Chances are you haven’t played Miasmata. You have probably read very little about it, and what little you have probably has not enticed you to play it. While the game has been received well by critics, their praise been tempered by its lack of polish. I believe these criticisms are more a product of the current state of games criticism than they are legitimate detractors that keep it from being stellar.
To be fair, Miasmata does lack polish in comparison to the average AAA game. It was created from the ground up by two brothers over the course of four years. When the credits roll, every single aspect of the game is credited to Bob and Joe Johnson—including the game’s engine. Very few games are made this way anymore, particularly games made by a team of two people.
The game starts players adrift on a mysterious island and tells them that their character is dying from a plague and must discover the cure on the island in order to survive. Initially the game’s only challenge is navigating the island’s unruly terrain while battling fevers that affect your vision and endurance, but later you discover that you are being hunted by a strange creature. There is no GPS and no HUD. Players uncover the game’s map by discovering landmarks and triangulating their position, all while searching for plants to synthesize medicines to keep their character’s fever in check. It is a game about getting lost, finding your way, and being utterly alone. With no one to save you but yourself.
According to Steam, I have played 22 hours of the game and I don’t want a single one of them back—Miasmata delighted, frightened, and astounded me. Alec Meer of Rock Paper Shotgun summarizes it well:
. . . there’s so much drama to be had from falling over or running out of tablets or getting lost or even seeing that silly… thing while you’re trying to grab a rare carnivorous plant, and that’s Miasmata’s greatest achievement. No cutscenes, no setpieces, no bangbangbang or bossfights. Tension and trauma from mundane errors made when there’s no-one who can possibly help you. Sure, it’s often awkward in both appearance and interface, and there’s an element of magic potions which doesn’t quite sit right with the grounded terror, but this is an important game, I think. It does Far Cry 3 without the macho power fantasy tropes, yes, but to some extent it also does Dear Esther without the limitations or auterish vibe that turned so many off it.
And yet the game has not been reviewed by a number of major game publications and is currently sitting at an average score of 76 on Metacritic.
As someone who reviews games for outlets with numerical scoring systems, I go to great pains to write compellingly about the games I am reviewing because I know that if I give a game anything less than 80%, I’m inviting people to stop reading my review. Game reviews tend to be a little inflated and consequently a 76 screams “you don’t really need to play this, this is good but not great.” And the reviews would lead you to believe that Miasmata is indeed that—a good game whose lack of polish keeps it from being great:
Other areas are similarly underdeveloped. Nature is beautifully re-created here, with storm clouds moving in, wildlife darting through the bushes, and brilliant sunlight glinting off the water. In contrast, animations for your arm movements are rough, and getting a closer look at most objects reveals a lack of detail. Though minor, these issues do detract slightly from the realistic vibe of the gameplay.
– Nathan Meunier of Gamespot.
The interesting mechanics and immersive gameplay however is countered by the constant graphical glitches, crashes to desktop, and lack of intuitive gameplay. . . . I really hope that Joe and Bob Johnson take lessons learned from this game to make a much more polished and playable game in the future.
– Rowan Rumble of Parable Games, courtesy of N4G.
Miasmata does plenty to stand out with its gameplay and sense of place, but it’s not without its fair share of issues, either. From severe framerate issues to omnipresent texture pop-in to straight up game crashes, Miasmata often feels unfinished. Repeated textures and chunks of the environment also stand out sometimes, and Miasmata is far from a pretty game due to its dated graphics. Still, it’s easy to get so wrapped up in what Miasmata does well that it manages to be a good game nonetheless.
– Antony Gallegos IGN.
I understand why these criticisms were leveled. In my 22 hours in the game, it never once crashed to Windows, but I did notice some clipping issues and some pop-up when I played the game on my less graphically-capable laptop. What is frustrating about these criticisms is not that they hold an independent game to AAA standards, but that these assessments miss the forest for the trees. If we as critics are going to hold games like Miasmata to the graphical standards of AAA games, we ought to go to greater pains to hold AAA games accountable for their lack of creativity.
In sea of rote, predictable, disappointing, and highly polished games made by studios 300 times the size of IonFX, Miasmata shines as a game that highlights the frailty and potential of the human spirit. For every tenth of a point it loses for it’s lack of polish, it ought to gain a hundred points for providing players with an experience that they’ve never had before and won’t soon forget.
About the Author:
Drew Dixon is editor-in-chief of Game Church. He also edits for Christ and Pop Culture and writes about video games for Paste Magazine and Think Christian.
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