Indie Review: Miasmata
Miasmata is an indie survival adventure game developed over four years by brothers Joe and Bob Johnson under the studio name IonFX. Does it deliver a real survival experience? Read on to find out.
- Worth The Time?Yes, it's unique, intriguing and filled with reward.
- Things LovedThe fantastic concept, the openness of the world, it's extremely compelling, it's unlike anything else you'll play, the intense focus on survival and the way the game just nails the feeling of vulnerability and weakness, the wide variety of materials to collect and use to craft necessities, the learning curve, the game world is well designed, it's an ever-changing roller-coaster, the triangulation map system is well-implemented and unique.
- Things HatedIt can sometimes be infuriating, graphics are inconsistent, the creature has too little intimidating detail, the frame rate can chug a bit, the game lacks polish in certain areas, the lack of direction can get cumbersome.
- RecommendationThis is not a game for everybody. It requires patience, time and effort. But the concept alone ensures that it should at least be given a try because it's unlike anything you've experienced before. If you're interested in playing a true survival game, I recommend this, but take note of its shortcomings.
- Name: Miasmata
- Genre: Survival, Adventure
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: N/A
- Platforms: PC
- Developer: IonFX
- Publisher: Distributed by: Valve Corporation (Steam)
- Price: $14.99 (approximately R133)
- Reviewed On: PC
Miasmata is an indie survival adventure game developed by brothers Joe and Bob Johnson under the studio name IonFX. It was built completely from the ground up over a period of four years, and even packs its own custom-made engine titled MILO, created by Joe. The aim of the project was to deliver a real survival experience, and the game already takes a step in the right direction with its fantastic concept. In the game you take on the role of Robert Hughes, a plague-stricken scientist venturing into a remote and mysterious island to find a cure. The island is home to a scientific research outpost, and it’s initially Robert’s hope to reunite with his colleagues. Unfortunately it turns out that something went horribly wrong and they’re all already dead. But that’s not all. There is also a deadly and mythical creature inhabiting the island, with its only instinct being to hunt and kill you. Weakened and without any means of fighting it, your only hope is to hide from it, find the cure and escape the island.
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One thing I can immediately praise Miasmata for is its powerful focus on survival. Many games that boast a survival experience only offer elements of it and shy away from the full package. But I can safely say that Miasmata gets it completely right, and it really is an intense survival experience. The game just nails the feeling of vulnerability and weakness with the main character, and often this makes it extremely compelling. The terrain is dangerous, and any form of carelessness could see you putting yourself in a very tough situation in seconds. The plague causes rapid dehydration, and high fever. Your water bottle can only be used five times before it needs to be refilled from streams, ponds or at outposts and tents, and it’s a life-saving asset that can keep you running and delay death. The fever, on the other hand, causes disorientation and slows you down, and when it reaches high levels it will kill you if not treated. Your only means of fighting it is to sleep in tents and outposts, or craft medicines from plants to reduce it temporarily. But the catch is that unlike other games, there’s no quick menu to just craft away in seconds. You need to manually bring the plants to labs found in outposts, and this is where the real challenge lies, and where the game can become a series of great ups and harsh downs.
The game world is extremely open, and after the briefest of tutorials, you’re left completely on your own. Be warned, there’s little to no hand-holding here, and it will take some time to learn how to survive and get around the world with less risk to yourself. Finding what you need, especially the components for the cure, can be seriously tough and can take hours, so you can decide to either get help and read the game’s wiki page or go into it completely blind and take on the learning curve. The game world is really well designed, and even the map is unconventional. There are no way points, and no marker showing where you are. The game incorporates a triangulation map system that is very well-implemented, but it takes some learning to use. Basically, you’ll have to construct the map yourself and discover it manually. At any time, you can whip out your map and try to spot two landmarks, whether they’re buildings, statues or outposts. You’ll be shown on your map which direction the landmarks are, and two lines will be drawn on your map. Where they intersect, is where your current position is. Once this short process is done, more of the map will be revealed. It sounds complicated, but it really isn’t.
This is the first game I’ve played where direction and a compass are so important. I guess in today’s times we’ve become quite content with simply setting way points and knowing exactly where to go. Miasmata is a real change from that. It’s really all about exploration as you’ll go trekking through the island searching for plants and outposts. When you come across plants, you’ll have to manually pick them up, of which you can carry three different ones at a time. Even the components you need for the parts of the cure are manually carried, and you’ll be holding onto these for dear life. But there is a wide variety of plants and materials to collect and use to craft necessities, and aside from medicines you can also create tonics that provide you with permanent or temporary enhancements. Miasmata admirably stays reasonably simple, and once you learn it you’ll have a good idea of its rules and methods. Outposts and tents are your friends, as you’ll be able to use them to sleep, save your game, refill your water, get useful information or, if there’s a lab, study plants you’ve picked up and craft useful things.
