On the surface these two games don’t have much in common beyond taking place in dark spooky forests. The main reason they’re sharing an article is that they evoke the same feelings when played; both are satisfying exploration-based games that immersed the player like few of their competitors could.

They also predate the open-world survival explosion of the late 2010s and therefore don’t have hunger, crafting, or inventory management. Friggin’ hate those mechanics. 

The first title, Miasmata, was one of my earliest gaming loves and I spent hours working through my first playthrough. You control Robert Hughes, a plague-stricken scientist who washes ashore a remote tropical island seeking the cure to his illness. The core gameplay involves charting the island looking for rare plants to craft into medicines.

The first thing you’ll notice is the island’s striking beauty. The developers, Bob and Joe Johnson, created a whole new engine from the ground-up to support truly incredible amounts of dynamic lighting, and it gives the environments a richness that you rarely see in last-generation games. Miasmata‘s other claim-to-fame is its unique gameplay systems; Robert begins his journey with a completely-empty map and can only fill it via a triangulation mechanic where he spots island landmarks while standing in uncharted territory. This system reinforces the exploratory gameplay and organically steers the player into new biomes as they follow their map to seek out the rarer plants. But you’ll need to look out, as the dangers become more prevalent the closer you get to the most powerful ingredients.

There’s a dangerous catlike monster stalking you throughout the island, and its dynamic AI is the final piece that really propelled this game into my favorites. The creature is unpredictable in its realism; it prefers to target you from behind, it’ll keep its distance if you’re holding a torch, and it tends to slink in the shadows over forcing direct confrontations, biding its time until the situation is ripe for an ambush. Beware if the birds stop chirping and smaller animals are suddenly nowhere to be found. I don’t want to go into too much detail, as growing more familiar with the creature’s calculating mannerisms is a core part of beating the game, but the Miasmata monster is incredibly memorable and worth the price of admission on its own.

Rake has many things in common with Miasmata’s core gameplay, though the player’s goals are far different. The main character is Gordon Davis, a cryptozoologist seeking a mysterious humanoid last spotted in a remote forest valley. You have three days to explore the valley, collect supplies and setup cameras to prepare for the Rake’s nighttime attacks on your RV.

As you can probably tell from the GIF, Rake‘s engine is clearly a more standard pre-packaged fare, but it makes up for this with some extremely vibrant textures that make the world spring to life around you. The game’s somewhat-unpolished aesthetics honestly add a lot to the experience, as you can tell it was a labor of love with a very small development team behind it. The guns, the setpieces, the wildlife…nothing feels completely finished, but that gives it a realism that you don’t experience in more scripted gaming experiences. You truly don’t know what’s waiting for you in the swamps, abandoned cabins, or other mysterious landmarks throughout the valley.

Gordon Davis has a couple abilities Robert Hughes could only dream of. His map is already filled out, his weapon selection far outshines Robert’s useless dagger, and his cameras let him keep an eye on the surrounding area in a way that really heightens the nighttime suspense. There’s nothing like switching from cam to cam, jumping at every rustle of leaves and waiting for morning as you clutch your rifle wondering whether you’re the hunter or the prey.

The last major mechanic Rake brings to the table is multiplayer! If you’re willing to figure out how to setup your own server, you can hunt the most dangerous game with a buddy. For only $5, this short game is worth a playthrough for how much immersion it crams into such a small package. Technically Miasmata is almost certainly the better game by any and all metrics, but both of these titles are worthwhile experiences that left a lasting impact on me even years after playing them.