Friday 12 August 2016

Although I generally don't prefer this type of games, I was interested in Miasmata first of all because of its title and then after seeing a few impressive screenshots from it. Miasmata is a third-person survival game made by ionfx, an independant company which consists of two brothers, Joe and Bob Johnson, with an engine that they created themselves, thus everything about, around and in this game is 100% original. This for itself would be enough to praise this game, however in the essence of things (ie, gameplay, settings etc) there is so much more to admire.

You play as Robert Hugues, a man who arrives on a beautiful island called Eden, many years ago. His boat is destroyed, so he cannot go back. This island was some kind of research haven, where some great scientists had been working to find the cure for a Plague. Robert however has no idea as to why he arrived there. He starts exploring the island only to find that all of the scientists are dead, apparently killed. His only clues are the notes that he finds scattered around the island, including photos, letters, newspaper clippings and scientific observations about the plants and flowers that grow on the island, and which are obviously the key to producing the cure, and some cryptic messages on the boards of the research labs. Robert must consult all this info and do all that's necessary so as to survive, while trying to figure out what or who caused all this.

The hand-written messages on the boards are mysterious and creepy

Your main aim is to find six special plants which you will then combine in sets of two so as to create three important drugs: the Anti-Toxin, the Antibiotic and the Adjuvant. Combining these three will give you the Cure for the plague, and once you take it, you are permanently cured, practically achieving a kind of God mode: no matter what happens or how badly you fall, you can never die; and you are able to swim endless miles without getting tired. Until you are able to do that, you can look for a set of six other plants which again, combined in sets of two, will produce three minor drugs, the Muscle Emphasis Drug, the Brain Emphasis Drug and the Endurance Emphasis Drug, that you can take so as to permanently boost your energy, clarity and strength, and lessen the symptoms of the illness. You can still get fever or feel tired when you swim for too long, but if you don't overdo it, you won't have such problems. To help you through, there are dozens of other plants and flowers that you can use or combine to make medicines that will give you an extra boost for a limited period of time.

In the mountains and coasts that you wander there are outposts, named after stars and constellations (Sirius, Draco, Rigel), where you can find cabins and tents as well as the aforementioned research labs. In most cabins and tents, there are beds to sleep in, which you can take advantage of when you see that night is falling or when your health is in a bad state. When you start having fever, you can make Basic Medicine or Strong Medicine from the appropriate plants or if you don't have this option, you can always drink water from your jug or from the rivers and lakes - not all water is drinkable, though.

If you want some extra adventure, you may want to skip sleeping, and instead keep moving in the darkness of the forest with the help of makeshift torches or your lighter. Although it's a good idea to sleep in a bed as this saves your game; you can also use a candle or any lightning source (urn, campfire) to do this.

The Vega Outpost's main cabin is particularly unique and memorable

The research labs are there for you to do your medical magic and create the drugs; although there are areas where there is no research lab in sight for miles and miles. Thankfully, almost all the cabins and tents have a storage bin where you can place the plants you may have found; this storage bin is like the item box in the first Resident Evil games: once you place a plant in a storage bin, you can access it then from any tent or cabin that hosts one. This is not the case however with the examination trays; those are unique to each lab, and if you place a plant on one to examine it and then leave it there, it won't be available in another research lab.

As it turns out, Robert is probably a scientist himself. He appears to have enough medical knowledge as to identify and use the plants to make medicines, as well as create the Cure. But to what degree is he connected to the other scientists or their murders? Was he the one who killed them? Once you take the Cure, you can leave the island by swimming to a boat landing. The finale is wonderful, intense and as immersive as the whole game, and it may or may not reveal the mystery of Eden.

Some plants are easy to locate, but others require lots and lots of search

The game is pure survival; there is no heavy action involved; it's just man versus wild. Despite the lack of action, however, there are a lots of things to keep you on your toes as Robert needs to regularly seek plants and mix them up to make medicine. This is far more fascinating in-game than it may sound theoretically; looking for the plants means wandering around the beautiful and immersive environments, exploring the island, which is the setting of the game, from one corner to another; and we are not talking about a tiny island! There are endless coastlines, deep forests, steep cliffs, ravines, huge trees, dense vegetation, mystic ruins and swamps, all setting up a peaceful but at times bizzarrely hostile environment that, personally I found extremely captivating and charming.

To get to know your way around the island, you are encouraged to use the methods of cartography and triangulation. In practice, however, I never found either of them to be particularly helpful; the map, which is available to you anytime, doesn't rotate with the player, meaning that it shows you one specific angle of the island always, which can end up rather confusing while you are trying to understand where you are.

There are mountainous regions with both magical and creepy atmosphere on the island

I mentioned lack of action a few lines above; however there is no lack of challenge. There is one enemy you have to avoid - a strange creature; and this enemy may or may not appear; once it does appear however it won't leave you easily in peace and it's far more fierce and lethal than it may look. To be more specific, this creature is vicious, and it can practically kill you in three hits.

There is a bizzare mystery concerning this creature, which builds up as the game progresses. At a certain point in the plot, you come across several clues about it, but Robert's mind is not in a clear enough state so as to make possible connections that would lead him to the truth. This creature's behaviour is unpredictable; it may decide to appear and chase you relentlessly or it may not be triggered at all in an entire playthrough.

The unnamed Creature looks like a wild feline with horns and its attacks can be lethal

The gameplay is simple; there are just a few moves you can perform. What I found a bit frustrating at times was Robert tumbling down a relatively even path for no obvious reason, or being unable to control his speed while going downhill and ending up seriously wounded, feverish and having lost valuable stuff that he was carrying. Drowning in shallow waters just because he was too exhausted was somewhat discouraging as well; as was having to walk miles and miles to locate one plant that couldn't be found anywhere else while having no actual hint about where to look - but as it turned out they were not enough to make me lose hope about moving on. After one or two replays, however, you can recall the spots of interest and make connections with the environment that guide you towards the location of the plants.

There are several interpretations that the game's plot can get, and there's quite bit of symbolism and allegory in the imagery, the depiction of the Creature and the revelation of its true substance. The game builds a whole world, a universe both dreamy and eery and the general feel that it creates is one of a kind.

The distant island is your final destination, but you can only reach it once you inject yourself with the Cure

All the visual and sound effects work perfectly and the beautiful music, which is not always present but makes a difference when it plays, adds a lot to the whole atmosphere of isolation and hostile peacefulness. There are night/day changes, as well as different weather conditions; sometimes you wake up and the sun is shining, other times it's raining; while you are walking in a forest in the hot sun, a drizzle may start, or dark clouds can make the noontime look and feel like it's late afternoon.

It's impossible to end a playthrough of Miasmata without a feeling of melancholy and nostalgia. I loved this game and I have to say I felt sad when my mission was over and I had to finish it. Good thing is, there is no checkpoint marking the end, so you can return to the island for lots of hours of exploring, discovering and collecting things.

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