Yep: Miasmata. Good stuff, assuming you accept:
It’s a game about cartography…
… and botany.
… and, often times, hiding nervously and keeping still for long periods of time.
You’re either in on that 100% or you’re not.
Sure, it’s not anywhere near AAA, but I am in total awe that this game was made by LITERALLY two dudes. It’s atmospheric! It looks good! Not amazing, but good! Let’s see you build an engine that looks that good, buddy.
Take Skyrim, remove all the fighting and leveling up and RPG trappings. Items, HP, just forget all that.
Just a big ass world to explore with stuff (meaning mostly plants rare and not so rare) in it. Do you like exploring? The sensation of standing on a hill while holding a map and looking at some big crazy Easter Island head while saying “OK, well if that head is here, and Y is HERE, then that means I am HERE” then this game is for you. If you like saying “it looks on my map like I can reach camp X if I walk to the river and then strike out Northwest, but… shit.. it’s 4pm already, can I do it before it gets dark?” Then this game is for you.
Triangulation. Here are the two things you can do with it:
a) Find out where you are in physical space if you can visually identify two landmarks whose location you already know with 100% certainty
b) Find out in theoretical space precisely where a third landmark is located if you can see that landmark from two separate places whose location you also know with 100% certainty.
The game starts you off within the first 10 minutes with a scrap of a map that will provide you with your jumping off point for point A, above. For B, you’re on your own. Either find more scraps of map or triangulate those crazy things in the distance that you can see from somewhere you already have mapped.
Most of the time following the map clues is easy. Many maps or map scraps you can find flesh out the world and give you at least basic dotted line style guidelines to other places you should be checking out. “That rare flower is somewhere in this vaguely circled hill shown on this scrap of map, and it likes to grow on the back sides of fallen logs in places where shadows are deep.” Great. I can work with that.
Sometimes though? Fuck. Once you lose your orientation badly you’re hosed until you can pick it up again. At that point, hope your canteen has lots of water to survive with, cause you are well and truly on your own son.
Common occurance: Running from the creature, slipped and slid down an incline by accident, rolled ass over teakettle, fell unconscious. Woke up in the dark, with a fever that (thankfully) we’d made some medicine for. Injured, total darkness. No goddamn idea where we are in physical space. Naturally, your position in spacetime is not magically shown and updated on the paper map you have in your hands. It’s a paper map.
How disorienting can this be? VERY.
When I was a teenager I was briefly lost in Algonquin park on a canoe trip with my dad. Like Miasmata, it was an island so I wasn’t going far, but like Miasmata the experience was EXTREMELY UNCOMFORTABLE. All I could do was walk forwards through the pitch blackness of the forest trees trying not to slip and hurt myself until I hit the waters edge, listening for sounds and trying as hard as I could to figure out where I was. Miasmata at night? Pretty much exactly like this. Can you wander around blindly in the dark jumping at sounds until you die of thirst and exposure or are killed by a stalking beast? Yes.
Fortunately your character is some kind of science badass so with the right recipes you can start mixing high-level concoctions that can do things like temporarily (or permanently, with super rare plant synthesis injections) increase your ability to run without falling over from exhaustion, scrabble up cliffs, and can increase your awareness of your surroundings with beneficial drugs. I really enjoy how “increasing your intelligence stat” in the game translates into practical upgrades like increasing your stealth or being able to always percieve the threat direction of the stalking beast if you crouch and keep silent. Yes, you totally can grab a bunch of crazy poisonous fungus and fuse it with an anti-toxin to make an intelligence potion that will let you know briefly where you are on the map. It works, bitches.
Hell, just using a microscope in the first person – you know, to make slides of leaf cells like they taught you in biology class — was a new one on me… and I’ve been playing videogames since there were videogames to play. In hindsight, why has this taken so long?