Today’s contribution comes from long time friend of the site, programmer extraordinaire and general cool guy Stephen “Stiv” Tramer.
The best survival horror games tend to have a pretty simple, visceral hook. This is one of the reasons why the first few Silent Hill games work so well: They have a simple premise that is (relatively) easy for the player to buy into and sympathize with. Miasmata has one of the best, most easily understandable hooks of any survival horror game I’ve played, laid out in a series of short sentences before the game begins: You are Robert Hughes. You’re a botanist who has awoken on the shore of a mysterious island, where an enclave of researchers have been working on a cure. You have a disease that is slowly killing you. Find the cure and survive.
Right away, the stakes are clear. You are dying and weak. Traveling up the path to the first building of the outpost, you find a bloody note that lists the components of the cure, and a dead body with a knife in its back. This provides the game’s secondary mystery, one which is almost entirely optional, and discovered by finding discarded notes and journal entries around the island: What happened here? Is anyone left?
From here, the world is wide open. Travel the island, across beaches and through forests, marking the mysterious statues on your map so that you can triangulate your position and draw a map to avoid getting lost. Pick flowers, research them, make medicines to keep your fever down. It sounds deceptively simple. But it’s really not. That’s because the only real way you can get hurt – the foe that you’ll be dealing with for most of the game – is yourself. Cross a stream that looks shallow but isn’t, and you could drown. Run too fast down a path, and you could careen off of a hill, hitting the ground and passing out. Try and climb something too steep, and you’ll slip and fall. Being lost, disoriented, unable to figure out where to head next: That’s what’s most likely to kill you during the first portion of the game.
Then, you encounter The Creature.
The Creature is a mysterious animal that seems to follow you across the island. First it shows up only at night – then it starts stalking you through the daytime – then it chases after you during the day – then it figures out where you sleep, and every morning when you wake up, there it is, outside the tent or shack in the trees or rocks, waiting. There’s no way to fight it, the only thing you can do is run or hide. And if you hide, it will find you before too long.
Plenty of survival horror games rely on a single, unbeatable foe, but The Creature is a particularly well-thought one. Until you get the ability to sense where it is when its nearby (which comes a little too early if you’re following the clues in a linear fashion) the only indicator you have is the sudden elevation in pulse, the growls and roars coming from somewhere behind you. For the most part it blends into the surroundings at first, and as it becomes more aggressive, simply doesn’t bother hiding. It’s an excellent way to continue ramping up the game’s tension, changing your daytime excursions from sprints across the island where you don’t care about breaking twigs or straying from the path to tense, short walks with frequent stops as you check to see if you’re being followed.
For a game with such a simple, small set of mechanics, Miasmata is strangely compelling. I’d probably play a game about collecting flowers and exploring an island even without the external threat, but having that there simply makes it all the better and more compelling.
- Released: November 28th, 2012
- System: PC
- Developer/Publisher: IonFX