This gorgeous island adventure is anything but typical, as Miasmata mixes survival and puzzle games together to make something that just might infuriate, delight, challenge or inspire you.
In my first hour with Miasmata, I got lost in a vast forest – and then the sun started going down. It was horrifying. As I moved through the dense forest, it got dark, darker and, as the trees blocked out what little light remained, abysmally dark. I could barely see beyond my hand and I searched frantically for a path, any path, with my lighter. Glancing at my watch, I found out that I still had seven hours until daylight. But when that time passed, and I had escaped the forest bruised and humbled, I was also thankful that I didn’t bump into the monster that hunts me, for that would have made me curl into a ball and admit defeat.
This world is one of darkness, plague, violence and madness. It’s a world that is familiar, yet foreign – with fictionalised events that do not seem entirely unrealistic based on what we as a race have perceived humanity to be capable of. Miasmata plays on the idea of the plague in numerous ways, but especially the way in which diseases can drastically affect someone.
The island is full of clues about the far away civilised world, the plague, the researchers who have retreated to this place in search of an Eden, and why everyone is mysteriously absent. Remnants of other humans are all over the island, but you are most certainly alone. That is, except for the being the hunts you.
It doesn’t take long until you bump into your hunter. It will try to use terrain against you and, if you flee, it will come at you faster than you could possibly run. At first, it’s exciting and suspenseful to deal with this monster, but it’s also one of the most frustrating and challenging aspects of the game. It can come at you once every hour, or five times in 30 minutes, or so frequently that it feels like the game has broken. It’s absolutely infuriating at times, but when it comes at you sparingly it can provide a terrific sense of tension. Sadly, that tension is lost and replaced with irritation when it constantly harasses you, especially when you’re just trying to explore the atmospheric and often visually pleasing island.
The mysterious beyond
Some of the most impressive things about this island are the many different biomes, which consist of swamps, various types of forests, jungles, beaches, desert areas, fields and mountainous valleys. The island is big enough to contain each of those in fairly large areas that feel distinct, natural and unnervingly empty of human life.
You start the game as a weak, plague-ridden man who can’t fall down a soft, flower-covered hill without getting a fever, but as you move through the game you will concoct various types of medicines that help alleviate your plague momentarily, or improve your mental or physical capacity. Most importantly, you’re also finding clues for a cure. Piecing these together is a puzzle, one that points you towards areas that might have what you need, but usually leaves out some details. However, finding the cure isn’t what makes this game so challenging.
That’s cartography. I don’t think I’ve ever run into a mapping system like this before in a game, and it’s one of the most difficult aspects of Miasmata. I would love to say that it’s merely challenging because it requires skill, intelligence, planning and a sense of direction – which it does – but it’s also challenging because it’s a bit buggy. In the beginning, you try to map different landmarks and figure out how marking known landmarks helps fill the map with confusing results, but by the end you feel like you’re a grand adventurer heading into the unknown and revealing the secrets of this mysterious island.
Numerous glitches hold Miasmata back from being excellent, as does an un-optimised graphical engine that can simultaneously present dated terrain that looks a pile of dung alongside gorgeous spring hills covered in flowing flowers with arches of light breaking through the clouds. But underneath it all is something that takes a selection of familiar ideas and presents an experience unlike anything else right now.
It would be grave mistake to pass over this game if you enjoy exploring, puzzles, open worlds, survival and a great deal of mystery. The two brothers at IonFx have drawn up an island that is worth investigating, created a story worth your time, and fashioned mechanics that I’d love to see explored further by other developers.
Miasmata, by IonFx, is available now for PC.