- October 31st, 2013
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FINALLY. FINALLY SOMEONE GETS IT RIGHT.
FINALLY. FINALLY SOMEONE GETS IT RIGHT.
I am a known and notorious word-mincer regarding games and my genitalia but in this case I’ll get to the point:
Miasmata is amazing. Borderline excellent. If you like adventure games, you need to play it.
Also my penis is really long and girthy. And both get harder the longer you play with them, A HA HA HA ZIH-HIIIING anyway. Moving on.
The first time I tried playing Miasmata I didn’t bother reading anything about it, I MEAN WHY BOTHER, MOST ADVENTURE GAMES ARE NAUGHT BUT MORE THAN PUSH BUTTON PICTURE PAGES WITH AMBIENT MUSIC. Not so much as even the ad copy on its Steam page. FUCK THAT. I’M HARDCORE. WATCH ME GROOVE. At first I thought it was just some frippy wander the island and look at stuff deal, like Dear Esther with maybe a semblance of a plot. WHATEVER THAT’S LIKE. I got annoyed to tears with it in short order. Mea culpa! Sadeness, Pt.1!
BUT HEY IT’S NOT MY FAULT! YES IT’S TRUE, THIS MAN HAS NO DICK. A lot of indie adventure games eschew much in the way of instruction; indeed, figuring the game’s rules out is part of the game itself. Usually it just means a five year old could fumble its way through the game. I don’t exactly need a .pdf file telling me that once I collect all 144 flowers in The Path, JACK SQUIRT HAPPENS. HA HA HA LOOKIT THE DUMB GAMER, PLAYING MY GAME. DANCE, CHIMPSTICKS.
After countless shitbag Half-Life/Amnesia mods and a random assortment of obtuse adventure games, I was expecting the same. Not with Miasmata. It requires consulting a wiki. A wiki! For an adventure game! Hee hee! My thtarth and garterth!
IT’S LIKE THIYUSS: Your character has a mysterious plague-type illness YAWWWN WAIT WAIT STAY WITH ME HERE and the cure is somewhere on the island. Rather, it is synthesized from the plant life native to the island – as are other various stat boosters and general medicines and other things. Thusly, the meat of the game involves exploring the rather expansive island and finding plants and researching them. YES, FROLICKING THROUGH STRANGE FIELDS AND PICKING FLOWERS LIKE STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE, THAT’S WHAT YOU DO, STOP GIGGLING. Various clues and whatnot sprinkle the island as well, for both plant research and the plot. It’s not giant alien robots fighting bald space marines but it’s intriguing on its own smaller scale.
Essentially you comb the island in all its luscious, fully-rendered, eye-popping OCD and snarf up various flowers, weeds, and other assorted bullshit flora. You then drag filthy handfuls of the stuff to a nearby lab shack or tent and research said plant using a microscope and a never-ending supply of scalpels. Clues to its usage (or complete lack thereof) are made available. The cure parts – there are three of them – require the admixture of two or more plants. You just have to figure out which ones they are and where in the sweet goddamned Georgia Brown they are located on this rock.
And it’s not about just finding the cure to Terminal Fulminate MacGuffinitis, either. The disease hath stricken thee and thy mortal coil, verily. You can temporarily ward off the effects of the disease as well as bump your three statistics (Strength, Perception, and Intelligence) to help you do things better. All of this research and crap goes into your little journal, which also doubles as an inventory pack for carrying prepared medicines. Plus, you can eventually discover treatments that permanently boost your stats, as well as assist you in mapping the island and other things. OH BOY MAPPING, HERE WE FUCKIN GO KIDS, HARD SNAP YOUR JOCK STRAPS, WE’RE GOING BALLS DEEEEE
Mapping is a skill unto itself. It relies on a few different mechanics, none of them being simply sashaying your tight little ass across the island and un-blacking the map. HA HA, COME ON. WHAT’S THE MATTER, HOLLY HOBBY? IS THIS NOT WHAT YOU SIGNED UP FOR? SADDEST OF ALL EYES.
Mapping relies more on utilizing triangulation YES I FAILED THAT PART OF TRIG CLASS TOO, TOUGH NUGGETS or coming across research outposts. Sometimes! Sort of! Triangulation is not all that easy, in fact it is goddamned frustrating early on. Inability to grasp mapping is likely the #1 reason most MUNDANES give up on this wondrous gem of a game (not that I really blame them; it’s kinda bullshit wandering the island for hours with nothing to show for it). Some helpful notes are scattered about the island but be warned: triangulation has two phases or methods with minor variations for both and honestly it was kind of a dick move not to mention the entire second method until well into the game.
