Reviewed: May 10, 2005
Released: March 28, 2005
If youíre a hardcore gamer, youíve most certainly heard of one of the most famous series ever made in the world of gaming. Hell, it defined a genre all by itself, namely the point-and-click adventure. Such games normally involve the visiting of fantastical worlds and the solving of ingenious puzzles, all rendered in gorgeous, excruciating detail. Of course, Iím talking about Myst.
Back in 1995, Cyanís PC adventure game was sublime in its presentation, transporting the player into a world never before experienced in PC games. It set itself apart from other games of the time with a slow, deliberate pace. And while it didnít have 5.1 surround sound, dynamic lighting, normal mapping or tri-linear buffering, it nevertheless created a haunting, subtly menacing mood with its mystery.
Naturally, there were numerous copycat games rushed to shelves in order to garner some of this new demographics coin. And as technology evolved, there was a leap forward in presentation with better animations and better rendering. All the while, Myst continued its tale of Atrus and his family. Many fans wondered if the technological developments of each year since would be reflected in a more immersive game experience with each iteration of the venerable series. But sadly, Cyan seemed content to keep the original formula untouched albeit with improved graphical flourish. This brings us to the latest entry in the Myst series proper: Myst IV: Revelation.
The original interface for Myst has changed very little in the past 10 years and with good reason. Itís practically perfect. Younger fans of the genre are perhaps better acquainted with Syberia and its sequel which employ many of the tried and true play mechanics started by Myst. One could complain that thereís not a lot to do in exploring the worlds set up by the aforementioned developers, but thatís the genius of the gameplay.
By removing the ubiquitous HUD that most FPS games and the like employ to apprise you of health, ammo, whatever, you are that much more immersed in this magical world. And what little of the interface exists in the form of a pointing hand - which can be made almost invisible if you choose, for a greater immersion - takes care of all the controls you need to navigate the world of Revelation and the new home of Atrus and his family.
Cyan still insists on employing the live full motion video its been using since the beginning. Back in 1995, it did what rendered graphics at the time could not, namely present moving, human characters realistically. Itís been done since with pretty cheesy results (i.e. Wing Commander, et al) but if anyone could do it well, itís Cyan. If you ask me, the work that Namco or Square does is more than good enough to take over for the gameís video cutscenes, but thatís just me. There is something to be said for human actors and their unparalleled ability to elicit compassion, fear, or what have you.
Suffice it to say that Atrus needs your help yet again. Now, you must travel through environments to unearth a treacherous scheme involving Sirrus and Achenar, the original villains of Myst. Heís concerned that you might be wondering what happened to them after the events following Myst and all through the series up to this point. Being the pathological liars that they are, youíve saved Atrus from imprisonment, and helped free Catherine, his wife, so that they could begin a new life in Tomahna far from the prison of Díni. But is there more to the story? Ahh, thereís the rub.
What could very easily become the quick ruin of a good time through inevitable backtracking is made palatable by a multi-layered help system and the return of ďzip modeĒ which a lot of developers would do well to emulate. Zip mode makes it possible to quickly port over to places youíve already been to without having to click repeatedly through slide after slide. And in answer to the gameís intricate puzzles and their requisite intellectual demands, youíve been given a camera to take snapshots of places or objects youíve previously visited but havenít committed to memory like Raymond Babbitt with a phone book.
Thereís a minor gripe I have with the use of the left analog stick for the onscreen cursor. Itís obviously not as easy to move around as using a mouse on a PC, but there are the expected adjustments to made regarding sensitivity that mitigate that problem.
One of the hallmarks of the Myst series has always been the incredible resolution, for the time, in its rendered environments. It usually sets the standard for fantastic landscapes never before seen in games at the price of full motion exploration. The little graphical touches in play here go a long way towards immersion. When you look around in full 360 degree motion both up and down, youíll notice that clouds not only drift across the sky, but leave amazingly realistic shadows on the landscape below. Touching a giant leaf on a nearby plant causes it to move with an eerie realism.
There is a somewhat grainy transition from the prerendered more or less static scenes to the QuickTime animations of mechanical devices such as elevators, but while itís noticeable, itís also negligible in terms of immersion. The same goes for the full motion video sequences.
The second side of the gameplay coin in the Myst series has always been the sound, as each environment you explore has its own accompanying soundscape. In the first village of Tomahna, you can hear zephyrs blowing through the canyons that Atrus and family have made their idyllic home. Ambient sounds like wildlife are never neglected and thereís always a fascinating range of species to marvel at both graphically and aurally, particularly in the age of Haven with its graceful prehistoric beasts.
One of most impressive uses of sound in Myst IV Revelation is in the mechanic that allows you to tap a given object to hear its aural properties. The range of timbres heard as you tap a drawer full of various crystals for instance is absolutely amazing. Such attention to detail has come to be expected from Cyan and itís satisfying to see that Revelation is no different.
The music as well is typical of the series with beautiful themes for each age or character in the game reflecting at times such moods as innocence or foreboding as itís appropriate. I often found myself on edge as I explored further into the ages letting the music and ambient sound effects bring the compelling images to life in a way some first person shooters could not. Itís just all about mood and atmosphere, and Cyan has always done this very well.
Myst offers up hours of puzzles and adventure all for the budget price of $20. Expect about 8-10 hours to complete the game if you are good at these types of adventures, otherwise you might need to add a few hours or consult some online strategy to get through some of the tougher areas. It's a solid game at a more-than-fair price and a great way to experience what is traditionally a PC genre title on the Xbox.
The Myst series is one of the most revered and memorable experiences to be had on any platform, but especially in the world of console gaming. In the modern age of Halo, Splinter Cell and Grand Theft Auto, the Myst aesthetic is analogous to Appleís comparison to PCs. Apple is famous for its elegance and simplicity. Itís design sense is practically unparalleled. Such it is with Cyanís Myst games where gamers are transported to worlds crafted with such loving attention to detail that they seem real despite their fantastical locales.
While there are those that will inevitably complain about the conversion from the PC to the Xbox and how much resolution and control is lost, Xbox gamers will find much to be awed by in the true sense of the word. And the $20 price tag makes it that much more compelling. People who favor puzzles and exploration Ė or those whoíve long since forgotten the classic PC game series in the move to consoles, cushy club chairs and big screen TVs would do well to rediscover that Myst magic.