A Paladin’s Updated Review: Miasmata. Don’t Bother Stalking This Ugly Beast.

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An updated review of one of the first Greenlight games on Steam. Enjoy.

I think a few people remember my original review of Miasmata. During my review update-a-thon last year, I decided to take down my thoughts on Miasmata until I could give them the proper attention they deserved. As it just so happens, that time is now. I think this is a far better review of what I did before but I’m a little harsher on it. Mostly because the market has simply gotten better since it came out.

For a better idea of what it sounds like in-game:

A Paladin’s Updated Review: Miasmata. Don’t Bother Stalking This Ugly Beast.

  • Genre: First Person Survival/Adventure Open Worldish Title.
  • Developed & Published by: IonFX
  • Platform: Windows only.
  • Business Model: Single Purchase
  • Copy Purchased by Myself

Preamble

Games have their own aging process. Some age like fine wine and get better and more brilliant with age. Others drop like a rock and are not only awful to play but you wonder why anyone found them appealing in the first place. Miasmata was one of the first big Greenlight titles and it got a following behind it in 2012. Heck, even I was hyped for an indie project to tackle this genre that hadn’t been done much up to this point. Then, the DayZ genre took off like a rocket and we’ve had nothing but those games flood the Steam Early Access market. But before that flood came, Miasmata released and I soon realized that the developers had been completely out of their league. I left my unhappy thoughts about it and moved on. Then came the review update-a-thon recently and I thought, when reading this review over, that I may have been too hard on Miasmata. So, I sat on the review till I could tackle the game properly this week. Playing it now, I think I was too easy on it all those years ago.

In-game journal.

In-game journal.

Overall Gameplay Thoughts

You play as Robert Hughes, a scientist who has come to an island named Eden (subtle) to cure an unnamed plague that he’s been stricken by. He hopes to meet up with a group of scientists to to work on figuring out the cure but upon arrival, he finds one of them dead and clearly something has gone wrong. What suggests to be a murder though quickly fades into the background. If there was a murderer(s) on the island, the game almost seems to forget about it after the opening ten minutes of the game. Instead, it decides to focus its attention on the crafting system and surviving the creature prowling the island to eventually fixing the cure. What little story that’s there isn’t really enough to capture my attention. Not when we’re talking about unknown persons on an unknown island trying to cure an unknown plague for themselves and an unknown number of people. If there is more lore to this game, it takes far too long to get there. What you’re left with is “surviving” the island.

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Hard to care about a random stranger you know nothing about.

Survival is handled through taking pills whenever you get ill and drinking water when you get thirsty. Often the player gets “ill” by swimming in the water or breaking a leg going down a hill. There isn’t a food system, so no need to worry about that. You’ll need to sleep now and again to stay awake but that’s about it. In order to craft pills, you have to use the crafting system that has you take one or two flowers, combine them together and get a type of pill out of them. You’ll discover what kind of pills they are after the crafting process is complete. However, here comes the first problem. You can only carry one flower at a time. The crafting table where you put the flower is only located inside tents or wooden buildings sporadically around the island. So, as you can imagine, there is quite a bit of walking around between plants because your character is somehow incapable of handling more than one plant or one of three category of medicines. Worse, character movement is intentionally awful in Miasmata. Your character is slow, taking time to speed up or slow down while walking around. Each small hill you have to traverse will feel like an effort and going down a hill will feel like you’re sliding. It’s almost like walking on ice and can prove to be about more dangerous than the creature on the island. It isn’t hard to break your leg going down a hill at a slightly higher than normal speed. Even though that would never happen in real life.

Realistic blood there =\.

Realistic blood there.

In order to explore, you’ll need to use a cartography system to triangulate your position. There map doesn’t display your exact position so you have to find out from nearby landmarks. This is done by being in view of a couple of landmarks, opening the map and clicking on those landmarks to triangulate your position in relation to them. As it requires a “known” landmark, this means you’ll need to construct the map as you move along the island. A clunky, repetitive system that doesn’t give you any in-game benefit outside of revealing the map. If you get too far ahead of the triangulation that you’ve started, you won’t be able to figure out where you are on the island and will have to backtrack to find a usable landmark. I get that they didn’t want players to know immediately where they were at but this isn’t a good replacement either. It’s a lot of busy work for little, if any, payoff. I think one benefit they could have added was allowing the player to see exactly where they were at while in known territory. All of these ideas were clearly designed to make the game feel harder and survival-like but it ends up as a more frustrating and unrewarding experience instead. So, let’s examine the gameplay.