The island itself is very well-constructed, as is the hand-crafted game engine. No jokum hokum, the Brothers Johnson should license their engine; it’s that good. Lighting, sound, gravity, friction, terrain, water; every physical aspect of the game has been tended to with extreme care. Widely varying terrain types blend seamlessly together. It’s very hard to get stuck anywhere, not a mean feat in a game with so many hills and rocks and shit. It’s actually fun just wandering the map and you really do feel as if you are a castaway on a remote island. No bullshit invisible walls or bizarrely-carved valleys to limit your journeys here. Some sheer cliffs and treacherous bodies of water, sure. Trying to navigate some parts of the island is frustrating due to elevation changes and so forth. But you can literally strike out in any direction you please, there are no artificial constraints holding you back. Sandbox adventure games are pretty rare as far as I know but Miasmata certainly fits, better than any game I can recall.
Of course, ze flip side to all that freedom is it is easy to get lost. AS IT SHOULD BE, GOD LICK IT. I cannot even tell you how many times I got lost. Dozens, easily. One must be careful as falling down a sizable hill can be fatal, as well as swimming out too far or for too long in the water. Not helping matters is the noticeably gimped state you’re in. You can barely manage a swift walk, swim more than 20 feet, or do much else. The island is lush and dense and full of terrain. Trails are sometimes only partially obvious, again as it should be. Birds and squirrels and shit flit and squawk about, and there’s weather and day/night cycling. Your feet even make different noises depending upon whether you are walking on rocks or sand or grass. Pretty neat, I’d say. PRETTY FUCKING KEENOREETO.
Hey guess what, some fucked up shit happened on the island before you washed ashore, so there’s a mystery to unravel there as well as explanation for why there are all these abandoned research shacks and no living soul. You know the deal.
Oh, and there’s a giant mutant creature wandering the island that can kill your ass dead if it catches you.
Quasi-spoiler above. NOOO BEEL WHY YOU ALWAYS DO ME LIKE THIS. Even knowing that spoiler going in won’t change much. In fact, it’s more fun the first few days knowing that, because you get an early respite and then motherfucking hunting season on YO ASS begins.
CAN YOU SHEE THE BEASHT? DO YOU HAVE HIM IN YOUR SHIGHTS? An interesting mechanic related to the monster is used to assist you in avoiding/escaping it. Initially, your only warning of its presence is the sound of your heartbeat, quickening the close the beast gets to you. After taking a unique medicine, a sort of monster radar is available to you. A floating beast head symbol appears in the direction of the creature, white if it is just farting about, red if it sees you. Basically if you sense it’s about, just break the fuck out of there and head for shelter if you can.
Remember, your character is a shambling half-decrepit victim of Super Happy Fun Time Plague. You can’t outrun the creature. You can’t fight it much less kill it. What can you do? A few things.
- Fall off a mountain and hopefully not die. A steep enough incline will forestall the beast from straight running you down. Forget about any open stretch of land, you’re monkey meat.
- Swim across a river or lagoon. Again not too far or you drown, har har. The monster tracks by sound and smell, and bodies of water will throw it off. It will wade out a little bit but it can’t swim.
- Hide from it, distract it, or try to fend it off with a weapon. Don’t bother doing any of this. It’ll find you easily and it does not care if you toss a fucking tin can over yonder. I actually never tried fighting it because a) you have to hold onto a weapon constantly to have it available and thusly cannot pick up plants or anything else, so you rarely have a weapon handy when things go tits up, and b) I bet the fucker eats you after the first bungled swing. Actually the answer is c) I was too big a weenie to dare stand up to it because it’s GODDAMNED SCARY AS ALL HELL with its roar and bull horns and feline scowl. Seriously fuck this thing.
- Get thee hence to shelter. All the lab huts and tents are safe zones and you effectively disappear as far as the monster is concerned once you enter one. Know where your safe areas are and plan your sojourns around them.
The initial learning curve is pretty steep overall, even before the monster shows up. You have to manage things like general health (although the sickness never just flat kills you) and water (you have access to bottomless pitchers of water in most huts or tents, plus fresh water springs here and there), but you don’t have to eat nor necessarily sleep. Sleeping just moves time to the next day, and there’s no limit on how many days you get to find the cure (just some achievements that I would not even bother with until a second playthrough).
But maaaaan, a few – OK, several – game days in and it all really starts to click. I’m mapping the island, realizing just how big it really is. I’ve researched several plants and made a handful of medicines. I’ve been to a couple of the major research outposts and uncovered clues and maps showing so much more to see and do. Walking about in a rainstorm in a jungle looks and sounds exactly like it’s supposed to.
