This-morning, I had climbed a rise to take bearings on some landmarks, to see if I could figure their precise locations. One distant spire (what is it? A lighthouse? One of the primitive statues, perhaps? I do not know) was obscured by some trees, and I took a few steps sideways to try to get a better view.
That was a mistake.
I lost my footing and tumbled down the slope. The plague had made me weaker than I had realised. Dizzied and winded, I thrashed in the shallow water and rocks of the inlet and crawled, choking, out of the brine. I must have gotten somewhat confused as well because I struck out in the wrong-direction, too confident in my path to check the compass that remained in my pocket.
That was not the worst of it, however. By mid-afternoon, I had developed chills and a choking cough, my vision intermittently blurring. I waded across a shallow, but unfamiliar swamp, unable to find any familiar landmarks in the low wetland. Several times, I attempted to climb a ridge, only to slide back down as another bout of coughing racked my frame.
All I could figure was that I was somewhere to the West of where I had intended to be. Coming across a path, I turned to follow it for a ways, once again, forgetting about the compass in my pocket. As the sun dropped lower in the sky, and nothing familiar had come into view, I remembered it, and pulled it out to check. My feet had indeed led me astray, and I had turned the wrong way on encountering the path. I was now, I reckoned, far to the North-West of anything familiar.
Dazed and coughing, all I could do was turn around, and follow the path back.
Night was already falling when I reached the place where the path cut through the swamp. I was dehydrated, but discovered a pool of water that was fresh enough to drink. I cursed my own foolishness. I had made a dose of medicine in the outpost laboratory the day before yesterday, but had not made more after I had used it. The fever seemed to always be lurking just below the surface of my symptoms waiting to come upon me if I didn’t look after myself properly.
Speaking of which, what was that? Had something moved?
I stopped and squinted through the deepening gloom. It might have been a bird or a squirrel. I remembered the warning chalked on an abandoned researcher’s black-board, the words rising unbidden to my lips. “You are being watched.”
I found a set of fallen branches, and gathering up a likely specimen, I lit it, offering better light in the dark. As I straightened, I saw it. On the ridge above me, there was an old tent. I did not know what I would find there. Maybe some supplies or notes. Perhaps a map. Coming the other way, earlier, I had not seen it at all, perhaps because of the lay of the land, or my blurred vision – or perhaps I had just been looking in the wrong direction, watching my feet to make sure I didn’t slip and fall again.
I tried to put the idea that someone or something might be stalking me out of my mind. Instead, I focused on the laborious ascent up the slope to the lowest part of the ridgeline. As another coughing fit wracked me, I slid back a little, but I strugglingly made up the lost ground. I followed the spine of the ridge to a flatter area where some predecessor had chosen to pitch the tent.
An old mattress, some pots and pans, a lantern, some rotten fruit and some research equipment greeted me in the tent’s shadow. I shook out the flame on my makeshift torch, and dropped it. I lit the lantern with my trusty lighter and all but threw myself onto the bed, determined to sleep off my bout of fever.
Tomorrow, perhaps, I’d return to the small lake I had found on the first day. I had had a knife, but as I tentatively waded across the lake bottom had disappeared beneath me, and I had had to drop the knife in order to swim the few metres back to shallower water. I didn’t know if I could find the knife again, but all alone on this island – making do with rocks and branches? I felt like the knife was at least a token of civilisation, as well as a handy tool.
I drifted off to sleep. Tomorrow was another day, even though I did not have very many days left to me. One lesson I had learned, though… I would have to check my descent of the ridge carefully. Another tumble like the previous one and tomorrow might be my last day.
Miasmata is an indie game built from the ground up by the Johnson brothers (Joe and Bob) in which you play as Robert Hughes, a scientist who has become infected with a plague. Convinced that his colleagues at a research base on a remote island are the key to a cure, Hughes takes a boat to the island, but through misadventure, the boat is irreparably wrecked on the island’s shore, and Hughes awakens, battered and bruised on the beach.
The research station is not far, but it seems to be deserted. Where is everyone? Did they create a cure, or can you use their research to do so yourself? Your only hope of survival is to research the island’s plant life, find the research notes left by the science team, manufacture a cure and find a boat that will return you to civilisation.
Something, however, stalks the island. Something dangerous that will find you and follow you, and end you, if it can.
The island is presented in first-person 3D. You see what Hughes sees, and only what he sees. You can explore the island as you pleased, follow paths, wander off the beaten track, and get terribly lost. There is no HUD-display showing your health, bearing, minimap or other status. Instead, you have a journal that you can look at, some paper that serves as a map, a watch and a compass, each of which you can take a look at when you think to do so.
Interactions, where available, are indicated by a simple set of icons when you are looking at an object and close-enough, but without any of the point-and-click puzzling that you might be expecting from more traditional graphical adventure fare. No inventory puzzles, and no obscure interactions, but that doesn’t make it easy.
You are here
Mapping isn’t automatic, like most games. In order to even locate yourself on the map, you will need to sight on at least two known landmarks. Only then will your position be absolutely determined (and a portion of the area around you filled in on the map). From two known positions, you can sight on an unknown landmark and determine its exact position for use as a positional fix later. You’ll want to find places with good lines of sight to do all of this, and the island is often heavily wooded, and not very flat.
That means you’ll end up climbing to higher ground, so be careful. Hughes can struggle up some quite steep slopes, but you have to check his descent on the way down, otherwise you’ll tumble and fall – and Hughes is frail with disease. Small chills and injuries can be life-threatening.
Hughes doesn’t require any food (that I’ve noticed), but he dehydrates very easily, so you need to find and remember the locations of fresh water around the island. One of the distinguishing features of the island is its plant-life and what you can do with it.
Flowers, fungi and more can be researched at an appropriate research station, and its unique properties can be synthesised into medicines, stimulants and more. Some combination of these will result in a cure to the plague that afflicts you. If only you can find it. If only you can live long enough to do so.
Explore, survive, collect, study – and don’t let the creature get you.
Miasmata, while being first-person and 3D, is more of a cerebral experience than an action one.
Recommended. An excellent indie effort full of thoughtful attention to detail.
Minimum system requirements: Windows XP / Windows Vista / Windows 7, Processor 2.5 GHz (Single Core) or 2 GHz (Dual Core), 2GB RAM (4 GB recommended), OpenGL 2.0-compatible graphics card with 512 MB RAM, 5GB HDD, Mouse, Keyboard. Compatibility notice: Some visual artifacts may be encountered on ATI cards.
Where to get Miasmata
Gog.com: US$14.99 (DRM free)