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|20 OCT 2004 at 5:43pm|
Posts : 132
Joined: 20 NOV 2003
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|(**Warning - This review contains spoilers of the plot's introduction. It is not much more than what is already discernable from advertising or the box itself. But, if you are trying to avoid all context entirely before playing the game, then you should avoid this review.**)|
Every Single Moment Must Be Savored
Being the "Unabashed Myst Junkie" that I am, I was tempted to blow through this game as quickly as possible and slam out a review so that I could actually be one of the first players to comment on it for a change. That idea quickly flew out the window when we first launched the game and heard the familiar and heartwarming strains of the Cyan Worlds splash-screen jingle. That little ditty, like it has for every Myst-series game since, immediately took us back to the days of playing Myst for the very first time oh-so-many years ago. From that point on, my wife and I knew that this would not be something to rush through just to be amongst the first to complete the game. Nope, this was a game to savor; worlds to get lost in; a rich story to uncover. Who cares what time it is when we finally re-emerge from the adventure, just so long as we soak in everything there is to absorb along the way.
We were so pleased that their logo still popped up at the start, even though Cyan Worlds was not the primary source of development for this installment of the Myst franchise. Since the release of Riven back in 1997, most of Cyan's time and resources were focused on URU - Ages Beyond Myst, which meant that the latest two chapters have been "outsourced" to other developing teams: Myst III - Exile by the now-defunct Presto Studios and Myst IV - Revelation by the Montreal branch of UbiSoft (with quite a few from the Presto team moving over to UbiSoft's "Team Revelation". Nevertheless, Cyan Worlds managed to maintain a significant amount of creative control over both titles by having final approval over story-arcs, character developments, graphical designs, and such. Both outside teams understood, very well, what was at stake in creating new episodes of the cherished Myst series and both have succeeded quite admirably, in my mind, given the circumstances.
With the company intros out of the way we were then presented, via a short intro-video, a plea from our old friend Atrus to once again join him in Tomahna so that he can get a few things off his chest regarding the fate of his two delinquent sons, Sirrus and Achenar, who we first met and, we assumed, dispatched with in the very first episode. Apparently, their prison ages weren't destroyed at the end of Myst, just the books linking to those ages. After ten-plus years of solitary confinement in these two ages, Atrus and his wife Catherine are now considering granting parole hearings to see if their two sons have reformed in their ways. Over the years, Atrus had been consumed with the desire to look in on the two ages to track their progress, resulting in a reconstitution of his imaging device that was introduced in the bonus age of Rime from the game RealMyst (a really cool "inside" treat for those of us that played that game). His surveillance desire then quickly transformed into a visitation obsession spurred on, to a greater extent, by the guilt-ridden Catherine. This required the very careful planning and implementation of "visitation pods" to be written into each age by Atrus so that they could securely link to and from the ages without giving the boys a means of early escape.
After the plea from Atrus, our game proper begins with a thrilling "taxi" ride over the desert of Tomahna as escorted by their now 10-year old daughter, Yeesha, who we first met as a baby in Exile and as an adult in URU - Ages Beyond Myst. We then quickly meet up with Atrus and assist him in calibrating the crystal imager (the one, single irritating scene of the entire game). Things, of course, go awry (blown power, etc) and Atrus rushes off to Rime to retrieve a spare part leaving us to scavenge around and get the main power back online. Ahhh, our first real puzzle. Nothing like hitting the ground running. We were now left alone (with the exception of the occasional quick encounter with Yeesha) to explore a whole lot more of Tomahna than what was open to us at the start of Exile. It also gave us our first opportunity to really scrutinize and play with all the new features of the game's interface and technology (more on that in just a bit). We hoped we weren't under any kind of a time crunch here because it took us a really long time to "get our sea legs", buckle down, and actually accomplish something! We were having way too much fun rubber-necking and marveling at every little thing we came upon. This game is just chock full of STUFF! Finally, we figured out what we needed to do to get the power up and going again. We barely have time enough to pat ourselves on our backs when all hell breaks loose and the game really begins...[cue the eerie Myst theme music].
