Have You Played: Miasmata?

If only they’d called it ‘Guerilla Botany’ instead. So much easier to remember/spell.

Miasmata never enjoyed the degree of attention that many contemporaneous survival games have, which perhaps has something to do with the absence of zombies. Or perhaps because it’s primarily about collecting flowers. Or perhaps because its lone, indefatigable foe looks like a cat in fancy dress. Both for and despite those reasons, this is an uncommonly ambitious – and anxious – survival adventure.

“It’s a game about being in a believable place then having to survive in it on wits, compass and herbal remedies alone,” I wrote two years ago, and even in these survival-rich times that still seems like a rare thing.

The lack of any assistance is more vital to Miasmata than its mysterious monster is – venturing outwards without any certainty that you’ll be able to navigate back successfully is a huge source of menace. You’ll need your eyes and your memory to establish where you are in relation to anywhere else, but even if you can do that you’re laid low by the constant need to concoct medicines to hold back the disease that’s ravaging your body. Don’t forget to drink, either. You’re stalked by death from without and death from within.

Flowers are your salvation. A flash of white, yellow or pink out there in the wilderness can feel like the clouds parting and the hand of God reaching down from the skies to you.

A game about running from death. Survival.

19 Comments

  1. kikito says:

    I enjoyed it very much. Its mapping system is quite innovative.

  2. JonasKyratzes says:

    Electron Dance has a couple of lovely articles about Miasmata.

    The Beast:
    link to electrondance.com

    The Island:
    link to electrondance.com

    • Joel Goodwin says:

      Thanks for the mention, Jonas! There are some great stories in the comments here, too. Miasmata feel very personal, an experience that is just yours.

  3. Viroso says:

    This game sets you out on your own, doesn’t tell you where to go and barely tells you what to do, no map and you can reasonably go any direction from the start.

    Still, I don’t know if by accident or if by amazingly subtle design, my entire journey was so tight, so focused that it felt like the entire thing was scripted.

    Even when I got lost, it helped me advance the story. I recall once after visiting every edge of the island and finding almost everything, I returned to the starting point and climbed up a tall hill. I started mapping the island from there, with a new sense of its geography.

    But I lost sense of time and I realized the sun was setting. The nights are really dark in Miasmata, getting lost is a real danger. So I tried to climb down, but as I said, it was getting dark. I lost my footing and rolled down the hill, then rolled some more down another hill.

    When you roll down in Miasmata, you really roll down. Everything spins out of control and you lose all sense of direction. I was lost.

    So I wandered the night, through some forest I had never seen when the beast came at me. Now I was running aimlessly, chased by the beast, no light on me. I had never been as lost and desperate, but I managed to escape the beast and found my way into this clearance, and in the middle of it I found this huge flower I had never seen before, and the one I was looking for no less.

    I keep walking, the day breaks and I come across the biggest campsite I had found so far, and in every campsite you find info on what kind of flowers you might want to look next, you find story details.

    It was such a great pacing for the story. You get a moment when something bad’s foretold, then you get the climax, and lastly a conclusion, the story advances.

    Another particular event was when I randomly decided to grab a flower because I thought it was nice, and, this is a little spoilerish so watch out, and I was walking through a beach, this was really at the end of the my game, when I found a woman’s body. For no reason I decided to leave the flower on her body and walked into a hut nearby.

    There I found what was basically the last diary I came across, synthesized the cure and helped me tie every loose end in the story, making me realize the huge significance of what I had just done with the flower.

    Anyway, my entire playthrough was filled with moments like those. I highly recommend this game, if only because it is one of those rare games that lets you out on your own, that is completely player directed.

    • Martel says:

      Your post basically describes my experience with the game too. Even the falling down a hill in the dark leading to my first experience with the beast, although it sounds like at a completely different location. Fun game for sure.

  4. Endsville says:

    Absolutely loved this game. A few weird glitches aside, I found the game incredibly immersive for some of the same reasons Viroso points out, though I would add that the mysterious creature that stalks you is quite the achievement too.

