Reviewed: October 30, 2002
Released: September 17, 2002
Myst is probably one of the best-known computer games in the history of computer games. Since its release on September 23, 1993, over 9 million copies have been sold worldwide and the sequel, Riven has sold over 4 million since its release just four years later.
Cyan, the makers of the first two games have turned over the reigns to Presto Studios for the daunting task of creating the third game in the popular series. With an estimated following of over 30 million anxious gamers, such a task could easily be compared to having George Lucas ask you to make the next Star Wars movie.
Myst has become synonymous with beautiful graphics, brain-teasing puzzles, interesting locations, and intriguing stories; all the ingredients for a perfect adventure game. With another four-year gap between the second and third installments everyone is expecting something really special and Presto has delivered.
For the two or three of you reading this who have never played either of the first two 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 Presto have. Myst III: Exile features no less than five amazing and unique worlds to explore and over a dozen challenging puzzles.
While Exile is a sequel and expands on the stories and characters of the first two games, you are not required to have played those games in order to understand or enjoy this title. Exile contains all the necessary background information you need to thoroughly enjoy the self-contained story told in this third installment. You will meet new and exciting characters that will draw you into the story and lead you deeper into the game. Your main adversary, Saavedro, is the classic villain who is always just one step ahead of you sabotaging various devices and causing you all sorts of extra work.
The PC version of Myst III released in May of 2001 and quickly became a favorite with adventure gamers around the world. Now, a year later, Ubisoft and Presto Studios bring this epic saga to the Xbox in what is perhaps one of the best PC to Xbox translations to date. Much more than a straight port, the designers have reworked this game to include all sorts of enhancements to take advantage of the extra power of the Xbox.
Myst III: Exile has these Xbox-exclusive features:
While Myst has always been classified as an adventure game the series has always relied more on puzzles to keep the player occupied. Exile is no different. While there is a great story to be told, the majority of your gameplay is simply wandering around the various worlds and solving clever puzzles that are integrated right into the levels.
Unlike the first two games where the puzzles could be insanely difficult, Exile offers almost everything you need to know to solve every puzzle within the game itself. These clues are usually found in the Journals and scattered pages of notes you will find as you explore the island, but there are also several visual clues you must locate and study. Clues can often be located very far from the actual puzzle they relate to. For instance, the workshop on J'nanin hold clues to several puzzles you won't even find until many hours later in the game in two other worlds. But the way the clues are designed, something will trigger in the back of your mind giving you that extra nudge in the right direction. And if you get totally stuck you can always consult Sinjin's complete and fully illustrated strategy guide.
Myst III: Exile features several worlds to explore, each dealing with a specific theme such as Nature, Physics, Energy, etc. These worlds are all joined by a hub world known as J'nanin that you must explore to find the linking books to all the other worlds. The beauty of this design is that it allows you to explore these worlds in any order you choose. This makes the game fairly non-linear but unfortunately doesn't add anything to the replay value, as the game and puzzles are identical each time you play.
After playing the PC version I found that navigating through Myst was a bit awkward using the Xbox controller, but it took me less than an hour to get comfortable with the new control scheme. You can hit the X button to toggle between LOOK and INTERACTIVE modes. In Look mode the left stick pans your view in real-time whereas Interactive mode puts a hand on the screen (either pointer or palm) and lets you press A to use objects, open doors, etc. In this mode the view will only pan when you reach the edge of the screen. You can also interact with objects in Look mode but it's a bit trickier as you have to have your view centered exactly on the object before the hand icon will appear. You can even adjust the analog sensitivity in the options menu. It's all pretty simple stuff.
My biggest concern is that many console gamers simply won't get the concept of Myst. While the series has done exceptionally well on the PC, it just might not appeal to the mindset those who are used to more traditional console titles. Despite the new features and enhancements for the Xbox, this is still a PC game with point-n-click interaction, so consider yourself warned.
Definite improvements have been made in the visual department. While the PC graphics were excellent the Xbox version takes this game to a whole new level. All of the artwork and FMV videos and inserts are now DVD quality and improvements have been made to special effects like water and the most amazing lens flare effect I've ever seen.
Unlike previous Myst games that used the snapshot view system, you now have the ability to fully rotate your view at any location within the game. The game still consists of the various "nodes" where you click to advance to the next node then make a decision on where to go next, but the ability to look all around and even up and down eliminates the slideshow feel of the first two games and totally immerses you into the fairytale worlds of Exile.
