In Depth Review: Myst [PC]
Bear in mind: I understand the importance of Myst in the PC gaming world, and how revolutionary it was. It catapulted the CD-ROM component into the "Necessity" stratosphere. It made extensive use of Quicktime to provide full-motion video within the gaming environment. It used wonderful rendered visuals, a weaving and captivating story, haunting audio and went on to be the most successful PC game of all time (until the Sims and numerous sequels and add-ons reared their disgusting heads). Myst was a tour de force of adventure gaming.
But while Myst was an unforgettable experience, it was a forgettable "game." Sure, outside of the actual puzzle solving and adventuring, I have very fond memories of Sirrus and Achenar peering out from beyond their pages of captivity. The worlds that the Miller brothers crafted are absolutely beautiful, as are their back stories. The sheer amount of text in the library alone kept me very occupied. But when it came time to actually get back to progressing through these worlds, putting this text to good use, figuring out what to do to finish this damn game... oh the horror.
Let me explain. The puzzles (i.e. "How do I advance?"), which are integral to adventure games, seem to be there to mock us. Must we seek out brain transplants with the Miller brothers in order to solve them? Must we understand exactly what they want us to do? Couldn't they just leave *one* more clue -- something, anything -- to make the experience less mind-numbing? I understand that it is possible to put together all the clues you are given to solve a puzzle... but don't tell me it's expected that everybody can solve the puzzles of this magnitude without either (a) pulling out their lungs or (2) running out and cheating on a single puzzle (before succumbing to the addictive nature of strategy guides or FAQs).
For those who have played this game (who hasn't), I'm sure one such puzzle comes in mind: the tunnel puzzle. Yeah jerky, you know what I'm talking about. The one where you're in some cockamamie ship and you have to choose a direction from eight (north, south, east, west, and all the in-betweens) based on the sound effect that plays at every intersection of the tunnel. For the in-betweens, the sound effect is actually a combination of two sounds that encompass the base directions (i.e. north-west is the sound for north and west played simultaneously). Suppose you are tone deaf, or don't know how to write down what a sound "sounds" like on a piece of paper.
Better yet, suppose you just think that the whole freaking idea of such a puzzle is the biggest waste of life in the history of Earth. That's what I suppose.
What about the gear-turning puzzle in the water tower in the base world, or the pipe-redirecting puzzle in Channelwood? If you haven't played this game yet, you'll know them when you come to them. They're almost purely trial and error. As far as I remember it, at least. Perhaps I'm logically challenged (call me politically correct, eh?). So be it. I remember not using a single iota of logic or ingenuity to solve those puzzles. I just kept cranking and clicking until the answer came up and the puzzle was solved. Oh, and I mentioned tone-deaf before. There's an even worse puzzle involving a piano keyboard diagram and an organ (without a keyboard, just a set of switches). If you aren't musically inclined then forget it. (Unfortunately, Silent Hill had one such puzzle, but at least both the diagram and the actual puzzle item resembled piano keyboards.)
It pains me to rant and rave about these puzzles. It really does. The Miller brothers created something gorgeous only to hold it back with obnoxious puzzles. Beauty really is only skin-deep I guess. If you're looking for positivity in this review, then, let's hope that you've somehow skipped to this part without seeing the puzzle rant.
The most striking thing of Myst, back in the day, had to be the visuals. I had never seen a world this realistic before on my computer screen. Using primitive (by today's standards) computer-generated models and textures, the Miller brothers crafted five distinctively different worlds, each with their own flavor and pallette. Although 8-bit color doesn't cut it today, you can find a Masterpiece edition with updated, 24-bit color. And back then, 8-bit looked simply amazing. It took me several years and current-generation graphics to realize how much dithering Cyan Soft had to employ. Myst also sparked new usage for FMV by integrating lots of small Quicktime movies into the storyline. Weaned on NES and SNES games, the inclusion of these was stunning and the fact that the brothers didn't use FMV to make an entire, silly game was stunning all the more. Yes, as some people put it, Myst is simply a slide-show with decorations. The worlds are made up of snapshots with hot-spots rather than a real living environment. But consider the technology the they had at their disposal. What could YOU have done? You want a full 3D world, fine, you got it: Real Myst has been on store shelves for well over a year now.
