Miasma is a turn-based strategy game set in a dystopian future; where the mega-corporation Vilhelm Industries rules the world and everyone blindly and inexplicably follows their regime. Join a small band of rebels, specialise and develop their skills, and lead them in an attempt to restore everyone's individuality.
November has been an excellent month for strategy games, seeing the release of the excellent tower defense game Commander - World 1 and two teriffic strategy RPGs, Storybook Tactics and Miasma: Citizens of Free Thought. Miasma comes in priced 320 points more than the others, but it's also by far the most visually impressive, looking very much the part of an Xbox Live Arcade game which has lost its way and found itself on the far right of the Games Marketplace. ESP Games' debut is a highly impressive looking title which launches quick out the gate with stunning presentation and attention to detail but runs out of breath too quickly, leaving players feeling unfulfilled for what initial impressions may have promised.
The maximum size limit for an Xbox Live Indie Game is 150 MB. ESP Games' 3-D strategy RPG Miasma: Citizens of Free Thought weighs in at 145 MB, and it must have taken a lot to squeeze it in under that cap as Miasma boasts graphics on par with an Xbox Live Arcade release. The beautiful soundtrack, stylish artwork, and solid character design give Miasma the polished look one may expect from a game of its size and price, and the polygon models are excellent. Players take control of a CiFT team of three people through a number of missions, each an individual with his or her own style, weaponry, and movements. Developer David Addis did a fantastic job with the presentation; I love how the character management screen shows the team planning in their base, adding a level of complexity and personality most indie Developers may have found too time consuming to bother with adding that level of detail. Enemy troops and mechs look great themselves, and the textures on them and the environments are terrific if a bit repetitive by the game's end, awash in a sea of browns and grays. Some animation cycles can look a bit clumsy and slow, particularly some characters' reactions to getting shot, and explosions lack impact as shot barrels detonate without leaving so much as a dent on those barrels which just dealt heavy damage to surrounding targets. Miasma is an extraordinary audiovisual effort, but when the graphics are pushed this far, it unfortunately also draws more attention to some of the shortcomings and sterilized aspects of the game.
Miasma's gameplay is solid if uninspired, defaulting to the strategy RPG tradition of taking a team through maps and accomplishing objectives which more often than not are of the "kill everyone" variety while leaving up stats in between acts. Lina, Errick, and Paul are well defined, each bringing something different to the table, and players must take advantage of their unique abilities to make it through. I will note that while Errick's healing and Lina's stunning abilities are quite handy and were used often during my playthrough, Paul seemed to be the odd duck out, his camouflage technique just not proving itself useful as so much of the game has the team running from object to object for cover while taking down targets. Resting on a blue highlighted spot near an object will provide a cover bonus and reduce damage taken, and most battle tactics involve such hit-and-run strategy, disarming enemies while securing the safest position on the map. At some points, Lina is given a choice of responses, but I've not seen this impact the game greatly, at least not anymore than deciding what order to handle a mission. Beyond a bug which can make a player character unselectable should an enemy die and fall on the square the character occupies, the game controls as well as expected, and the easy to decipher map and camera controls make playing a snap.
Unfortunately, for all of Miasma's high notes, the game struggles to break the finish line, butchering its decent science-fiction plot by over-complicating things and adding unresolved elements at the last minute as well as leaving the player in disbelief that the game has ended that quickly. Miasma features a literal handful of battles which begin so promisingly but doesn't advance to any satisfying conclusion, tossing out various quantities of the same four enemies for the bulk of the game. Some of the battles feel broken as well thanks to spotty A.I. leaving enemies oblivious to the team's location or targeting a computer controlled companion who is impervious to damage, leaving the player free to wreak havoc without any threat. It's unfortunate that the gameplay of Miasma act as the chinks in its armor, providing unwanted faults in an otherwise solid and gorgeous game. Factoring in the abbreviated length hurts as well, and though Miasma remains an excellent showpiece for Xbox Indies, the level of content offered in conjunction with its top-tier indie game pricing make it a mildly disappointing experience given the game's tremendous potential.
Miasma is a fantastic looking game and a good playing one which just can't seem to fit enough content under that 150 MB indie cap. Addis clearly knows what he's doing here, and Miasma is an absolutely amazing project in regards to its achievements in presentation and graphics. Those alone should be enough to draw people into the game, but the absence of lengthy and challenging content leave Miasma unfit to serve as any strategy fan's main course, a game in dire need of more and better developed situations to thrown the CiFT into to both make all of the visual effort worth it and ensure that players get their money's worth.