Miasmata

I’ve always been a big fan of the survival genre, and it’s always so disappointing to me when a game decides “survival” means “hack/shoot apart thousands of monsters and scrounge for health potions”.  I was quite intrigued when I saw Miasmata on Steam, but initial reports weren’t very favourable so I waited for a sale.  I really wanted to try it though, so it was awesome when it popped up as a gift on Christmas (yay thank you!).

The basic premise is that you are stranded on an island, and everyone else appears to be dead, possibly of a plague which you also have contracted.  You, fortunately, are a scientist, so you set about exploring the island and trying to synthesize a plague cure from the local plants.  The backstory of the game is revealed through tattered journals in abandoned huts.

Exploration consists of triangulating positions to fill in your map.  The vast majority of the game is this, actually, but fortunately the island is pretty interesting to explore.  There are statues and ruins and stuff so it’s not like “oh good, another rock.”  At least, not all the time.  Triangulation itself is pretty accurate, really.  You need to have two known landmarks (ones marked on your map), and then you figure out where you are standing from cross referencing them.  Once you do that, any landmarks near you become available to be used as reference points.  So if you dash off into the woods, your map will be blank, nothing known will be visible, and you’ll have to navigate by compass.  Oh yeah, and at night time you can’t see shit.  We are talking inky blackness of midnight, here.  Twilight does not seem to exist in this world (or maybe he needs to eat more beta carotene…), nor do full moons. You have a dinky lighter and can make a torch out of branches, but they really won’t help you, so keep an eye on your watch and stick near a known shelter when night comes around.

As you explore the island, you discover you are not exactly alone.  A large, green, horned cat beast is stalking you. And when it spots you, you discover that it also runs much faster than you do…

The game was not terribly well received for a few reasons.

First: It’s optimized like ass.  I reduced the resolution to make it run smoothly because it was not playing nicely.  If your computer already struggles with recent software, you might be unable to actually play it at a decent framerate.  The minimum specs really don’t seem adequate for anything other than sputtering around, and even a powerful machine will probably run into snags.

UPDATE: Since writing this, the game has been patched and I can now run around at full settings and pick flowers with glee.

Second: The gameplay consists almost entirely of wandering around the woods, triangulating positions to uncover the map, and collecting flowers to run back to the lab and analyze.  I, personally, really enjoy this gameplay, and I want more games to implement it.  But I can see how many people will get bored and find it tedious in a hurry.  The stalking cat adds some flavor, but interactions with it are kept fairly rare to ramp up the tension (thankfully!  It would get pretty annoying to have it on your ass every five minutes…) and there’s not a whole lot to do with those encounters except run the fuck away, since there’s no combat.  You have a few tricks to distract it (if you throw a torch at it, it will turn and look and give you a moment to haul ass), and you can use stealth to hide or lose it, but it’s not exactly a big part of the game other than adding to the atmosphere of exploration. (Here’s a big tip, and possibly a bit of a spoiler: The cat is modelled very realistically on real mountain lion behaviour. So if you want to deal with it effectively, go read up on what to do if you encounter a cougar who wants to chew on your skull. It’s actually an impressive feat of programming, I’d say.)  I haven’t uncovered a whole lot of the backstory as of yet, but I’m guessing it doesn’t do much to make up the gameplay gap.  So if you enjoy exploring and picking flowers, oh man do we ever have a game for you!  But if that sounds boring to you, eeehh…

Third: The graphics.  Despite running like ass, it’s not exactly the prettiest game sometimes.  I don’t usually let indie graphics bother me.  I played the shit out of a free game called Stranded II which was literally wandering around on an island and trying to build stuff, and it had some really terribly modelled creatures in it.  Compared to that, Miasmata is fucking beautiful.  I feel like the environments are pretty, and the sunrays at sunrise are wonderful to wander through, but if you glance down at your hands you kind of go “oh.”  Similarly there is a bit of jankiness when trying to pick stuff up off the ground sometimes which might pull you out of it.

But man when you watch a storm roll in over the ocean?  Look at this shit:

It is going to fucking RAIN, guys

It is going to fucking RAIN, guys

The rain itself is maybe not quite as impressive as the build-up to rain… but it messes with your visibility enough that it can make you either think twice about wandering off, or go “oh shit” and scramble for shelter if you’ve already wandered off the edge of your known map.

The game from that point is really what you make of it.  I am really enjoying losing myself in the atmosphere, trying to uncover my map, getting excited when I crest a hill and see some old ruins that look creepy, or finding a new flower I haven’t examined yet.  And then, just when you’re happily collecting some flowers a good 15 minutes from safety, you hear *Thump thump.  Thump thump.* The heartbeat indicates the creature has spotted you and is stalking nearby.

The movement in the game has been criticized too, but opinions are mixed.  The protagonist has a bit of a momentum based movement, so when you get going at a good clip, it takes him a moment to settle down.  So if you’re plowing through the forest and reach the edge of the cliff, letting go of the W key isn’t going to save your ass.  You’re going over, man.  Similarly, when he falls, he falls.  Ass over teakettle, camera flailing wildly, black out at the bottom depending on how hard and far you fell.  Some people have criticized it by saying the protagonist falls a bit too easily on every little dip in the terrain, but he is also dying of a plague! So that didn’t bother me. Falling hard also means whatever is in your hands will be let go and go flying, possibly being destroyed in the process.  I climbed a big ass mountain to reach some flowers and let me tell you, I’ve done a lot of hiking, and picking my way back down that slope felt just like picking my way down some loose scree.  I’d creep forward and the guy would slip a bit and pick up speed as he skidded, so I’d mash S with my heart in my throat, terrified of tumbling down and losing my hard won petals.

And then when I got to the bottom and was all “Whew, now I can book it back to the lab!”, I heard *thump thump.  thump thump.*

“Oh fuck, the cat.  If it attacks me I’ll have to climb that god damn mountain to get these flowers again!  Okay, the tent isn’t far in that direction so I’m just going to dash for it.”

So I started dashing, and THERE IT WAS.  Apparently I chose exactly the wrong direction to dash in…

A panicked about-face later (with the guy lurching and skidding all over, trying to turn at high speed… it’s really quite effective once you’re used to it) I dashed in the opposite direction.  The creature roared behind me and the heart beat sped up.  Up ahead, a tent I hadn’t uncovered yet!  Yes!  Safety!

*whack* it hit me from behind and he tumbled, ears ringing.  I didn’t drop the flowers!  KEEP DASHING GOD DAMMIT.

When you go uphill he slows down to make the climb too, so climbing the last slope to the tent was fairly intense.  But once inside the creature loses interest and wanders off, and I was able to take some medicine to calm the fever that being mauled by a giant horned green cat had made worse, then sleep until morning.

I found the above exchange very exciting, and I am looking forward to synthesizing medicine to make me stronger, and allow me to do things like swim and access more areas of the island.  If you find it appealing to get lost on an island that decidedly does not want you to pick its flowers, then you should definitely check this game out.  If exploration is boring to you, move along.

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About tagracat
I am not a professional, I don't get paid to review shit, I am just opinionated and I seem to have some sort of disorder that results in spewing my opinions onto the internet. I enjoy writing long-winded posts about things and sometimes I like to pretend people want to read them, so a blog seemed an appropriate place to stuff it. But mostly I just like writing about things.

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