Gameplay Examination

The game features a creature that they claim will stalk you for miles, lurking behind grasses, vegetation and overall trying to hunt you down. It’s supposed to be a smart AI but it isn’t. The AI doesn’t do a very good job of hunting the player down and can easily lose sight of the player behind a thin tree. Simply outrunning it is also a viable option which really dampens the threat it has. One particular event in the game really showed me how poorly designed the AI had been. I had been heading towards a new part of the island to find more ingredients for the cure. I was walking along, seeing birds fly about when I started hearing my character’s heartbeat. So, I found some grass to hide in and crouched down. The game’s UI will warn you when the creature has spotted you. Which is interesting considering how much the devs tried to go out of their way to avoid using traditional UI before this point. There is only a limited amount of UI used, instead the game relies on in-game items like a paper map and journal to display information. It carries all of your notes, information you research and current status. It’s a pretty neat, if clunky, and in need of further polish.

Hi....kitty? It's not that threatening....

Hi….kitty? It’s not that threatening….

So, I waited for the creature to pass me by. After it did, I moved further into the island towards another outpost. Along the way there, I found a pond and I heard my character’s heartbeat going faster. The creature had found me. So, I move down the ledge, hid behind a thin tree and crouch to find out where it was. It was up on the ledge, looking for me. It then came down the ledge, awkward animations and all, going right past me. It should have spotted me at that point but apparently this super hunter is incredibly bad at hunting. It goes down to the water and circles about, unaware of where I am so I decide to test how good its “vision” is. It finally does spot me, when I had gotten far closer than I should have been able to, so I try to back off. It wasn’t having any of that so I stood my ground and decided to fight. The creature swipes a paw at me and…..nothing happens. I’m moving around a little bit but I should have been easily hit. It swipes a couple more times and still nothing happens. I decide to run away. Despite the creature following me, I suffer no damage and am able to run away. Then it gets stuck on a wall that I went around and stood there impotently growling at me. I stood there, sorely disappointed.

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When your game relies entirely on this creature to be a constant threat and said creature fails to be a threat, the game pretty much fell apart for me at that point. In order to lose the creature, all you have to do is lose line-of-sight with it and it will eventually give up. According to what people said on Steam, the creature has a large amount of spawn points that it will show up nearby the character in order to remain more threatening. It’s similar to how the Alien works in Alien: Isolation, only handled more poorly since it doesn’t make sense for the creature to appear out of nowhere right in front of me when I had been running away from it for ten minutes. Then there’s the plants that are important to the plot. If you get close to these plants, it forces the creature to spawn near you and attack. Leaving the creature in a very gamey and exploitable state that ruins the atmosphere.

There is a day and night cycle but it’s entirely for affecting how much the player can see around them. At night, the game gets pitch black and you’ll need some sort of light source (or pure dumb luck) to navigate the island. At day, weather comes and goes adding some atmosphere to exploring the island but otherwise little else.

PC Settings and Audio/Video

Game Options What Users Can Configure
Graphic options: ok selection. Lots of missing settings including Draw distance and AF. A lot of sliders that are pretty vague on details.
Model Detail, Texture Detail, Shadow Filtering, Antialiasing. V-Sync: On/Off. Model detail goes from 0-100%. The rest are low/high. Not sure what AA it’s using.
Lightshaft, Sky and Water Quality. High/Low Slider. May help with how demanding this game is.
Resolutions. Windowed/Fullscreen Mode (will crash the game if you change this setting while playing).   Decent selection up to 1080p.
Field Of View: ?? Goes from 0-130%. Unacceptably vague.
Keyboard and Mouse. Rebindable with alternative keys.
Audio Setup: Minimal. Master/Music Volume sliders. SFX slider is completely missing, like most of the SFX.