    As soon as you hear your character’s heart beat amp up, indicating its nearby presence, I became rigidly tense. It’s not the creature’s scary; but the way it can slowly circle you, eyeing you like you’re dinner, and then pouncing or charging you, causing you to panic is pretty amazing. What’s great too is that it appears completely out of the blue – there doesn’t seem to be any pattern to when it actually appears, I presume because of the open nature of the game. But that’s actually really great. Whereas I think other developers may have scripted it to appear in certain locations or when certain objectives are complete, the fact that it doesn’t do that means that, when it does appear, it takes you completely by surprise and often when you’re unprepared.

    The first time I met it, for instance, was crossing a causeway of stones. The character’s heart starts beating and suddenly this thing is silhouetted against the top of a hill I was heading towards and then slowly stalks its way down. The fact that your character stumbles and falls – for the most part in an appropriate manner – means that, when you’re being chased by this great big cat, you yourself feel exhausted for breath as you struggle to maintain control against, say, the slippery rocks I had to run back across, willing your character not to careen into the water.

    Great game for the price tag, I reckon. Not for everyone, I suppose, but for the immersion-obsessed like myself, I think there’s a great deal to enjoy. And if nothing else, more survival games played from a first person perspective really ought to adopt that mapping mechanics. Honestly, I think this is possibly the only game I’ve found myself completely lost in, especially when several objectives had you search the forests. Yet the relief of stumbling across a new camp just before nightfall – which is, as Viroso pointed out, completely pitch black – or a drinkable pond of water as your character is getting too thirsty is one of gaming’s great pay-offs.

    • Endsville says:

      Oh, and also: amongst my favourite emergent gaming moments is this time in Far Cry 2 when I shot up a camp from atop a decently high waterfall but got shot myself in the process, falling unconscious off the side before I could use a syringe, one of my buddies then coming to my rescue, my attack carrying on from the bank of land below the village where my buddy had, I pictured, dragged me from the water afterwards. That’s one of those “happy accidents” I’ve always considered kinda cool.

      Well, in Miasmata – and again, this may be the only game in which this has ever happened to me – I had another of these happy mishaps off a cliff. What happened differently was that the monster was giving chase to me up a steep hill that I couldn’t see beyond and when I reached the top of this hill in a bit of a sprint as it levelled off to even ground, I found myself facing a gap where the ground should be. And if you can imagine me smashing the S key to make my character slow down at the sight of a drop into a river in front of me, it all came to an end with me briefly tottering on the edge like in one of those comical scenes in a film before falling off. But like Far Cry 2, the scene carried on after my character’s close call, although rather than be in awe of this moment, I was still in a panic because, unbelievably, the creature was still after me, the chase continuing downstream of this river.

      So it’s one of those games too, which makes it a good ‘un in my book.

  5. mattlambertson says:

    One of the most immersive gaming experiences of my life. No, let’s just say immersive and memorable experiences, period. I have never been so relieved to finish a game. Never felt such a sense of accomplishment upon finishing. A few hours into the game, once you start to wrap your mind around what you’ll have to do to get off the island, it seems almost impossible that you’ll ever succeed. So when you finally do…I’ve definitely never felt such a sense of relieved, satisfied accomplishment in the real world.

    • SlimShanks says:

      Sounds like the same reason I enjoy Dark Souls and Misery, although they would be considered quite different.

  6. Chaz says:

    The only reason I never bought this was because I kept hearing bad things about its movement system upon release. Was this something that was ever addressed?

    • Viroso says:

      When I played it, I personally didn’t find anything wrong with it.

    • Martel says:

      I found it to be a bit distracting when I started playing it but you get used to it. One thing is to change your thought process away from a typical FPS movement system into a person that will fall down if going down a hill and when running takes a few steps to stop. Actually fits into the theme of a person on the island rather than a superhero.