|20 OCT 2004 at 5:44pm|
Posts : 132
Joined: 20 NOV 2003
Status : Online
Two words: eight gigabytes. That's what a full install of this game will chew up in hard disk space. Not to worry, though. "isk is cheap," they all say, in this age of 100+ gigabyte hard drives, right? (Okay, maybe if we first de-install some of these old games and archive off some of these digital photos...) Turns out, freeing up enough disk for a complete install was well worth the effort, not from a disk-swapping standpoint since the game comes on just two single-sided DVD's and only one DVD needs to be in the drive during the game (the other is loaded completely in the "minimum" install of three gigabytes), but from a performance standpoint since reading from a hard drive is still quicker and more efficient than reading from a DVD drive. A lot has already been said about releasing this game on DVD only. The hope is that this game will usher in the DVD-ROM age like its initial predecessor did the CD-ROM age. We've had DVD drives on our last two computers stretching back roughly five years now, so I don't think this will be as "revolutionary" as everyone might think. But then, my wife and I now seem to be on the leading edge of the technology curve instead of the trailing side like we were when Myst first came out, so I might be wrong.
With URU - Ages Beyond Myst, Cyan Worlds attempted to usher in the "Real-Time 3D Rendered" age of adventure games. One huge benefit of this was that the media requirements for the out-of-the-box game astonishingly shrank back down to just a single CD-ROM disk without sacrificing a great deal in the graphical *wow* factor. The big downside was that this technology only worked on really beefy and relatively new video cards. In the end, I think Cyan Worlds will have fought the harder revolution. Regardless, the staggering eight gigabytes for Revelation means that we, once again, will traverse the game in a pre-rendered, node-to-node fashion with 360 degree, VR panning at each mode; similar to navigation used in Exile. One thing Exile had and did very well, that we missed a great deal in Revelation, are the "video" transitions from node-to-node. Revelation does have a few of these scattered about the ages, but mostly you just do a quick fade-out to fade-in transition between each node, which can be very disorienting at times (especially over long distances). And, the ones they do have look kind of out-of-place since the graphical quality of the transition doesn't match up to the pre-rendered backgrounds very well. Maybe that is why there aren't too many of them (that, plus the even larger DVD space that would have been required).
What the eight gig does buy you are some of the most alive and immersive game worlds we have ever encountered to date. It seems that with every subsequent episode of the Myst series, one of the absolute requirements is that the new game must make a giant leap in graphical quality over its predecessor. If you consider Exile to be this game's predecessor, then this one-upmanship requirement was more than satisfied (it even, arguably, one-ups URU in some ways). Every single node in this game is absolutely filled with animated movement. Flora and fauna, both, move and pulse with life to help draw you in to each world. On top of that, Full-Motion Video sequences of the live actors are (mostly) seamlessly integrated into these worlds. The developers did an incredible job of making the human characters seem like they really belong in these fantastical worlds.
All of this was accomplished using a sophisticated "layering" technique of the pre-rendered graphics, animated elements and FMV sequences. One nice benefit of this layering process was the ability to simulate a depth-of-field affect with the graphics. Whichever layer the cursor is currently hovering over becomes the most focused of the layers whereby the other layers gradually go in or out of focus. Initially, we found this to be a really cool effect from a technological standpoint, but soon turned it off and opted to have the entire scene be in focus without having to constantly move the cursor around the screen to bring other things into focus. Much of the animated movement could also be turned off as an option for performance purposes, but we never had any serious problems and chose to keep the worlds as alive as possible. At a screen resolution of 1028x768, our video card had a bit of a struggle with some of the more active scenes (the frame-rate got a little choppy in spots), but for the most part we never noticed any problems in the display area.
