Riven: The Sequel to Myst

Developer:  Cyan
Publisher:  Red Orb Entertainment (A division of Broderbund)
Year Released:  1997

Review by Gordon Aplin (November, 1997)
riven.jpgThat Riven is the sequel to the much acclaimed Myst is enough for many of the fans of the earlier game who have been waiting patiently for it to appear. The sequel to Myst it is, but it is also much more than that. Of course, as with the first game, it will have its detractors, but I am not one of them. I played Myst a couple of years ago and quite enjoyed it, Riven, however, I loved. For me it was like being immersed in a good book where, for a time, the imaginary world was more real than the 'real world'.

Perfect combination
In Riven the individual components; the graphics, animations, sound effects, music, story and puzzles all combine to make 'the whole' an enjoyable experience. First of all, the graphics, though single frame and non-scrolling, are simply gorgeous, so richly detailed and realistic yet, at times, strangely alien. I loved the water lapping gently in a small pool where two prehistoric-looking marine creatures are sunning themselves on a rock. If you rush down to them they will swim away immediately, but take your time and they will stay long enough for you to get a closer look. In contrast to this idyllic scene the islands of Riven also contain the almost tangible presence of industrial activity in the form of oxidised metal rails and walkways and slightly battered-looking, but still serviceable machinery.

As with Myst, learning about the machinery, understanding how it works and what it does is crucial if you are to make any progress in this game. It may be a simple action like pressing a button or pushing a lever that allows you to access a new location to explore. And the exploring is a sheer delight. Riven is a game to savour, not to rush through to the end. I quite happily spent the first few hours just wandering around and getting my bearings, visiting the islands I could readily access to see what was there and what might need doing.

Observe, learn, understand
In fact the game, to some extent, forces you into leisurely exploration as there are few immediate solutions to problems. Sure you can push that lever, but it may be some time before you become aware of what effect it has had. The more complex problems require you to visit many locations, observe certain actions and learn and understand how the small pieces of information you gather integrate into the scheme of things. You may need to keep a pen and paper handy to make notes, especially when you are learning about the Rivenese numbering system. The clues are all there in what you see (and hear) around you, it's up to you to make the connections. To that end you have to live the game, not simply play it.

Go ahead and experiment, everything you do can be undone, nothing here will blow up in your face and you won't make an irretrievable mistake early in the game that will prevent you from completing it. The worst that can happen is that you may have to swap disks and with five of these there is a fair bit of this to do anyway. Although, I should point out that there are three possible endings, but only one of these is the 'correct' one and even that left me a little 'mystified'. If you have been following the story at all you will only see the alternative endings if you deliberately seek them out to test what happens.

The story
Yes, there is a story and that too is fleshed out as you explore, mainly through journals that you find or are given. If I have one minor complaint here it is that too much information is given in one reading and could have been broken up a little more. I thought I would never get to the end of Catherine's journal and I found some of the hand writing difficult to decipher. Other plot developments occur when you finally meet Riven's two main characters, Catherine and Gehn, in video sequences towards the end of the game.

The basics of what you must accomplish are given to you by Atrus during the introductory sequence, after that you are on your own. Not completely alone, mind you, for during the game you will no doubt catch a glimpse of the odd villager or two, release a prisoner and generally be aware of the other inhabitants of Riven. In addition to the sea-creatures mentioned earlier you may also encounter a frog, a humming bird, a beetle on a gate post and other insects. All these little touches display more than just attention to detail, they contribute wonderfully to the feeling that you have entered a living world with its own ecosystem and history.

The mechanics
Riven, like Myst, is a first-person perspective game where your character is not identified in any way. The interface is easy to use point and click and you can press the space bar to skip video sequences you may already have seen such as travelling between islands. There is also a useful 'zip' feature that allows you to quickly move between locations you have already explored, though I would urge caution in using this unless you are sure that you have searched everywhere thoroughly beforehand. There is a limited inventory of sorts, but this is not an inventory-based game. You won't be picking up items to use in another location. Sadly, there is no option for on screen text when Atrus, Gehn and Catherine speak to you so players with hearing difficulties will miss out, as they will when it comes to solving two of the puzzles which are based on sounds.

There have been reports of bugs with this first release and a patch is already available to fix up some problems. However, I can only say that the game gave me no trouble whatsoever, even without the patch. It installed easily and ran perfectly on my system, I can't recall even a single lock up.

If I can be allowed to express some slight disappointment it is only that I was not permitted to explore a couple of intriguing locations and the ending seemed to come in a rush as everything fell into place. Or perhaps it is simply that I didn't want it to end. Overall, I found Riven to be more engaging and less 'sterile' than Myst and though the puzzles in Riven may have been a little easier I liked the way they were integrated within the game. Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed it and it was well worth the wait. It's a perfect game for fans of this type of adventure and deserves to be every bit as popular as Myst.

See the Riven walkthrough. rating:  

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1997. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
Windows 95: 100Mhz Pentium or faster, 16 MB RAM, Minimum 75 MB hard disk space, 4XCD-ROM drive or faster, 640 x 480 display, High Colour, Windows compatible sound device, Video and sound cards compatible with DirectX.
Macintosh: Mac OS required, System 7.5 or higher, 90Mhz PowerPC or faster, 9 MB RAM free, Minimum 65 MB hard disk space, 4XCD-ROM drive or faster, 640 x 480 display, thousands of colours.