    • Urthman says:

      The thing is, you start the game really sick. You can’t move fast, you can’t go up steep hills, you stumble and fall if you go downhill too fast. You will drown if you try to swim more than a few seconds. It’s very different from most FPS games, and I can see some people finding it annoying, but it’s really one of the core game mechanics, trying to navigate the island while sticking to paths that you can manage in your weakened state. And taking risks, going a little to far or a little too fast (or staying out a little too late, hoping to glimpse one more navigational landmark in the fading light before dark), felt actually scary in a realistic way. It felt like the sort of danger you might have in real life trying to climb hills and avoid steep falls.

      And, of course, your goal is to find ingredients to make medicines that will make you feel better. And when I finally did, and could run around the island in a way that would be just normal in, say, Far Cry, it made me feel so strong and healthy. It was much more effective than getting super-movement abilities in something like Saints Row 4 because I was moving from states that are familiar to me in real life – sick and weak vs. healthy and strong. Being healthy felt good in a way that that seemed much more real.

      And wow, the mapping mechanic is so great. It’s a 100x better way to lure the player into exploring the whole island than just hiding a bunch of collectables or secrets everywhere. Trying to find a vantage point from which to see a landmark for triangulation feels so much more natural than searching the ground for hidden things that have all be placed there by a game designer, and it forces you to pay attention to the bigger picture, not just the details of your immediate surroundings.

  7. Frosty Grin says:

    Great game. What I like the most about it is that it’s “survival-lite”. You don’t chop down trees. You don’t even eat. It’s a tight, meaningful, engrossing survival experience free from many mundane aspects. Honestly, Miasmata is the main reason I’m wary of all the new “wolves, wolves everywhere” survival games.

  8. drygear says:

    I found this game really interesting but I gave up not too long into it because I couldn’t get past the beast. I needed to get somewhere and it was in the way, I think it might have been scripted to be there. I just couldn’t get around it- I tried sneaking, I tried attacking to scare it off.
    Thinking back maybe I took the wrong approach altogether and instead of trying to go past it I should have waited it out or taken another route. I haven’t seen anyone else complain about not being able to deal with it so it must not be insurmountable.

    The stuff I did like about it was awesome though. I wish more games did navigation like it does. And at first I thought the movement was wonky but once I realized why it was like that I loved it. The only game I’ve played where you have to be careful where you’re running or you might slip and fall, and it’s great.

    • Muzman says:

      There’s a part relatively early on (depending on how you do it) where one of the first special flowers you read about is in a hollow on a fairly thin strip of land between the sea and an inlet. It’s a section a relatively short hike NNE from where you first start out.

      The beast always appears in this area if you are there and because the land is so narrow and with high banks on the water it’s one of the most difficult places to tangle with it. You are likely to end up doing a mad dash in and out and hoping to get lucky. I only managed it after several tries when I happened to creep in and spot it at a distance heading away from me. It had chased me out of there several times before, but I got lucky.

      But this was about the only time in the game it seemed I had a video game challenge in front of me. I hardly ever saw the beast in my playthough really . Mainly “felt its presence”.
      And that’s where I think some writers have underestimated it. Sure it’s a psychedelic cat with antlers but you still don’t want to meet it. Always thinking about what you’re going to do if it turns up “Now”, everywhere you go (and being more like a regular person with poor traction and balance at times), is pretty tense.

  9. Premium User Badge

    Harlander says:

    Miasmata was pretty cool, but I got too frustrated with the getting lost and the tumbling offa cliffs to be eaten by a weird beastie. I should give it another shot as I’m currently in a bit of a ludic lacuna

  10. captain nemo says:

    I was spent many happy hours in Miasmata in January 2013. I loved the feeling of the geography (it was a place that could be learned), and the sense of your own vulnerability. Running up or down steep gradients was perilous. You could only run so far. You learned to notice plants. I also loved the ‘no hud’ design aesthetic – nothing to distract you from ‘being there’.

    One of the RPS chaps put it really well – that you operated from a “bubble of security around a base camp”. Every step further from these bases increased the level of tension.

    It’s too bad that it was so over-looked, and that it was not more open to modding.

  11. KingFunk says:

    Couldn’t agree more with all the positive comments here. Miasmata is amongst my favourite games ever. It also gets even better if you swig beer every time your character drinks water. Just for the sake of immersion, of course.