Our journey takes us to three other ages beyond the starting age of Tomahna, each of them extremely diverse from all the others. We, of course, must visit the two prison worlds to experience the lives of the two sons while in captivity. Sirrus' prison age of Spire is a barren, floating world of rock and crystal pulsing with electricity. As the name inspires, the journey through this age is very vertical. Haven, Achenar's age, on the other hand is simply teeming with life, some of it benign, some of it very dangerous. Both expansive ages are very well realized and rendered. The third age is Serenia, a recently penned age by Atrus and a favorite of their daughter, Yeesha. Serenia, like the name implies, is a magical and tranquil setting literally flowing with the water of life. A lush soundtrack perfectly complements the ambience of each age, with music that is definitely "Myst-y" and sometimes just a little more daring.
|20 OCT 2004 at 5:45pm|
Posts : 132
Joined: 20 NOV 2003
Status : Online
|"Any Other New Gizmos?"|
To help explore all of these worlds, we are introduced to a new "interactive-hand" cursor to replace the old static pointing and action cursors of old. This new cursor tries to mimic everything your own hand could do apart from sending the actual touch senses to your brain (that'll probably be in the next game). If you are close enough to an object in the game and that object is not a hotspot, then the hand will "tap" the object and give you an aural clue as to the composition of that object. I cannot imagine the number of sounds they had to record to account for all the possible surfaces you can tap in this game. Dragging the hand over the surface of standing water will produce an appropriate ripple effect. Opening and closing doors is now a click-to-grab and drag-to-move action which is much more immersive. Manipulating switches, levers and pages of books is the same. Our only complaint was that the cursor was very slow in changing its indication and it was difficult at times to discern where exactly hotspots and exits were while quickly scanning a scene (that, and the fact that it reminded us too much of Thing in the Addams Family).
Another cool gizmo worth mentioning is the amulet, which you find early on in the game. Whenever you come across a hotspot that can be inspected up close, your hand cursor will prestidigitize a magnifying glass to signify that you can zoom in. Once zoomed, the amulet (the only thing that could be considered in your inventory throughout the entire game) will usually flash and emit an attention-grabbing tone. This signifies that the amulet is capable of re-playing a "memory" that occurred earlier at this location. These memories can be a short video or audio snippet that helps you uncover the vast underlying story of the game. In past games, this was accomplished mostly by reading lots of journals scattered about the games. There are still plenty of journals to be found but now, when the amulet is clicked while examining a book, the author of the journal will "read" the entries to you and even pause for you to turn the page - sometimes even in mid-sentence (nice touch). At first, we were a bit offended. "What? We can't even be expected to read for ourselves?" But, on more than one occasion, we found it to be a very useful way to absorb the information in a book while chowing down on our dinner...or late night snack...or breakfast (come on, admit it, this happens to us all)!
There is a zip-mode available - actually it's almost an in-game linking system - and we did find reason to use it on occasion early on. But later in the game, we found ourselves using it less and less. Mostly, I would say it was because we would rather do our "backtracking" the hard way (but scenic way). Not using the zip-mode helped us to acclimate to the lay of the land better. This was especially helpful in the jungly world of Haven and the criss-crossy paths of Serenia.
One final item we found very helpful is the camera (okay, two things in your inventory), which you can use to take a picture of anything and in any direction - basically a screen snapshot (this technically isn't a new feature since it was also available in URU). The viewer can then be brought up at any time to review the photos and to include any additional comments below each one. This useful feature saved us from a large amount of note-taking. We still ended up with a few scribbled upon pieces of paper, but not nearly as much as with past Myst games.
"Why All the Note-taking?"
Duh! Like any Myst game worth its salt, this game is jam-packed with puzzles - the single trait that is most responsible for separating the Myst Lovers from the Myst Haters. To try and help bridge the gap and pull the intellectually-challenged back into the fold, the developers included a built-in, multi-leveled hint system; designed to give you anywhere from a gentle, unsticking nudge to an outright, step-by-step solution to every single puzzle. To tell you the truth, I can't even begin to tell you how it works because we never once used it - never even had a strong urge to seek it out (it's buried in the options somewhere, by design).
