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You’re trapped on a mysterious island, and are very, very sick with a plague that may or may not be ravaging the entire world. Whatever’s happening off of the island is immaterial, since you’re alone and need to keep yourself healthy so that you can cure yourself and maybe the world.
Miasmata is a game of exploration. The island’s secrets aren’t going to reveal themselves to you just because you’re there. While you’re exploring the island, you can find plants and fungi that will help you stay alive and also enhance your abilities.
Miasmata has no health meter or HUD to keep you apprised of your situation. You have to listen to your breathing and monitor your physical condition through your journal, which will tell you if you have a fever and need medicine. An inventory item like a doctor’s bag, even one that was fairly limited on space, would have been a great addition to the game for carrying specimens and maybe some extra torches. Being able to only carry two items at a time is very limiting and sometimes you can end up throwing away items that you need. I dropped the lighter more than once and could never pick it back up, which made it annoying.
Medicine is created at the research stations found in the various cabins and tents around the island. If you have plants that you need to hang onto but don’t want to carry, you can leave them in the specimen trays and they’ll be at each research station you visit, despite the fact that they shouldn’t be. It’s a bit unrealistic in a survival game, but it works better than having to trek back to where you left the specimen.
The other unique aspect of the game is cartography. You triangulate your position using two landmarks and that fills in your map, though since you can’t see where you are on the map doesn’t quite help all that much. The sense of wonder that comes from exploring the island and figuring out what’s on the other side of the hill is pretty damned cool. I spent more time wandering around and looking at the environment than I did looking for plants, which led to lots of fever related deaths when I tumbled over an unseen cliff. But getting to the weird/interesting thing that I saw from the top of a hill in the distance in the early morning light after sleeping in a tent so full of holes that the rain leaked through was oddly satisfying. At least until my heart rate shot through the roof as the creature came out of nowhere and attacked me. It’s not easy to defend yourself against the monster when you’re weak, though it’s no picnic when you’re strong either. Miasmata isn’t a game about combat, so when the monster finds you, it usually doesn’t end up all that good for you.
One of the problems I had with Miasmata is that besides finding notes, dodging the creature and trying to find the cure for your plague, there really isn’t much going on, and the game has a slow pace that may drive people crazy that don’t just like running around and exploring just because they can. I think a more structured goal system would have helped give meaning to my explorations and make my finding of notes and papers and photos a bit more meaningful.
I enjoyed the touches of realism in the game, because they highlighted the survival aspect of this survival adventure game. Finding your way in the dark on the island is a nightmare, even with a torch. I solved this by sleeping through the night and then getting up close to dawn, when the island looked its coolest. There were times when I was caught out though, and that usually resulted in my death.
Miasmata is a game for those who enjoy exploration and solving mysteries in tiny bites rather than big chunks.
Miasmata is available for PC on Steam.
Note: Miasmata was reviewed after six hours of gameplay on PC.