The audio complemented the worlds with a sublime, exquisite collection of ambient music and natural sounds. The music was so pretty I was prompted to gather them all from the game and make my own Myst playlist. The sounds, of course, were convincing as well, being home-brewed, digitally altered samples from the real world. Doesn't sound like much, but back then it was all gravy. The funniest memory I have of this game was watching the Making Of documentary and learning that the underwater bubbles were made by blowing air through a straw into a toilet bowl, recording the bubbles and decreasing the speed digitally.
Out of Myst's aesthetics, however, I particularly appreciated the story the most. The concept itself -- that you are you (Hmm, U R U... URU... get it? Haha.) -- sucked into this fantastic book, and thusly into this fabricated yet still amazing world -- was and still is fascinating to me. All the different worlds that were written up by Atrus are magnificently detailed in their history (and graphics, of course). The best part is this isn't spit out at you in the instruction manual. This is included in the library on the island of Myst, in books and books whose font resembles scrawled handwriting. Turning the pages even produces a page-turning sound that immersed me into the world so much so that when I came upon a scary-looking burnt page I almost leapt out of my chair the first time I saw it.
And yet when it came time for me to go through the game, I was yanked out of the world. Never before have I had to emphasize my credo of gameplay over graphics, but well here it is. Gameplay over graphics, over sound, and over story. I can't accept that this is still considered a game when really, to me, it's an interactive book, more suited to a DVD format (box office calling? hmmm...) where you play it with your DVD remote.
For those who cherish Myst, please understand that this is borne out of my own dislike and frustration with the game's mechanics. I simply can't enjoy the gameplay, and I enjoy it even less when such a masterful work of art (yes, art) is destroyed by such unenjoyable gameplay. Finally, I enjoy the least having to give said work of art such a negative review and a low score.
But I am a gamer. This is a games site. I want to have fun playing a game. And if I do happen to be playing a game whose only merits are aesthetics, I don't want the gameplay to destroy my enjoyment of those aesthetics. This game could have merited a higher score if it was a pretty game without substance.
Instead, it's a pretty game with negative substance. (Basic math kiddies, -3 < 0.)
I value the experience a game brings. But to many, an "experience" transcends gameplay. To me, gameplay is integral to the experience.
Yet, I must oddly recommend it, and now that I've heard that URU provides GOOD GAMEPLAY (sheesh) this time, I am considering purchasing it. (Your eyes are bleeding now, I know.) But I recommend it only because I can't ignore everything else that the brothers injected into the original Myst, and I rarely, rarely ever say this -- that's how good a job I feel they did with it. I say give it a shot only so you can experience the rest of the world besides the puzzles.
If you DON't mind the things that I mind, you'd do best to add six points to my final score; it's an achievement to behold. If you DO feel the way I do about games such as this , treat Myst as an interactive book or movie. Do the puzzles legitimately, for as long as you can stand it, but look up the puzzles in a FAQ whenever you need to. Myst gets points for revolutionizing the PC landscape and the wondrous world I got to experience. Because in the end, the world of Myst is awesome in the dictionary definition of the word.
It's just not much of a game.
What Others Thought
Gamespot: 8.9 out of 10
"Myst is an immersive experience that draws you in and won't let you go ... Myst is an immersive experience that draws you in and won't let you go. You enter a unique setting, venturing alone to varied times and places, the worlds that compose Myst. There are no instructions, and you encounter no living beings but soon realize your actions may help individuals who are somehow trapped in a parallel dimension. You don't so much play Myst, as experience it."
IGN PC: No Score (Retro-review)
"While I appreciate Cyan's artistic vision, I hope no one lets them make any more puzzles ... Ten years ago, game designers had a lot to learn about that difficult line between fun and frustration, the elusive fulcrum on which you balance the desire to throw the game out the window and the ennui of clicking through the motions. Cyan hadn't quite gotten it right. Myst may be the best selling game ever, but try asking the next person who has heard of Myst whether he finished it and here's what you're likely to hear: "You know, I never did get past that one really hard part, so I stopped playing". Would that I could say the same."
Gamesdomain.com: No Score
"Well, as far as the graphics are concerned the game is very good. When it was released, there was no adventure that looked so good. The sounds also help the game give it its richness and innovativity. But the point where it really lacks, is the difficulty of the puzzles you must solve. I think that they are far to easy, considering the fact that I played it for two days and completed about eighty per cent of the game. The ending also gives you an empty feeling. Without spoiling too much about the ending I can say that the game leaves the story very open for a sequel, i.e. there is no real ending." [ Ed's note: Interesting... too easy? If it were as easy for me as it were for him I might rate this game higher :) ]