Myst III: Exile

Review by Orb

The first thing to do in Myst III: Exile is simply get over walking around in it so you can get busy solving puzzles.

This has the feeling, from an adventure player's perspective at least, of being a cultural phenomenon. Presto's production of Myst III: Exile, coming after their successful Journeyman Project series, is like Michael Jordan coming out of retirement and winning another NBA championship.

The story of Exile begins ten years after the end of Riven. Atrus and his wife Catherine, whom players will remember from the first two games, have contacted the peoples of the D'ni Age and found that their world had been laid to waste, and the D'ni are looking at the prospect of having to rebuild the entirety of their civilization. Atrus plans to help repair these ravages, and he has begun to embark on this. His plans are interrupted by the villain Saavedro (played by Academy Award nominee Brad Dourif), who is seeking revenge for the destruction of his world by Atrus's sons, Sirrus and Achenar. The player's job is to stop Saavedro before his plan can come to fruition, and he/she must explore five new worlds to accomplish this.

Dourif (reportedly an adventure gamer as well) plays a man balanced on the edge of reason—Saavedro, an edgy character to say the least. His performance was thoroughly enjoyable, and his intense, high-strung Saavedro gives the game an additional tense excitement. The character is pure fun.

All of the acting, including a return as Atrus by Rand Miller, is well-done and believable. The costuming of all the characters fit their respective ages nicely, and in what may be a twisted homage to Scarlet O'Hara (or perhaps Carol Burnett), Saavedro at one point takes what he finds hanging on the wall and clothes himself in it (unfortunately looking in the process somewhat like a giant otherworldly fez).

An amazing characteristic about the design is that the story is developed throughout gameplay. And the game is entirely nonlinear. So it seems as though it was quite a trick to develop the story in such a way that pieces of it can be uncovered and assimilated in a number of different orders, just as the player is allowed to explore the ages and puzzles within them in varying order.

To say that the images and worlds of Exile are eye candy is simply a redundant and overused representation. Being in the ages of Exile is like entering and wandering around within every beautiful painting you've ever seen. The only kind of art I can liken it to is a kind of cross between Roger Dean and the Brothers Hildebrandt, except that you're inside it.

Exile boasts both prerendered and real-time 3D graphics. The proprietary engine Presto has been developing for use in Exile is simply nothing short of phenomenal. It gives full 360-degree movement. The game still incorporates the kind of quality prerendered graphics fans are familiar with and expect, but these are blended into the game alongside this new engine, giving the player unparalleled freedom of movement. With the movement design, players can look around landed-upon nodes in 360-degree pans, even while an animation is playing. Up until now this is pretty unheard of, as games usually lock the player down while an animation or in-scene movie runs. The design team also kept in the Myst and Riven-style fade transitions. As Myst III uses real-time 3D technology, it provides players who have graphics cards that can handle it a hardware mode that gives even more immersive gameplay. The engine was built using 3D Studio Max by Discreet, and much of the programming was done on a Mac.

The game has a zip mode feature, a throwback to the original Myst, and it's just peachy. It worked great in Myst, and damned if Presto didn't recognize that it weren't broke so didn't fix it. I spent a fair amount of time wandering around when I got into the ages, but once I dug into the puzzles and needed to move from area to area, I couldn't get at them fast enough, and this certainly did the trick.

Each age has its own distinct design style; for example, Amateria has a decidedly Asian flavor, with dark storm clouds moving in from the distance. And in Voltaic, the player can almost feel the sun beating down in the arid, dusty outdoor portions of the game. The secret behind such well-put-together differences is that each age in Exile had its own designer, and that smart move has paid off in gaming aces.

The music, composed by Jack Wall, is beautiful and soothing. Jack Wall has previously worked with John Cale, who inspired him as a result to become a composer himself. Exile has over twenty minutes of fully orchestrated music, and there is almost a hour of music on the soundtrack, which was created using a full orchestra and choir. The game has simply incredible ambient sounds, from the clacking buzzing toys in Saavedro's lair, to the metal grinding of machinery, to my personal favorite, the trilling voice of a small squee creature. In fact, I want one. (Of course, a personal squealing squee might upset my spoiled cats greatly.)

There are portions of the soundtrack that use some of the music from the earlier Myst, and this serves to tie Exile into the sensation of the earlier Cyan works. The soundtrack does, for the first time in the series, incorporate some singing, which I found quite haunting and a great addition to the ambiance. However, there are those that go to the ages of Myst and expect to be in a solitary environment devoid of human interaction, and from that view the addition of singing may be a distraction. It was certainly not for me, however.

The Myst series definitely coined the term "mechanical puzzle." And mechanical puzzles are to the Myst franchise what George Martin was to the Beatles: One simply isn't the same without the other. So if mechanical puzzles make you crazy, you might as well pack it in now, 'cause the ride ain't gonna get any smoother.

One improvement that has been made is that when actions are done in a game area, the results are seen immediately in the same area of the game. Unlike Riven, the player doesn't have to move something, say a lever, then go wander around and figure out what part of the game the action has affected. A thought I had about this while playing is that it makes for far less redundant gameplay, in that there's no trudging though the same sections over and over to see if they have changed.

Something that struck me throughout the puzzle-solving was the sheer feat of engineering that had to get out of the designer's heads and onto the computer. The puzzles are some of the most well–thought out and sublime in the history of the genre. They enable the player to use deductive reasoning to solve them, and they are very much logic-based. The end of the Amateria Age is singularly the most spectacular payoff I have ever seen in a game, bar none.

A couple of great design decisions were made. Like its predecessors, Myst III does not rely on redundant inventory, and although it uses a certain amount of it, it is sparse enough to not be intrusive. The player also does not have to take copious notes throughout the game in order to solve sections of the game and is, in portions, given the clues that are needed in books in the inventory.

One feature that I must mention is the ability to install the whole game onto your hard drive and play just using disk 1, so even if the player is using a CD-ROM drive instead of a DVD, there's no disk-swapping.

Exile does get the award for the quirkiest yet most inconsequential game bug: Every time I quit, I found the icons on the right side of my desktop rearranged. Now I say if I can just get it to rearrange the furniture in my living room, we'd really be onto something here.

Presto has hit a home run, right out of the ballpark. Anyone who says this game is boring simply doesn't get it, and why should they have it explained to them anyway? I'm certainly not the taste police.

Presto has raised the bar, taking gaming from a pastime and moving it into the realm of a legitimate art form. Do, by all means, turn out the lights and plug in the best pair of speakers you can get your hands on, as this is a cinematic adventure. And kudos to Presto for releasing the Mac port simultaneously and as a hybrid. You guys have never let the Mac community down. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Presto Studios
Publisher: Ubi Soft
Release Date: May 2001

Available for: Macintosh Windows

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System Requirements

233 MHz G3 processor or faster
Mac OS 8.1 or higher
200 MB available hard disk space
4X CD-ROM drive or faster
640x480 display, thousands of colors
Supports optional 3D hardware acceleration
Recommended 6 MB video card

233 MHz Pentium II or faster
Windows 95/98/ME
200 MB available hard disk space
4X CD-ROM drive or faster
640x480 display, high color (16-bit)
Supports optional 3D hardware acceleration
Recommended 8 MB video card

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