In Depth Review: Riven: The Sequel to Myst [PC]
Those players familiar with Riven's predecessor, Myst, will recognize many of these elements immediately. The man in the library is Atrus, the behind-the-scenes protagonist of Myst. The captive is Catherine, his wife; and the once grand library you just left is part of the fallen civilization of D'ni, a society that used the art of descriptive writing to form “links” with other worlds—frequently referred to as “Ages”. Gehn is Atrus's father, a madman who is obsessed with resurrecting the D'ni culture, and delusionally convinced that he is a god, creating worlds through his written words. The player soon learns that Atrus and Catherine trapped Gehn on Riven over thirty years ago, in an attempt to prevent him from causing further mayhem.
Riven is a world on the verge of collapse. As its name implies, the land is literally tearing itself asunder. Once one large island, it has separated itself into five fragments loosely connected by rope bridges and magnetically powered trams. Frequent tremors shake the ground, and the depths of once shady glades are pierced by the crimson glow of molten lava seeping out of the ground. This is the world you will explore in Riven. Despite the progressing decay of the landscape, Riven is still stunningly beautiful. Giant ancient trees carpet one of the islands, sheltering multicolored luminescent fungus and bright tropical fruits. Gleaming blue water fills a small rocky lagoon in which large penguin-like animals languidly sun themselves.
It is through this lush but damaged landscape that you must travel to unravel the puzzles of Riven. Throughout the entire game, the player will have very little contact with the locals, as a few quick glimpses here and there will be the extent of your interaction with others until the game nears its end. For the vast majority of the adventure, the only adversary will be the landscape itself and the various constructions and devices that have been built to harvest and control the resources of the islands.
From your first obstacle, navigating a complex rotating room, to using children's toys to decipher foreign number systems and ultimately opening the vast golden dome that dominates the landscape, Riven produces challenge after challenge. Many of the puzzles require only basic observation skills to complete, such as negotiating a maze of underwater railroad tracks, while others will have you reaching for a pen and paper as you jot down suspicious symbols and runes. The ability to make connections between items shown in different locations is crucial to your progress in the game, and some of the challenges are obscure enough that it will take a very sharp eye and well-honed mind to unravel them.
While the intense difficulty of the game may become frustrating at certain points, it never fails to provide a tangible sense of reward for solving one of the myriad riddles of the islands. With each successful solution new areas open up to explore, or bits of storyline information are recovered that help the player piece together the story of Catherine's return to Riven.
That story, ultimately, is what binds the experience together. Riven is a sensory feast of lush landscapes, a subtle tapestry of natural sounds, and a graphical precision that could only have been possible during the age of still backgrounds and FMV cutscenes, but it is the characters that make you really care about their world. It never ceases to amaze how characters with whom you have so little interaction can evoke such deep sympathy that the player longs—like Catherine—to save her people from their homeland's destruction, and worries—like Atrus—for the safety of his soulmate.
Spanning five full CDs, Riven is a long-lasting and leisurely experience that can be savored for many hours. Its beautiful presentation, challenging adventure gameplay, and wealth of easter eggs and secrets make it a game that adventure fans will love to return to. All in all, Riven is a masterpiece of the PC adventure genre that takes its luminous predecessor, Myst, one step further in nearly every area. The end result is a game that is a true and indisputable classic.