Now we get to the real meat of Miasmata. It’s an ever-changing roller-coaster of triumphs and disasters. It can make you feel great and on top of the world, and at other times it can downright infuriate or exasperate you. You can feel relieved, safe and in control one moment and completely helpless, panicked and in severe trouble the next. Being out in the open is dangerous. The terrain is harsh. You can barely swim without beginning to drown in short time. Even just running too fast poses a threat, because the game works on momentum and if you’re going too quickly, you won’t be able to stop in time, and you may just find yourself tumbling down a cliff, your arms flailing wildly as the plant you’ve been clutching onto for dear life flies out of your hands, and you get up disoriented searching everywhere for where it may have landed. Moments like these can happen instantaneously, and invoke real panic and often sheer frustration when it’s an accident. Often they make the experience, but sometimes they can really irritate when they happen too easily. Then there are moments where you feel safe and ready, as your water bottle is full, you have medicine for the road and you even have a weapon, but fast forward some time later and you could be stranded out in the jungle, having lost your way, without medicine and starting to panic as your fever sets in and night is falling quickly.
And then there’s the beast that’s hunting you. You have no way of knowing when it will spawn, but all you can know is that aside from random locations, it can spawn when you’re close to an important plant. Once it has spawned, you’ll start to hear a heartbeat, and it grows steadily louder as the creature gets closer to you and spots you. When it sees you, it will stalk you like a predator, advancing slowly and watching for any movement. If you turn away from it or run, it will charge. You can’t fight it off either. Weapons are useless against it, and the most you can do is knock it back or throw something at it to unsettle it. Your only option is to slowly sneak away and hide. Encounters with the creature are definite highlights of the game, and add to its uniqueness. While for the most part the creature is an effective part of the game, there are some flaws with it. Firstly, its appearances can be a bit inconsistent. For example, I once went more than an hour without hearing a peep, but another time it appeared three times in ten minutes, which can be annoying. The other issue is that it lacks intimidating detail, and once you see it up close it’s hard to be afraid of it. Its model definitely needed more work in this way.
For all its successes, Miasmata does have some unfortunate faults that can damage the experience. For starters, while the visuals are gorgeous and the island is often beautiful to explore, the graphics overall can be inconsistent. The game lacks polish in certain areas, as there are animation bugs, some textures can look weak compared to others, and the frame rate can chug a bit sometimes. A few times when using the journal and map in conjunction, I strangely lost all mouse control until I brought up the journal or map again. My game also quietly crashed whenever I alt tabbed, so I stopped doing that. But moving away from graphical and technical flaws, I did have one issue with the gameplay, and that’s that the lack of direction can sometimes be cumbersome. I appreciate the absence of hand-holding, and that’s not my issue here. It’s that for the most part you’ll discover valuable information in outposts, but it’s not always information you need, and you can often find yourself running around aimlessly completely lost, or losing your bearings and not having a clue where you are. I suppose that’s part of the realism and it does add an element of learning the landscape, but it can lead to frustration.
Effectively, this is a game that requires time, patience and effort. Lots of it. You’ll need to study information you collect and really learn how to use the map and triangulation system if you want to get anywhere. You’ll need to be mindful of where you’ve been, where you haven’t explored yet and naturally of your surroundings as well. Here and there the information you find in Outposts can be invaluable, in that that may give you map segments or details of plants you need such as their properties or known locations. Other times, the information simply adds to the story, whether it be through journal entries or past experiments. If you find yourself struggling to find anything you need for the cure, I suggest resorting to the wiki, because even knowing their locations still leaves you plenty of challenge in finding them, safely transporting them to a lab and discovering the map and surviving. I personally resorted to the wiki in my latter stages of playing, and my play time still clocked in at around thirteen to fifteen hours. I enjoyed it immensely, and knowing where to look didn’t hurt at all.
Miasmata is brilliant in concept, but imperfect in execution. Some hard-to-ignore faults hold it back a bit, but the game does just about enough to make up for them, and in the end it should be commended for its uniqueness, and for capturing the element of survival like few other games have in the past. In fact, I’d go as far as to rank this among the best of them comfortably. It may not be a game for everybody, but the concept alone ensures that it should at least be given a try because it’s most probably unlike anything you’ve experienced before. This is a true survival game, and overall it’s really a great effort.