realMyst

Review by Orb
July 2002

Have you ever played Myst? Kind of a redundant, cloying question in adventure gaming circles, one would suppose. Actually, it's a redundant question to over 7 million people who have apparently bellied up to the Cyan bar, according to long-term sales figures.

With that in mind, I am not going to cover Myst 101 here and will take the liberty of assuming that you, the ever-enlightened gaming reader, have some sort of at least vague understanding of what this point-and-click milestone is all about.

realMyst is the technological grandchild of the original game. It is really the same old fable of greed and evil and hope and redemption wearing a fancy new dress and the latest shade of Revlon lipstick. And with that analogy in mind, one could go a step further and say the Rime Age is the virtual gaming equivalent of a boob job. Something's been added, but when you get up close and personal, it just doesn't feel like the real thing.

A real plus to this latest incarnation is the fact that Cyan was able to take the feel of the original Myst and, despite all of the technical bells and whistles, have it retain the air of the very first version, not turning it into a Riven redux or Exile clone (wouldn't that be funny?).

Getting to the heart of the matter, regarding the graphics (and that's really why we are here, is it not?), I'll admit it. I finished the game, then went back to the original Myst just to see how big the difference is. And the changes are remarkable and quite an improvement. Creating a real-time 3D environment, Cyan has really surpassed the feeling of any previous incarnation of the series. In fact, of all the updated technological improvements, and minor and not so minor touches, the new look is definitely the highlight. The degree of intricacy and detail in the rendering, looking up close at the new and improved surfaces, gives the eye candy junkie a new high.

The other big (read: most obvious of all) change to Myst is the addition of a new age not found in the original. The Rime age, as Cyan has christened it, is a tacked-on, muddled hodgepodge of delightful and cumbersome playing. The age is beautifully constructed ... and a letdown. It is not long, ends abruptly (occurring after the original's ending), and really has the feel of being stuck on as an out-of-place afterthought. The puzzle design in this section is at best uneven—the first discovered puzzle is a clever triumph after a couple of red herring areas, and the final puzzle is a wheezy letdown with a cruddy payoff. Were the ambient sounds more intense at Rime? Seems like it, but that could just be me.

Some minor but worth-commenting-on touches. The original has a bit of animated butterfly floating by on the main island as one traversed down the path, giving it a whimsical air. realMyst has built in a few more butterflies, and they are a little fancier. The incredible freedom of movement in the environments makes a grave marker accessible on the side of a grassy hill, an homage to a character only a reader of the Myst series of novels would grasp. Time changes throughout the ages, moving from daylight to dusk to night and back, giving the environments an eerie reality.

One thing surprising to me in the replay was the realization that Myst does not use soundtrack music throughout, but uses it instead to heighten atmosphere in strategic locations. In realMyst, ambient sounds were phenomenal. Using headphones, sounds played from the direction that they would be coming from, were the person actually there, a difference accentuated in the new Rime age. Blowing wind sounds were incredibly real. How cool is that?

Many changes about the game get this player's hearty thump of approval, yet there are a few drawbacks that noticeably detract from full immersion and enjoyment of the game.

One of the changes (and not for the better) was the removal of the fast movement system whereby the player could "zip" to a previously visited location by clicking on a lightning bolt on that portion of the screen. What is so ironic about this bit of Myst minutia is that Presto added this capability into Myst III: Exile, which gave that game the feel of the original Myst, and the creators of the original and this latest "final" version have ripped it back out. Go figure. In its place the player holds down the mouse button to shoot forward like a cannonball until the mouse is let go.

The game's new freedom of movement is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, the player is able to creep around within game environments through places that a live person in a similar position would be most likely to actually walk, a freedom-of-movement design first implemented a few years ago by Altor Systems with their ahead-of-its-time game, Nightfall. A major drawback to this, however (at least in the Mac version), was that the slightest movement of the mouse caused the screen to move around on a hair trigger, causing the environment to swirl about like Dean Martin at happy hour. It was much easier to use the keyboard directional keys.

There are only five save game slots and a "previous visit" slot. Unlimited was better by far. However, the save screen now gives screenshots of where the player saves, which is fantastically more helpful than "selenicageblablabla."

As for the puzzles, you know the drill. If you like mechanical puzzles, this is a feast; if you hate them, a famine. After seven years, I had managed to forget the solutions to all of the puzzles, which definitely increased the happy factor in replaying it. One nice thing about Myst is the simplicity of gameplay. No pixels to find, no inventory to haul, and really not a monumental amount of notes to take if you know how to look for puzzle clues (and if not, the practice is good for you).

Upon initial release, quite a bit was made of the high system requirements for both the PC and Mac versions. In playing the game through, it is understandable that Cyan was interested in being able to recreate the aura the first-time players felt in playing their way through the game. But one wonders, with millions of original customers to sell to, and a probable host of additional newcomers, whether this was also a strategic marketing ploy to attempt to extend the shelf life of the title to the remarkable range the original enjoyed.

With that in mind, it will be interesting to see if, a couple of years from now once these graphics are dated, it gets fiddled with again. I had a look-see and spotted plenty of places on the island for an additional trap door to a new age. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Cyan
Publisher: Ubisoft (PC), Macplay (Mac)
Release Date: November 2000 (PC), April 2002 (Mac)

Available for: Macintosh Windows

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System Requirements

PC:
Windows 95/98/2000/ ME
Pentium II 450 MHz
64 MB RAM (128 MB recommended)
300 MB free hard disc space
6X CD-ROM
640x480 display
High color
16 MB video card with 3D acceleration
DirectX 7
DirectX 7 compatible sound and video cards

Macintosh:
Power Mac G3 300 MHz
OS 8.6 or later/64 MB RAM
OS 10.1 or later/128 MB RAM
3D video card
16 MB memory

 
   
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