Myst III: Exile
This is a review from two different aspects. One looks at the game in and of itself (in short, it's fantastic). Another compares it to its predecessors, notably Riven (in short, it's almost as good). I know that's a tough comparison, but as Exile is a sequel it is one that will inevitably be made. It's made even tougher by the fact that Riven is probably my all time favourite game. You can factor that in to what follows.
The game begins with a visit to Atrus and Catherine, living peacefully in Tamahna with a new child. Immediately, the graphic quality of the game is apparent. If you have played either Myst or Riven, you will be familiar with Atrus, who creates worlds (Ages) through writing. He wants to show you a new Age he has been writing, Raleeshan, which will be a new home for the D'ni.
To reveal much more of the plot than that would be to spoil the initial scenes. Suffice to say that you end up in J'nanin, which becomes your jumping off point for the rest of the game. It is a training Age for Sirrus and Achenar, Atrus' sons, and links initially to three other ages which were to be part of their training. You must get to those worlds, and get back. Why is revealed in bits and pieces, as you collect pages to a journal and activate video messages.
The graphics stand out in this game. If Riven was impressive, this is extraordinary. The images are smooth and crisp and detailed. Clouds look like clouds, rock looks hard, water is fluid and deep, and sharp looks like it would hurt. Old stands out from new. It truly is awe-inspiring.
The design of the Ages is also worth mentioning. They are incredibly imaginative and can be both alien and yet familiar at the same time. J'nanin stood out for me, as it probably should have given its place in the scheme of things. It's more polished and elaborate than the others, and has an air of grandeur about it. I could imagine myself ruling worlds from within the large central tusk.
You are looking for a symbol in each Age, one which you will not find until you have completed the Age. You can however go back to J'nanin anytime you want. A linking book is present somewhere very close to your entry point to each Age. You can do the three Ages in any order you want, but you won't be able to get to a fourth Age, Narayan, until you have completed the first three.
As in Riven, you must solve puzzles. They are well integrated into the Ages in which they arise. There is an underlying premise to each Age, and the puzzles reflect that particular premise. They are, for the large part, on a fairly grand scale. In the Voltaic Age, premised on energy, you must power up the world. Huge turbines, large steam engines and electric generators are your stock in trade - you can feel the place shudder when you get the things going.
Generally I found the puzzles well constructed. I got stuck, but always wriggled out through more experimentation and brain power. On the whole they engaged me such that I wanted to keep picking at them until I was successful. None were boring, and some, particularly those in Armateria, were spectacular fun even when you failed.
I confess I liked some Ages more than others. I must also confess I found Edanna, the nature age, a tad too cute and at times a big green mess. It's in large part a maze and it is difficult at times to tell up from down. As well, the fact that the cursor doesn't tell you which way you can move became frustrating in this Age. I am not a fan of big flashing lights that tell you what to do, but given that the cursor indicates that you can look at something or manipulate something, I thought it was odd that it doesn't tell you where you can walk. In a dappled world of tree branches and roots, it would have helped. The obvious symbiosis of this Age was a strength, but I was relieved when I finally emerged from the undergrowth once and for all.
The cut scenes at the end of several of the Ages are worth the price of entry alone. Quite literally in one case, they will make your head spin.
All in all Myst lII Exile is a game I would unhesitatingly recommend. It's a worthy addition to the Myst saga, though you don't need to have played any of the previous games to start here. If you haven't played them, and you like this game, be sure to seek out the earlier ones.
How then did Exile stack up against Riven? Graphically, it was superior, as it should be a few years on. It also had far more motion - more moving parts and characters - which brought it more to life. Of course, Riven was a stagnating world, so entropy and decay was to be expected.
I did not find Exile as holistic as Riven though. My impression of Riven is of one big puzzle, with parts that made up a whole. I remember roaming across the islands, sometimes learning or finding something that I could take back to an earlier location to advance my understanding of what I was doing and what was going on.
Here, the Ages are far more discrete. Like in Myst, you go to one, do what you have to, and come back. You are not stuck there till the end as you were in Myst, but there were only limited things that I learned in one place that helped me in another. I accept that this is consistent with the learning tool aspect of J'nanin, and that each Age is dealing with a particular set of dynamics that Atrus considers important, and which he wants to impart to Sirrus and Achenar. Riven too was a single Age - here, we have separate Ages. However, considered purely from a gameplay aspect, for me Riven was more satisfying.
I also learned very little from the journals, except for two very obvious things. They were, as far as I could tell, essentially to fill in the story. There is nothing wrong with telling a story, but I find I get more drawn in to that underlying story if I know I am going to pick up useful information here and there. I pay more attention, and the story becomes part of the whole experience, as opposed to being an adjunct.
Finally, I felt in Riven that I was part of something in a way I didn't here. The discrete and very different Ages didn't gel to create a single construct. Again, that is a component of the "separateness" of the Ages, so the plot must be the thread which ties it all together. It is present in the separate Ages, but its only real impact is at the beginning and the end. The game was like short stories around a theme, rather than a novel.
So my end impression is a game more in keeping with Myst, than Riven, which I did find slightly disappointing. Exile will be high up my list of favourite games, but for me Riven remains the pinnacle. If though you preferred Myst, you may have a different conclusion.
On more prosaic matters, you have full 360 degree panning in each scene. You can control whether panning is by a fixed cursor in the centre of the screen, or by moving to the edges, although you must use the latter to access the small inventory. You can also control the transition rate between scenes.
Ambient sound is excellent, as is the soundtrack. You can choose to play with subtitles, but there is an aural puzzle. You can also play with optional hardware acceleration.
Exile comes on 4 CDs and you must insert the first each time you start the game. However if you choose the full install option, you won't have to change discs at all, or insert any disc other than the first. Highly recommended if you have the hard drive space.
I did not encounter any bugs, but I did load the patch available at the time. A newer version has since been released which is aimed at fixing a problem with specific video cards. I suggest you check the website though as a precaution.
The final word? Regardless of my comparative feelings, I thoroughly enjoyed my journey through the Ages of Exile. If you liked Myst and/or Riven, there is no doubt you will enjoy Exile as well.
Are you Stuck in Myst III Exile? For help check out these great walkthroughs:
Linda and Norma's Walkthrough
Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2001.
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Pentium II 233 MHz, 64 MB RAM, 200MB hard disk space, 4x CD ROM, 640 x 480 display, 16 bit colour, DirectX 7
233 MHz G3, Mac OS 8.1, 64 MB RAM, 200MB hard disk space, 4x CD ROM, 640 x 480 display, thousands of colours.