Does this mean the puzzles were too easy? Heck, no. They are some of the hardest puzzles we have encountered in a Myst game, so far. It's just that my wife and I REALLY love well-thought-out, logical puzzles! From the first real puzzle and on (not the ridiculous crystal imager calibration exercise with Atrus), we knew what we were in for and made a pact that we would try our very best to make it through this game entirely on our own. We would have to be stuck on a problem for DAYS before we would seek out any kind of help. Fortunately, it never came to that. We got pretty stuck in a few places, but one of the nice things about this game is that you can leave most puzzles and go off to work on something else. By the time we came back, we usually had a whole pot full of ideas to try next. This is the first Myst-series game since the very first one that we have completed entirely on our own, although Riven was pretty close (if you've read my other reviews you might already know the one small hint we needed to get through that one - and, yes, we were stuck for DAYS on that one).
Speaking of which, no, the puzzles here are not quite as interconnected as they were in Riven (still the leader of the pack when it comes to well-designed puzzles). But, that's okay because Riven was a very interconnected game when it came to ages (really there was only one "age" in Riven). Like Myst and Exile, Revelation takes the divergent age approach. You have one base age (Tomahna) from which you link to several other diverse ages; each with its own set of puzzles to solve. You do need one key piece of information from each of the two prison ages in order to ultimately complete the game, but that is really the only thing that interconnects the ages in Revelation. Unless, of course, we include the story.
|20 OCT 2004 at 5:45pm|
Posts : 132
Joined: 20 NOV 2003
Status : Online
|"A Story? In a Myst Game??"|
All Myst games have had good stories. You just need to uncover them. The player must seek out the story during the course of the game rather than the story grabbing the player by the wrists and ankles and dragging them through the game. That's the true beauty of these games.
Revelation does the best job, so far, in bringing its story more to the forefront of the game. You still need to uncover the story lurking below the surface, but you now have a powerful tool in realizing that story: the amulet. This tool has given the writer (Mary DeMarle, who also penned Exile) a terrific means by which to throw a great deal of "content" into this story. The vast storage capacity of DVD's surely helps in this respect, too.
All of the actors do a terrific job in conveying their parts of the story, although the rantings of both Sirrus and Achenar go a little over the top and dabble in cheesiness, on occasion. It's very nice to see Rand Miller reprising his role as Atrus (no other actor would be acceptable at this point). Kudos, too, for the young actress that played Yeesha (Juliette Gosselin). We both thought she did a very good job in portraying the precocious 10-year old.
Some have questioned the mystical, new-agey bend that the plot takes in the Serenia age (particularly the Peter-Gabriel-tracked "dream" sequence). For us, it worked just fine. If they had resorted to a gratuitous, Deus ex Machina ending THEN we definitely would have cried foul, but the ending felt completely acceptable to us. As a matter of fact, I felt a definite lump in my throat and blinked a lot at the end (I tried to be a manly-man). I guess that means the story did its job quite effectively.
"What's The Final Verdict, Then?"
Two days after finishing the game, we are still going through "withdrawals". It doesn't help that we have no game to follow this up with (PLEASE release RHEM2, soon!). Like all good Myst games, this one forces you to make an ending-altering decision. We have, of course, gone back and tried flipping the other switch to see what happens. We have even tried to go back and see if we could be assigned one of the other two "Spirit Guides" in Serenia. (We haven't been successful, so if anyone knows how to do that, or if you can even do that, please let us know.)
So, I guess you can say we are having a difficult time letting this game go. And, in the end, that is our one true judge of a really superb game. If I were to give it a final grade, the choice would be obvious:
A+ (just below Riven)
|27 OCT 2004 at 1:41pm|
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Joined: 1 SEP 2004
Location: NL, Amersfoort
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|This review is the best I have read (and I have read them all). And correct on every single observation - great job!|
|14 NOV 2004 at 7:45am|
Posts : 232
Joined: 16 OCT 2002
Status : Online
From one unabashed Myst junkie to another, I thought your review was excellent and beautifully written. If I had enough time in my week, I would have penned a review myself, though not nearly as long as my Uru love fest.
One thing - Serenia was written by Catherine. Eh, details . . . it took RAWA to point out to me I had listed Anna as Atrus's mother in my review of Uru. Bad Jen!
Keep busy until we see the dawn of Something Else(tm)!
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