Gaming Reviews

Miasmata Review

Ah, the first official game review of 2013 here at GND-Tech. And what a way to start off the new year! Miasmata is a game made by IonFX, an indie game developing studio. The brains behind the game are two brothers; Bob and Joe Johnson. Miasmata was in the first batch of Greenlit games on Steam, and rightfully so, for it is a very unique and interesting game. It’s an open world first person survival-adventure game, set on a mysterious island called Eden.

What makes Miasmata stand out is, you start on a large island with almost nothing given to you: there’s no map or objective markers, just a compass and a watch, until you make the map yourself. You have to navigate and stay hydrated with very minimal assistance, and more importantly, you must cure yourself of a plague that will soon kill you. It’s a minimalistic but lengthy adventure, that aims to be extremely rewarding by making the player feel very desperate. Does Miasmata hit the mark? Read more to find out…

First Impressions

“In a different place and time… your name is Robert Hughes. You awake on the shores of a mysterious island. You have come to this island an exiled man: a traitor and betrayed. You are suffering from a plague: a disease from which you will soon die. This island is home to a research outpost: a conclave of enlightened men searching for a cure. Discover the cure and survive.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Miasmata is very direct in telling you the story of the game, as you will watch a slideshow featuring the above paragraph at the opening of the game. The game stands out as being quite artistic in its styling, specifically the language used throughout the game as well as the soundtrack, various set pieces, and the overall presentation. Throughout the game you’ll find a number of journal entries and articles, describing either the outside world, or the sinister things that are happening on the island… mystery and suspense are huge in Miasmata.

Miasmata is a PC exclusive game… such a demanding, hardcore survival game simply would not succeed on consoles. It would most likely feel like a burden on the shoulders of a typical gamer, but for those looking for a more challenging and demanding game, Miasmata stands out.

Steam and GOG both carry Miasmata, so this game can only be acquired digitally… which really isn’t a problem. Upon launching the game, you’ll see that the UI is very simplistic, and for an indie game it has a decent amount of configuration, complete with adjustable key bindings and a good amount of graphics settings. I don’t have to go into detail here, the game holds no surprises in this respect.

You awake on the shores of Eden, struggling to stand to your feet. There’s no objective marker, no inventory system, you’re not told to do anything other than to “discover the cure and survive”. This is what makes the game stand out, as a matter of fact, this is essentially what made Day Z (an ArmA 2 mod, which will soon be a complete game) stand out. Miasmata is not strung up on goals or objectives, it’s open world and consists of free roaming. There’s no limitations as to where you can go really (except for the ocean of course, you can only swim for so long). Your only objectives throughout the game are to discover a cure, and survive.

Survive from what, you may ask? That’s a very good question…

Gameplay

Miasmata has a very interesting take on survival and adventure gameplay. They’ve succeeded to make the simple task of trekking very realistic and brutal. Movement feels slightly different, but not very clunky. However your character is weak, and you’ll find the task of climbing up (or going down) steep hills to be quite difficult. Make one wrong move and you’ll find yourself tumbling down a hill, ending up badly injured or dead, just like you would in real life. Traveling feels realistic, unlike every other game I’ve played. Take the game seriously.

There aren’t that many gameplay elements in Miasmata, it takes a more minimalistic approach. Hydration is a key factor; you must find fresh water to drink, like you would in real life. The game runs on a 24 hour day/night cycle like many other free roam games today, so time management is crucial. Have you ever seen in shows like Lost, in which characters always choose to wait until the morning to trek through the island? You’ll want to do that here too: nights are pretty much pitch black. The only light comes from the moon, or your lighter which doesn’t have a vastly exaggerated radius like most games and films. You can also make an improvised torch with a common type of plant. But regardless, you should sleep through the nights. You can sleep on beds which are found at outposts.

The island is big and completely open: there are no loading screens once you’re in the game, and no invisible walls. To navigate, you don’t rely on a premade map: you’ll find that when you start the game, your map is just a blank piece of paper. Your map is expanded upon when you triangulate your location, or find other maps at certain outposts.

It’s surprising to see something like this in a video game. It would overwhelm most, but people like me will love this feature. And don’t forget, you need to find a cure for your disease. But I’ll be clear, there is no cure waiting for you. The only things waiting for you are clues and instructions on formulating the cure. So how do you make the cure? The answer is… chemistry. What did you think?

As the above video shows, there are dozens (maybe even hundreds) of plants/fungi and the like, waiting around the island to be picked. Each one has unique properties, and they can be combined with others for unique results. The result could range from basic medicines that reduce fever (which occurs if you get hurt, or get dehydrated I believe), to medicines that temporarily boost your strength, medicines that permanently improve your strength or other aspects, or even… downright nothing. You determine the usefulness of an ingredient via microscope, and can then synthesize it afterwards. And the cure? It’s the most complex one to make, of course. Here is a common gameplay session, but don’t worry, as you advance through the game it will become much more exciting than this.

Remember how I said suspense is a big part of Miasmata? That was no joke, this game can become one of the most intense games ever. You see, you’re a weak, sick man on an island with no way of defending yourself. Unfortunately for you, there’s… something else on this island. Don’t get me wrong, Eden feels alive and there’s plenty of wildlife, but there’s a much more dangerous creature lurking in the shadows. Miasmata has a very deadly predator that stalks the player depending on their progress throughout the game. It’s an innovative system; you’ll never know when it’s going to strike, and when it does… you have two options: run or hide. Fighting is not an option. Here’s a clip that shows my first encounter with the beast (yep, I caught it on video, you’re welcome). This video will be featured in my future list of 10 scariest gaming moments, by the way…

********SPOILER ALERT, DON’T WATCH IF YOU WANT TO BE TAKEN BY SURPRISE IN-GAME LIKE I WAS

The video title is appropriate. Keep in mind I had no idea what the creature looked, sounded, or acted like. I just knew it existed, and that it was around somewhere. That was my first confirmation. You’ll never know when it will strike; it stalks you dynamically based on your progress, and it doesn’t give up easily.