Some places on the island are nearly breathtaking: high mountain peaks with valleys plunging below, bizarre ancient ruins towering overhead, long sandy beaches backed up against wild junglescapes, forests, ravines, swamps, every goddamned type of terrain you can think of is somewhere on Eden. YEAH IT’S CALLED EDEN. I TRIED TO SLIP IT IN THERE NONCHALANTLY BUT NOPE. LEAD BALLOON JUICE.
After playing all the way through the game, the care taken by the J-Bros to make the game a good game became evident to me. I could not help but compare many aspects of Miasmata to my other favorite game where plague is a plot point, Pathologic. Pathologic was ruthless and laughed at my feeble attempts to play it. Miasmata was totally ok, brosef, with me finishing it in due time. The developers are unlike many indie adventure developers in that they appear to have actually played games before and want to make an enjoyable game, not a keyboard-flipping exercise in tedium with pretty pictures and nice music. Yes, you have a mysterious disease but it’s pretty hard to actually die from it. Periodically you have to take medicine that you fashion from plant-life, the various species of which are quite abundant. Fresh water is likewise available in generous supply. A measure of patience is required because there is only so much my swingin’ diseased dick can do in one game day. Simple, realistic, common-sense rules guide game play. Be inside by sundown. Be careful outside at all times. Obsessively comb the countryside for plants. Update the map. Be extremely careful when and where the game is saved, as you don’t get reloads apart from wherever you last saved. You get to save when you rest or click on a lantern or Bunsen burner in a hut or tent, but you also save when you light a cairn or campfire, and those latter two are not in protected areas. I almost fucked myself in a couple places after saving/lighting a cairn and then hearing my heart thumpthump as the monster suddenly came into the picture.
As I neared the last leg of the game I found myself impressed by how the game had evolved, how my character had evolved. I still couldn’t jump nor run for shit but I could swim out pretty far and even dogpaddle along the coastline nearly indefinitely. This made avoiding yon beastie much easier, as it cannot swim as previously mentioned. There are a few small islands scattered about and swimming out to them once I permanently upgraded my stats made for easier going. Mapping became nearly a breeze as I made sure to hit high ground and triangulate off easily visible statues and so forth. In most adventure games your character is just a story exposition receptacle or a graphic representation of a mouse pointer to click this pixel or pull that lever or whatever. While playing Miamasta I felt like it was me on that island and I felt like I had gotten better after being weakened by sickness. It was all pretty goddamned immersive and enjoyable.
No game is perfect and as far as adventure games go, Miasmata is pretty rock solid. My only semi-complaints are that you can barely jump when you jump (you’re sick with an illness so I guess blah blah), inertia and momentum are all up on your shit so it’s easy to go flinging down the way and God forbid you accidentally turn towards a drop-off while in motion. If you try to walk down even the smallest and flattest of hills without making slow, deliberate steps you are liable to go tumbling ass over moustache, which puts you in a damaged state and in need of medication. You cannot move if you have your map out, which can be a pain in the ass when you try to establish line of sight with an object that’s juuust hidden behind a tree branch or something. Also the game clock cycles pretty quickly, so one must always check one’s watch frequently because being caught out in the dark is a recipe for disaster. Also the monster shows up with alarming frequency at times and it can get annoying when it seems like you literally cannot head off in any direction at all without being accosted by the bastard. The map is wrong in places, although that is sort of funny and realistic after a fashion, albeit frustrating.
The ending, though satisfying in its own way, failed to blow my socks off. But what game’s ending does anymore? The game shows you some neat things, adjusts its monocle in a vaguely menacing manner, and then rolls its credits. Oh well.
I do have a legit complaint and it is that many of the achievements are broken and have never been fixed. That’s a problem in a game like this, as many of the achievements act as sidequest goals. It’s kinda bullshit to spend all that time trying to map the entire coastline of the island, lighting all the cairns or mapping all the statue heads and not get so much as a wink and a nod. COME THE FUCK ON, BOB AND JOEL. I’M DOWN WITH THE CLOWNS TO PLAY YOUR NEXT JAM, BUT DON’T DO YOUR BOY LIKE THIS AGAIN.
Also there is no final showdown with the beast. That would have rocked. I know the game isn’t about that (and there is a reason why you never fight it, albeit a frippy and mildly eye-rolling one). Still, it would have been neat to have been able to max your stats out, to slightly superhuman levels even, and turn the tables on the predator/prey dynamic you spend most of the game stuck at the business end of. AND ROAST THAT UGLY BITCH LIKE A HOG AT A LUAU. MAHOLO MY NO-HOLE, YOU SNARLING PRICK.