Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Where was that stupid plant? I knew I needed it to synthesize the cure for the plague running through my veins. I had followed the notes the other researchers had left scattered across Eden, updating my map as I could. I knew I had to be close. Maybe if I stopped to get my bearings again, triangulate my position from the large stone statues that dotted this island paradise? I found a good vantage point and tried to find the monuments on my map. No, no, no! I couldn't find any of them on the map! So where was I?

And then I heard it. The steady thrum of a heartbeat growing louder with each moment. The beast was coming.

I dove for the nearest tall grass, kneeling down and holding my breath as the giant cat-like creature stalked into view. If only I could stay hidden. If only I could find familiar landmarks. If only I could find that plant! Then maybe I could discover the cure and save the world.

 Every now and then, I find an awesome indie game that's quite a lot of fun. Miasmata, by IonFx, is just such a game. The premise is very simple: a plague is ravaging humankind. You play as Robert Hughes, a researcher who is slowly dying from the plague as well. You've been sent to the tropical island of Eden, a veritable treasure trove of medicinal plants. There's supposed to be a whole team of researchers working on this problem and they've even figured out how to synthesize the cure. Unfortunately, they're all dead, apparently murdered by . . . well, someone. It's your job to explore the island, find the plants you need, and create the cure the world needs. But that won't be easy, because not only are you in a weakened state, thanks to the plague, but there's a creature stalking you, ready to destroy you.

So let's talk about the good parts of this game, and there are a lot of them. First of all, it's gorgeous. The graphics are well done and there are some fun ecosystems to explore.

The fact that your character is sick can be frustrating, but in a good way. Because he's infected with the plague, there's the constant danger of running a fever (which can prove lethal if left untreated). The character is also weakened from the plague, meaning that you can't run far or for long and swimming is pretty much a no go. You can temporarily boost your strength and endurance by mixing the right medicines together and even permanently boost your abilities by creating the right drugs.

Finding the different plants is a great puzzle. Most of the plants can be used in some way, the most plentiful being used for basic medicine. But half the fun was stumbling across the rarer plants that are scattered across the island. Part of the challenge, though, is bringing the plants you find back to the various labs that are set up throughout the island. Your weakened state can make that difficult, as can the creature that pops up from time to time.

Let's talk about the creature. The first time I spotted it, I nearly jumped out of my chair. It's a nasty beasty, one that can stalk you through the tall grass. There's really no way to defeat it. You just have to hide and hope that it eventually will get bored and leave you alone.

But here's something I didn't expect: cartography! When the game starts out, your map is mostly blank. And it's a big island and very easy to get lost in. The only way to keep track of where you are is to triangulate your position. You find two landmarks that you have on your map, and boom, you know where you are. And it works in reverse as well: if there's an unfamiliar landmark in the area, if you can pinpoint your position, you can figure out where the other one is too. I often got wrapped up in plotting the location of statues, ruins, and tents on my map, partially because it was fun, but it was also a way to make sure I didn't get lost again. One time, I was so caught up in plotting the nearby statues that the creature snuck up behind me and knocked me off a cliff. Not cool, man. Not cool.

For all the great points of this game, there are some drawbacks. For one thing, the creature doesn't show up quite nearly enough for my taste. Yes, it was worrisome when it did, but I could go for long stretches without even a hint of the beast.

Second, the game seems incomplete. The mystery of the murdered researchers is never really solved. They're all dead and obviously, someone killed them, but you never learn who or why or where the murderer went. I expected to at least learn that much but I never did. Also, there are references to making anti-hallucination agents, but I never was able to and, strangely, I never had to either. Maybe in a future patch?

And third, the game is kind of buggy. There's no real way to pause the game except by bringing up the control panel, but if you do that for too long, the game crashes. There were other times when the game would just crash on me for no apparent reason, mostly when I was starting out.

But here's the thing: this entire game was programmed by two guys. Two! That alone makes this game an impresive feat. You can get the game on Steam, and I really suggest you do. It's a great puzzle and a fun time. Just watch out for the creature!

1 comment:

Bainespal said...

I've heard of this game, and your thoughts on it are much appreciated! The scenery reminds me of the old classic game Myst, and also the 2009 interactive fiction game Blue Lacuna.

It's really fascinating that they made map-making into an element of the game! In a lot of adventure games, players hate having to make external maps in order to solve puzzles. Having the chore making the map as an in-game puzzle is brilliant!

Thanks for the review.