Uru: Ages Beyond Myst
Review by Jen
I have played all three previous Myst games and liked
them all fairly well. Unlike many adventure gamers, though, Myst
was neither my first nor my favorite.
The first two, Myst
and Riven, were designed by Cyan, a company formed
by the brothers Rand and Robyn Miller. These were both groundbreaking
in their visual beauty and in their gameplay style: they are inventoryless,
first-person, environmental games set in a parallel world in which
it is critical to pay close attention to your surroundings. Exile,
the third in the series, was developed by now-defunct Presto
Studios under license from Cyan. Exile continued the point-and-click
tradition of Myst and Riven, with the addition of
node-based panning instead of largely static slideshow-style screens;
the overall feel of the game, though, was pretty much the same
as its predecessors.
Uru is not the official Myst 4; rather, it marks
the return of Cyan to the development of the D'ni universe as
well as the first real massively multiplayer online adventure
game. Cyan began designing Uru for online play some
years ago; recall the hue and cry when it was announced not only
that the next Myst was to be an online-only game but also
available only to those with broadband internet connections.
Only recently was it announced that Uru would come with
a single-player component in addition to the subscription-based
online "dungeon," for want of a better word.
This article is about that single-player experience since, as
of this writing, the online component is available to very few
players worldwide, and I'm not one of them. It is scheduled to
open to everyone who wants to play (and who has a credit card
number to pay for the subscription) in January 2004.
Well ... one thing's for certain: This ain't your daddy's Myst.
The most marked differences are the 3D graphics with attendant
direct control, the ability to switch between first and third
person, and ... wait for it ... your character jumps! Yep, you
read it right. There are a number of puzzles that require multiple
(meaning two or three, in most cases) attempts to complete a finicky
vault to a high ledge or a low mesa surrounded by flowing lava.
Let me elaborate on that jumping part a bit. Yes, you must make
some death-defying leaps, but you never have to rush and you don't
really die. Most of the time, if you miscalculate, you just go
back and try again. Sometimes you have to travel a bit to get
back to the part where you must make the attempt, but that's by
far the worst of it. If you're determined never, ever to play
a game with jumping, no way no how, then you'd best give Uru
a miss; if, however, you're willing to give it a try, you'll
likely find the jumping is no big deal.
The graphics are stunning, as you might expect from a Myst
game. Eye candy junkies will eat this with a spoon and smack
their lips in satisfaction afterward. As well, the sound design
is masterfulas your character turns, the sounds move with
her. The environmental ambience is very realistic, at least within
the confines of the game world. Water cascades, rock grinds against
rockthe sheer scale of the visuals and their attendant sound
effects is really something to behold. This is a big game world!
On the whole, the puzzling style is pretty true to the Mysts
that came before. You are thrust, in all of your wondering
ignorance, into a strange place and must absorb clues from your
surroundings as to what to do with the artifacts that you find
here and there. Some of the puzzles are obtuse, as might be expectedyou'd
best have that walkthrough handy before you start. Others, though,
are "gimmes," which is unusual in a Myst game.
The control scheme takes some getting used to, as with all direct-control
games, but it is simplicity itself. You have your movement keys
and your jump key. That's about it. All of the commands may be
assigned to whatever keys suit you, and you can even use the mouse
for much of the moving around if you so choose, although it is
awkward. You will be required to use the keyboard to do things
like jump (eek! there's that J word again!), toggle run/walk,
switch points of view (between first and third person), and sidle.
Not that I ever actually had to sidle, mind you ... but
I could've if I'd wanted to.
In each Age, the object is to find and touch seven Journey Cloths,
which take the form of handprints on burlap. Once you have found
all seven and then touch a final eighth handprint, you are through
with that Age. (Or are you?) You are free to return to these Ages
at any time, though, just to explore further or see if you missed
After a relatively brief introductory Age that takes place on
Earth, in New Mexico, to be specific, you get your own little
Age called Relto, a platform in the sky with a hut and a hill.
Inside the hut is a bookshelf where all of your fine, shiny new
linking books are stored as they become available, with plenty
of empty slots for subsequent online Ages. You carry a linking
book with you at all times that takes you back to Relto when used.
If you "die," you are carried back to Relto. As well,
Relto contains a wardrobe where you can change your appearance,
not just your clothes but your features and I suppose even your
Within each linking book, you get a choice of going back to the
beginning of its Age or to the last Journey Cloth you touched.
In addition to finding linking books within the Ages, you will
come across a different sort of page for your own book, green
hieroglyphs that, when activated, add little personal touches
to Relto. These can all be turned on or off at your pleasure.
I'm still not quite clear on what these are good for, other than
some slightly amusing farting around; I suspect they will come
into play when the MMOAG (now there's an acronym I never thought
I'd see in print) opens and you must distinguish your Relto from
those of others to which you may be invited. For now, they are
just fun little extra goodies to locate and obtain.
Bear with me while I theorize a bit here: I suspect the single-player
experience was built from some of the episodes originally planned
to be online-only. The mechanics of the whole thing are set up
to accommodate online play. For instance, you can't save in Uruyour
progress is marked on quitting, and you always begin subsequent
sessions in Relto. This can be a curse when, say, you miss a jump
and land back in Relto and have to link and trek back to the jumping-off
point to try again. Fortunately, at least for me, no jump took
more than two or three attempts, but still ... a bit of a pisser,
Also, throughout your single-player Ages you will catch glimpses
of a great cave city that you will not actually visit. I think
this is the city of D'ni that forms the nucleus of the online
experience. As well, there are areas that are blocked off with
cones and barriers such as you find around big potholes in real
life. I bet those will go away as new online content is developed,
giving access to more areas within the Ages you've already visited
and tying them all together.
A drawback, a big one, is that you play an able-bodied chick
(or guy, if your inclinations run that way) and yet you cannot
use your arms or hands. When you have to manipulate an object
in the environment, your only choice is to bump into it, sometimes
lots of times, to nudge it into position. Unnecessarily time-consumingI
think a better approach would have been to allow the player to
pick up and drag objects with the mouse or somehow hold items
for a brief period.
All in all, I had more fun with these five single-player-afterthought
Uru Ages than I did with any of the three previous Myst
games. I was completely addicted. I think the jumping and
the necessity of switching between third and first person to solve
certain puzzles adds an enjoyable extra layer to the gameplay.
And Uru seems to have a certain indefinable joie de vivre missing
from either Myst or Riven.
To those who complain that this is not their daddy's Myst,
I can only point out that there is nobody in this world more
qualified to defineand redefinethe Myst world
than Cyan. It's their baby, after all. You don't have to like
it ... but I sure did.
I'll even go out on a limb here and predict that this, in addition
to or instead of Broken
Sword 3 (which I've not yet played at the time
I write this), is the future of adventure gaming. Love it or hate
it, I believe we will look back in five or ten years and see this
as a watershed moment in our brief gaming history, in much the
same way as the original 1993 Myst is now viewed. That
being said, how can I give Uru anything but the Gold Star?
Besides that, it's loads of fun to play.
Release Date: November 2003
Four Fat Chicks Links
800 MHz processor
256 MB RAM
32 MB video card
DirectX 8.1 compatible sound card
DirectX 8.1 (included)
4X or faster CD-ROM drive (not recommended for use in a CD-RW
2 GB free hard disk space
Where to Find It
Prices/links current as of 12/13/03
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by any party(ies).