use of that style of direction, one that seems inscrutable at first but turns into fun later own, while botany starts out simple and continues to be so throughout the game. Exploration and discovery are ridiculously well balanced throughout Miasmata, and even though you are bound to get lost and be forced to reload a save, it never gets frustrating.
That’s not to say Miasmata will go easy on you, but it never cheats. You’ll learn early on how to respect Robert’s limits and how to try and plan out excursions, from how far you’ll go to what you’ll go after in order to start working on his cure. At points, you might forget what you were doing at first and maybe run into the unexpected and that’s the nature of a game like this. If I had to give a clue to anyone just starting out is to be ready to improvise – Eden is hard to predict and its dangers lie everywhere in wait.
Frankly, I could keep on writing about Miasmata‘s many strengths and wonders for a while, without noting some of its faults. There aren’t that many, aside from some technical ones that are normal is a game of its scope and development. At this point in its release, Miasmata is still getting patched and tweaked regularly. I did not run into any serious bugs while playing Miasmata, but as with any PC release, your mileage may vary depending on your configuration.
There are games I’m proud and glad to have given a chance and jumped into, and Miasmata is most certainly one of them. At first glance, it seems incredibly intimidating and with repeated returns, it welcomes you, not necessarily hugging and giving you gifts, but slapping you on the bum. In the end though, Miasmata is one of those rare slaps you’ll happily turn the other cheek to.