Walking between nodes is still handled in a slideshow fashion but the designers are using some kind of blurring/morphing technology between the two still frames to give the illusion of motion. You can turn this blurring effect off by enabling Zip mode in the options. This will speed up your game considerably by allowing you to walk around faster.
The pre-rendered worlds are full of life and detail. To put it in perspective, each frame of animation took on the average of 30 minutes to render. This is comparable to rendering times you might find for animated movies like Toy Story. Landscapes and structures are all modeled to precise detail with some truly innovative designs. The island exterior of J'nanin is composed of over 3.2 million polygons so you can begin to see the attention to detail the designers at Presto have put into this masterpiece.
The levels are some of the most original and unearthly places you will ever visit. The teams of artists have used digital photography combined with terrain editors and 3D modeling software to create some inspired levels. Many of the islands end with climactic animation sequences that are some of the most rewarding in recent adventure game history. One Age in particular has you wandering the island fixing various devices to ultimately fix a huge roller coaster. The ending ride lasts almost two minutes and will leave you speechless.
Sound effects are amazing. The sound designers have really come up with some original sounds. Mechanical effects are realistic while the nature sounds will have you thinking you are exploring a botanical garden. Subtle environmental effects like the wind blowing or water lapping against the rocks all enhance the experience and add to some tremendous realism. There are some very original effects that have been created for the unique life forms you will encounter including some intelligent plant-life in the Nature Age.
All of these sounds are presented in an excellent Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix. This is crucial to the 3D nature of the gameplay as you can now identify sounds and their location by listening to the source of the sound. There were several scenes that got my sub-woofer going and the discrete audio in the rear channels was incredible. The sound really enhances the graphics creating an almost virtual reality-like experience.
The music in Exile is just as good as any movie score, which is perhaps why you can get the original soundtrack on a separate audio CD. The music in the game blends perfectly into the background, changing with the situation to add to the emotional impact of the events taking place. Jack Wall composed the score and conducted a full orchestra, giving this game one of the best and most professional game soundtracks this year. It won Gamers' Choice Awards for Best Music as well as Best Graphics and Best Game for 2001.
Myst III: Exile is definitely easier than either Myst or Riven, mainly because the puzzles make more sense and are ultimately easier to figure out. If you are good at puzzle games then Exile should give you 12-15 hours of enjoyment. The puzzles are all logical and clues are plentiful if you know were to find them. If you dive into the game and ignore the journals and visual aids you could wander the various Ages for 30-40 hours and still not complete the game.
So basically the game length is directly proportional to your skills in observation, deductive reasoning, and memory. Once you have finished Exile there is little reason to play it again anytime soon. Nothing changes, and while there are a few different endings, the branching point for all of them is very near the end of the game. You can explore all your options with a single saved game at the right time. Reliving some of the more memorable moments such as the thrilling roller coaster ride on Amateria can also be done by saving your game at the right time.
Aside from a few crucial decisions at the very end of the game, it is impossible to die in Exile. It is also impossible to get hopelessly stuck, as you can always link back to the hub world and get more clues or simply restart a world.
The Xbox version of Exile offers all of the behind-the-scenes footage and interviews that the PC Collector's Edition offered last year along with some new exclusive videos showing how the game was ported from PC to console. There is probably over an hour of extra goodies that is not only informative, but downright fun to watch. You'll really appreciate all the work the designers put into this project.
Chances are if you have a PC and you are a fan of the Myst games then you have already played Exile. Is it worth getting again? Probably not. The few new enhancements are really nice but offering nothing new in the way of gameplay or puzzles. But if you are a console gamer who has never got to experience a Myst game and you can deal with the point-n-click puzzle-driven gameplay then you are in for an amazing adventure.
Exile may be short by traditional adventure standards but it is still a great ride while it lasts and one of the few games that a family (of all ages) can actually sit around the TV and play together. Adults will like the challenging puzzles and kids will love the bright and colorful worlds with exciting creatures and intriguing devices.
Myst III: Exile will definitely spark your adventurous spirit and get those gears turning inside your head with each new encounter and challenging puzzle. And when the ride is over you will hopefully have had as much fun playing Exile as the wizards at Presto had making it for you.