Miasmata is an indie first-person action-adventure game available for Windows PC on Steam. Joe and Bob Johnson, two brothers, developed the game while IonFx Studios published the title. The game is a hugely independent project as it was developed by a team of two with an engine that the Johnson brothers built themselves. In addition, Miasmata is a game that was brought to Steam as part of their Steam Greenlight project. Steam Greenlight is a way for the Steam community to vote on and select games that they as consumers and gamers would like to see and play on Steam. It is a great way for smaller developers to have their games exposed to a larger audience and Miasmata is a perfect example of the power of Greenlight.
Hughes hopes that he will run into some of his fellow scientists stationed on the island, but it becomes clear quickly that he will find no succor or companionship on the island. After discovering a bloody note that clues him into what plants/fungi he will need to find in order to create the cure to his disease, he finds a dead body. This bearded man has a knife lodged in his back suggesting that someone murdered him. The question is who.
Eventually after Hughes has been on the island for a while searching for ingredients for a cure, he realizes that he is being hunted. This is when the creature appears and if Hughes does not properly hide or run, he will meet his demise at the paws of this freakish creature. Thus, Hughes must worry about eluding the creature and whoever stabbed the bearded man.
Most of Miasmata’s story becomes revealed through letters, notes and pictures laying on tables and desks in buildings throughout the island. The player can slowly put together who the murdered man was and how he relates to the other scientists on the island, but as the player explores more of the island it inevitably only leads to more questions. Narratively, the story is loose. The player could avoid all notes and letters and still progress through the game purely through exploration. In a smart way, the story mirrors the gameplay experience by placing the onus on exploration and discovery.
Miasmata at its core a game that is equal parts about exploration and survival. The only way to achieve the main objective of the game, which is to discover a cure by synthesizing three compounds and escaping off an intact boat, is only achievable by traversing the massive island where Robert Hughes is stranded. The key to searching the island is mapping out various locations and filling out Hughes’ map, so the player can keep track of where they are and where they need to go next. The player can triangulate their position by locating two known landmarks and as a result, they will fill out more of their map. At times, the player will run into unknown landmarks that they cannot map until they triangulate two known landmarks then find two positions to map the unknown landmark.
While seemingly at odds and yet only ameliorated by exploration is survival in Miasmata, the player must monitor their health making sure they treat fevers with medicine that can only be created with plants found around the island and keeping hydrated by finding fresh water ponds located around the island. In addition, the only way the player gets stronger is by discovering all the various types of plants and fungi around the island to make compounds that increase strength, perception and endurance. These survival mechanics feed into the exploration of the island because when the player is stronger or in better health, they are better equipped to search the island. Then the survival aspect is complicated and made more complex by the appearance of the creature causing the player to be aware of their surroundings more acutely. Now not only are they simply searching for plants, but keeping an eye on cover and an ear out for an abhorrent sounds that might mean the creature could be lurking. If the player is not careful, the creature will attack them leading to a quick demise and loss of progress.
The game features a save point mechanic, so players need to make sure to save frequently by lighting candles or sleeping in a bed. There is a time mechanic, so days will pass realistically and when night comes, the player can use a lighter or find a torch to continue exploring the island. While going through the island and eluding the creature is fun and often exciting, the controls are a bit awkward. At times the controls lack sophistication and they will glitch out at times where the player is unable to look around or move (this can be remedied by opening and closing the journal). While the controls do not hinder progress, they do become quite annoying at times.
Graphics and Sound
Miasmata’s island is impressive featuring a huge scope and beautiful environmental visuals. The island has magnitude and feels realistically massive helping lend verisimilitude to exploring the island and searching for useful flora. Another excellent graphical feature is the water reflection, which is spectacular. While the game does feature some great visual components, it is not without some hiccups and problems. Robert Hughes is not an actual character model, but simply a pair of floating arms that are rendered in a mediocre manner. It is often possible to see the arms run off floating the air when the player performs an action while pressing the forward directional key. Then there are the human character models that look waxy and feature poor proportions, which often make them seem like humans developed in the early polygonal period for the PlayStation. The creature has an interesting design, but the animations for it are a bit awkward and there are instances of animals popping through the environments. Miasmata does not feature much music, but when the music does show up in the game it is effective and often helps add a different note to the themes of survival and exploration. What the game successfully does with sound design is excellent use of sound effects from the way the player walks over rocks, rustles through foliage or the roar of the creature as it is about to attack the player. It all contributes to bringing the world of the island to life.
Miasmata is a hugely ambition game especially being developed solely by two brothers with a new engine to bring the game to life. It is not perfect and does feature some faults, but these flaws can be overlooked because the game presents some engrossing gameplay opportunities. The feeling of exploration and discovery in the game is superb and aided by a wonderfully rendered and realized island. Nothing is more exciting than being on the hunt for a specific plant than running into the creature staring this deadly beast face-to-face. Miasmata is a game about serenity that is intermediately punctuated by moments of intense fear and adrenaline.