Reviewed: February 23, 2004
Released: November 11, 2003
Myst is probably one of the best-known computer games in the history of computer games. Since its release on September 23, 1993, over 6 million copies have been sold worldwide and the sequel, Riven has sold over 4 million since its release just four years later. Myst has become synonymous with beautiful graphics, brain-teasing puzzles, interesting locations, and intriguing stories, all the ingredients for a perfect adventure game.
For the two or three of you reading this who have never played any of the Myst games, the world of Myst is based on the premise that certain people have the magical ability to write books. The worlds described in these books, known as Ages, become real, and the books themselves can be used to "link" to these worlds. It's obvious to see the possibilities are endless and limited only by one's imagination, and what an imagination those wizards at Cyan have.
Uru: Ages Beyond Myst is a bold new direction for the series. It is the first game to be played from the conventional third-person action perspective and it was going to be the first online edition of the Myst franchise. Unfortunately, about two weeks prior to my writing this review the online edition of Uru, known as Uru Live was canceled, or in the words of Cyan, “postponed indefinitely” due to a general lack of interest and online subscribers.
In its original intended form Uru would have consisted of a substantial single-player game coupled with an online game that would have required gamers to interact with other live explorers to solve specially crafted puzzles requiring two or more people to solve. Periodically, Cyan would then have released new books (or Ages) that you could purchase that would add new worlds to explore. It was going to be like an online “book of the month” club.
At least that was the original intent. Now, with the demise of the online portion of Uru we are left with a solo adventure and some future promised expansions, the first of which is due out this March at no charge. Cyan is promising to uphold their vision of ongoing content to expand the world of Myst even if we can’t share the adventure online.
The first order of business before venturing forth into the world of Uru is to create your character using a character generator much like any online game. You pick your sex and choose from a very limited selection of clothing then you fine-tune your facial features, hair, etc. and you are ready to go. Even though many of the options were limited I was impressed with the flexibility of this software in that I was able to recreate a stunning likeness of myself with little effort, but now with no online support it seems like a waste since I am resigned to staring at my butt for the duration of the adventure.
Uru follows the story of D’Ni and your guide on this adventure is Yeesha, daughter of Atrus. For those of you who played Myst III: Exile, Yeesha was the baby Catherine, Atrus’ wife, was holding in the opening scene of that game. She’s all grown up now and has experience much in her life, which she is now ready to pass along to you.
During your adventures you will uncover previously unknown facts about D’Ni, its inhabitants and the various ages. It’s a compelling story that builds up to an exciting finale then leaves you hanging for where the online game was supposed to have picked up. The new expansion, “To D’Ni”, scheduled for a mid-March release is going to pick up where the story ends, offering all new ages, new clothing options, and loads of new gameplay features. While it won’t offer the online community aspects of gameplay it will hopefully continue the story and pave the way for future expansions.
Despite the third-person perspective Uru plays much like previous Myst games. There are eight massive Ages to explore that are rendered in breathtaking detail, only this time they are in glorious 3D rather than the traditional slideshow sequence of static images or 3D QuickTime panning nodes.
You begin in Relto, which is your own private Age. Here you will find a house surrounding by some gorgeous scenery. Inside the house is your personal library that consists of individual books for each of the Ages you have visited plus any future Ages you download or purchase. You can use these linking books to access the new Ages and explore them at your leisure. One of the coolest aspects of Relto is the ability to customize this Age by finding pages of the Relto book scattered about the game. As you add these pages to the Relto book specific new details will appear in the world around you.
The core of any Myst game is exploration and puzzle solving and Uru doesn’t stray from that successful formula. There are numerous puzzles in each Age ranging from fairly obvious to insanely difficult. Observant gamers will likely notice that all the clues necessary to solving even the most difficult puzzles are all hidden within the game.
Kudos to a wonderful control interface that is totally configurable although I found no reason to deviate from the default controls. Using a simple combination of mouse buttons and a few keyboard commands you can walk, run, pan the camera, and interact with the environments in a very intuitive fashion.
Myst has always been known for photo-realistic graphics and Uru continues that fine tradition. With the recommended system you can enjoy beautiful scenery, but if you put some serious CPU cycles and a next-gen 3D card behind this game you can crank out visual masterpieces where every screen is worthy of becoming framed artwork. Uru at 1600x1200 is something that words can’t describe.
The game defaults to a third-person camera but you can press F1 to toggle to the first-person view. This makes the game look and feel more like traditional Myst but there are several instances within the game that demand an exterior view. While the chase camera works for the most part there are a few times where it suddenly shifts to some quirky angle that can cause some minor problems.
The interface is totally transparent and only rises to the surface when you move the mouse to the lower corners of the screen. This leaves the screen free to display the breathtaking vistas of the various Ages. There are so many “wow” moments in this game that I lost count. Uru is easily one of the most beautiful adventure games ever created for the PC.
The soundtrack in Uru is every bit as stunning as the visuals. Myst III: Exile spawned an amazing soundtrack and Uru is just as deserving with wonderful atmospheric tunes, light jazz, and beautifully composed new age orchestrations that totally enhance the visuals and gameplay.
Sound effects are realistic and bring these Ages to life with environmental sounds and creative sound effects for all sorts of inventions and devices. The voice acting is right on par with the rest of the audio package. The script is well written and every spoken line is delivered with flawless perfection. There is full support for EAX surround sound that creates a totally immersive environment.
Uru is a substantial adventure and thoroughly exploring all eight Ages should easily take you 30+ hours. While the Live component and future pay-per-Age expansion design would have added countless hours to this estimate we will have to settle on the upcoming free expansion and see what happens after that.
Even without the online element there is more than enough game here to warrant a purchase. There is so much to see and do and you will be lucky to find it all on your first pass. Just finding all the Relto pages to customize your personal Age will take you hours.
Uru: Ages Beyond Myst is a spectacular adventure, and while I was sad to see the online component fail before I even got to login and try it I am glad to see that Cyan is committed to keeping the content alive, even if the community aspect is no longer an option.
As a standalone game, Uru is massive, but with the upcoming expansion and the potential for additional Ages beyond that, the only limit to Uru is the imagination of the designers and the willingness of the fans to purchase new installments as they are released.
If you are a Myst fan or just looking for an amazing adventure then purchasing and playing Uru is a no-brainer. Uru fleshes out the history of Myst and provides volumes of interesting details about the world of D’Ni while testing your powers of observation and logic. You’ll be captivated from beginning to end, assuming there ever is an end to Myst.