You’ll also find various outposts scattered around the island, which have the scientific equipment you need, as well as journal entries or articles, either describing events in the outside world or what was occurring on the island. The language used in these writings really stands out, giving you the feel that it certainly is a very different place and time. There’s a decent amount of lore to be found on the island, and you’ll discover some very interesting but very disturbing notes on what occurred on the island in the past…

The above picture shows your journal, which shows your status, objectives, notes (found on the island), and plant research conducted by yourself. Here you’ll also find your canteen, medicines you’ve made, and components for the cure. There are no freebies to my knowledge; I never found a medicine. I always had to synthesize them. Hell, I never even mapped the whole island…

That’s as far as I got in terms of mapping. Now, I’ve explored pretty much the entire island I’m sure, but failed to complete the map. Here’s the full map, taken from the Miasmata wiki:

Also on the island you’ll find ancient ruins which are impressive to look at, but sadly, they don’t really have anything interesting within. This isn’t a Bethesda game, you won’t find hidden caves around the island filled with details, nor is this Turok: those ruins don’t have any depths filled with amazing ancient creations or anything of the sort.

This is where slight disappointment sets in, Miasmata is not multi-dimensional. When exploring, you’re always looking for something specific: either plants, outposts, or landmarks used specifically for mapping. Well and… there are a few Owl statues to be found, which point toward useful plants/ingredients, so there’s a free tip. But still, specific. The only “bonuses” you’ll find when exploring are journal entries or articles. The ruins are cool, but usually empty. If they’re not empty, what do they contain? Scientific materials: they’re outposts.

So yeah, exploring is treacherous and challenging, but not highly interesting. Still, it’s good enough to keep me playing for 20 hours until I finished it, and I never got bored. The suspense kept me going.

So that pretty much sums up this section. Exploration/world design is good but not amazing, the innovative difficulty in trekking is excellent, the creature that stalks you based on your progress maximizes suspense, and the survival elements are good. Oddly enough, there is no hunger requirement: just thirst and sleep. I think that hunger should be an optional requirement: I understand they do not want to place too much emphasis away from finding the cure, but that’s why it should be an option like in Ballsout: New Vegas.

Regardless, gameplay is innovative and very satisfying, and helps Miasmata stand out as one of the most unique games of 2012, up there with Dishonored but perhaps even more so. I’ll finish off this section by posting a 39 minute gameplay video I made of Miasmata, completely uncut. Why did I make this, some would ask? Well I ask, why not? Dxtory minimizes file size and frame rate loss. Enjoy.

 

Audio & Visuals

Miasmata is an interesting looking game. It’s an indie game, but not bad looking by any means. Vegetation models stand out, due to grass blades being individually rendered and they move very well with the wind. The lighting system is good, and it might have the best sunshaft implementation I’ve seen. Regardless, it looks a bit dated due to the general shader quality, but overall it looks decent.

Shadows, water, and texture quality are all pretty good, and anti-aliasing leaves little to be desired. On top of this, it has very good dynamic subsurface scattering, and ambient occlusion seems to be supported though it isn’t very good. It’s easy for me to max out at 1080p… but not much isn’t when you’ve got a GTX 680 and i7 2600 @ 4.2 GHz, so your mileage may vary.

Miasmata’s audio really stands out however, both in terms of sound effects and the soundtrack. The soundtrack impresses me more, it’s cinematic and perfectly fitting with the atmosphere. The sound effects are very crisp; footsteps are very audible, and stepping over broken branches on the floor creates that loud SNAP that alerts things around you… very immersive but be careful, because always remember that you’re being watched. There is very good detail put into the sound effects: passing through vegetation makes audible and realistic sounds, stepping on certain types of foliage creates different sounds, though oddly enough stepping on concrete sounds the same as stepping on dirt. I guess we can’t have it all.

Visually, Miasmata doesn’t look great, but looks good enough to immerse the player into the world. The audio really helps with regards to immersion, even if it isn’t perfect. The soundtrack is subtle but perfect, and the sound effects are excellent.

Conclusion

Miasmata is one of the most ambitious games I’ve found in recent years. It takes some bravery make a game that demands so much from the player, mostly in this day and age where difficult games are hardly even desired by the mass. Miasmata stands out for being brutal in the survival mechanics, artistic in its styling, and very rewarding in its conclusion.

For a breakdown of our scoring system and how it works, look here.

  • Presentation: The UI is smooth, and there’s enough customization to satisfy anyone. 19/20
  • Story: The plot is very simple: discover the cure to your disease, and survive. But the lore you find around the island adds an interesting layer to the story. 16/20
  • Gameplay: IonFX really nailed it with regards to suspense, and the brutal survival mechanics are very well done. I only wish for an optional hunger requirement, though they would have had to add larger animals to the island for this. In addition, the world design isn’t as good as it could have been: exploration is more one-dimensional and can get stale after some time. I also find the time scale to be too fast. 16/20
  • Audio & Visuals: Visually, Miasmata doesn’t stand out but it does look good. The soundtrack really stands out however, and the sound effects are great overall, though could be improved slightly. 17/20
  • Lasting Appeal: Miasmata is open world, and the length of it really depends on the player. Some can finish it in just a few hours; though this speed running won’t occur the first time, and is never recommended. It took me 20 hours to finish it. Eventually, I see myself coming back to replay it. 16/20
  • Overall: 84/100 (Good)

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