The performance of Miasmata is pretty poor and older hardware will have a tough time running it. As stated before, the visuals for this game are ugly, poorly defined and lacking color. Miasmata has aged very badly in the years since I first played it. The graphics and overall style just feels ugly. I’m not even sure why it got or continues to get praise for its graphical fidelity when games that came out a year prior look far and away better than it does. Nothing is really appealing, with a world darkened by grey hues and lack of color outside of grass and the occasional flower. It’s a game that’s just draining on the eyes, if the mechanics aren’t draining on the player. There are very rare moments when the game might look good but these are outweighed by a world that needed a lot more development time. To at least make an island that would be genuinely more interesting to explore. As it stands, there’s just a lot of grass, trees, streams, beaches some flowers and small hills to run around. Nothing really peaks my curiosity about the place. Audio design is in bad need of an overhaul. While the soundtrack is reasonable, the audio atmosphere is lacking most of the time and there are plenty of sound effects missing.

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Plus, the cutscenes that play every single time you craft some pills or do simple things like going to sleep. There’s about four to five individual scenes per pill crafting. The animations are lacking and they get in the way often. Every time you open your map or journal you have to go through a fairly lengthy animation. Which can get tiresome since you have to open both of these things quite often in your trip. When you play a cutscene in the game, there is no FX accompanying it. They take a while, has no sound effects whatsoever and really don’t add to its immersion.

Final Thoughts

It’s a very two dimensional exploration and survival game. There’s no real incentive for exploring the island. The only items that can be found are barely usable weapons, torches and flowers. That’s it. There’s no reason to explore the island for its graphics, that’s for certain.Few games have ever shattered my immersion so completely like Miasmata has done in this genre. Upon seeing the creature’s easily gameable flaws and generally being worn down by the uninteresting mechanics, I had enough. This game is just ugly, both mechanically and visually. The crafting system is a bore, the triangulation navigation system is repetitive and unrewarding and just traveling around the island can be the biggest threat to your survival, not the creature. The visual style has a sense of being constantly dirty and faded out that it drains me to even look at it. This is a game that had such promise but ultimately falls short. A custom engine that didn’t do anything that unique at the time, a premise that in the right hands could be a lot of fun but was clearly not in those hands. It didn’t help that it got very little post-release support but I guess that’s unsurprising in this case. IonFX has been very quiet since Miasmata was released to the point that I think the company may have failed. Simply put, a lot better games have come out since Miasmata and are worth your attention more than this one. 

Thanks for reading this review. If you’re interested in other open world reviews or game reviews from yours truly, take a look around. Share this post if you really liked it.

-KingIsaacLinksr

One Comment:

  1. This is quite funny. While I agree with most of your points and threw some good fits thanks to the horrible slipping, sliding and rolling (do you play a washing machine on stilts?), I still think the game looks pretty good overall (if you ignore some bad textures and color choices mostly indoors) and I genuinely enjoy the atmosphere of it because it seems so melancholic, heavy (clunky) and dangerous. Usually I see through games quickly, so I knew about the creature and how it is scripted early, knew I only had to sleep every once in a while, what kind of medicine to craft and so on. And still the game kept creeping me out for some reason. I think it was merely the music and atmosphere. That weird jungle. Those weird head statues. I knew nothing was gonna happen, no monster would suddenly jump at me, the kitty cat wasn’t that creepy, and still I felt constantly threatened and followed and insecure. Maybe it was just the illness having this effect, making me feel weak and vulnerable – I don’t know. I just know it worked better than in any other game. When I think about replaying it, I think “ewww”, but not because of how bad the gameplay is or how annoying it was to slide down a hill, but because of the idea of being back ill on this sad, lonely island in that creepy jungle and the pitch-black darkness. The fact there’s also only this clunky map and you never really know where you are adds to this kind of immersion. The whole game feels like a grave. I love it. lol.

    Oh, and the kitty has a cute face but almost human hands and walks like the guy in that tape from the Poughkeepsie tapes movie. Weird and uncanny af.

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