Take a poll of favourite adventure games and Myst is guaranteed to be up near the top. Many will probably admit to becoming fans of the genre, or at least to exploring its offerings a bit more thoroughly, on the strength of having heard about, and then playing, Myst. It has sold over 6 million copies and claims to be the best selling PC game of all time.
But you probably knew all that. You probably also knew that some players will claim they were turned off the genre because of the very same game - too many pretty pictures and nothing much to do. Well, the pictures have just got a whole lot prettier, and if you thought there was nothing much to do last time, there is still not much to do.
Let me confess that I am a fan of Myst, although it is not quite so far up my list of favourites as it is with some players. That is largely because I played Riven first, and Myst suffered by comparison. Time and technology had moved on, and Myst simply didn't grab me the way Riven did.
Which was why I was so keen about realMyst. It was a chance to see the game dressed up in today's technological clothes, a chance to see Channelwood and the other worlds the way I saw Riven.
The first thing I noticed was that I still saw Myst. I didn't see Riven or anything remotely like it. Which in hindsight I should have expected. This game is not Riven, and the technology utilised is not meant to create Riven, anymore than it was meant to create Zork or Arcadia. What it creates is Myst.
Because it is Myst, the story and the puzzles are the same. You start on Myst Island, on the same dock, with the same sense of "what am I doing here". If you want to know more, read the original review here.
So what do you get that is different? You get a glorious 3 dimensional palette of rich colours and textures and sounds, in which clouds move across the sky, in which the day cycles from dusk to dawn and to dusk again, in which stars come out and rain comes down. The canvas is unmistakably Myst but the finished product is so much more.
You also have complete freedom of movement to explore that product. Gone are the strictures of predetermined paths and views. You can walk all over every square inch of ground, and you can look up and down and all around as much as you want from any and every location you find yourself in.
Further, you do so in a way that I have always thought represented the most realistic way of getting around, and have always wondered why more adventure games don't utilise this method of locomotion, particularly in games with wide open spaces. It will be familiar to anyone who has played a first person action game, and may disappoint some fervent point-and-clickers, but it contributes admirably to the realism that is being sought here.
Hold down the left mouse button, and off you go in the direction you are facing. You continue to move until you release the button. Changing directions is simply a matter of "steering" with the mouse, and looking about and up and down is accomplished in the same way. You can watch the ground go by as you walk, or you can study the clouds. You can go backwards by holding down the right mouse button. Those not familiar with this type of movement may find it slightly awkward at first, but it enhances the overall reality effect in many ways.
Finally, in realMyst you get a new destination, called Rime. To preserve its newness I will say nothing about it, other than it helps the connection between Myst and Riven.
It's not just pretty pictures. One gameplay aspect of the realism of this new Myst is that you have to pay far more attention as you explore. If you want to find things on the ground you have to look down. There is no static field of view in which the object you seek is present somewhere. Similarly, unless you look up, objects up high will pass you by. You also have to be close enough to something in order to interact with it. If you are too far away to pick something up - say for instance out of arms reach - then you can't pick it up, and so the interface will not indicate that you might be able to do so.
Orientation is also vastly improved by the freedom of movement and vision. Navigating the footbridges and skyways of Channelwood was far easier this time around, and not just because I had played it before. You can fix your position relative to any number of points, and then plot a course to where you want to go. Just like you would if you were doing it for real.
You can also learn a whole lot more about your environment up front. Head for a high point and (fog willing) you can get an overall impression of where to go and what is out there.
There are some small but nice touches which also make a difference. One is that once you are in motion, the cursor disappears, so your field of vision is uninterrupted by a small white hand. It will also disappear if you stand completely still for a short period, perhaps watching cloud formations or a sunset. Its not that the cursor hides anything, it is just nice that it isn't there.
Other touches are not so small but add much to the experience. The passing parade of animal life is increased, most noticeably when visiting the Stoneship. As already mentioned, day becomes night and it never ceased to surprise me when I entered a building in daylight, but then came out and found that it was dark. I wanted to look for shelter the first time it rained, and it was cold in the fog.
The ambient sounds are almost as impressive as the visuals. They can also be more than simply nice noises. Listen carefully, and getting underway in Channelwood can be less of a dilemma.
This world does however come at a price. You can see from the specifications that generating all those real time pictures requires a more up to date system than most adventure games. A troll of the gameboards indicates that if your system doesn't meet the necessary specs, gameplay is horribly degraded. Many adventure gamers I know will not be able to visit this world - unless they use the price of admission as a perfect excuse for an upgrade!
So is it a new game? I think not. Is it a better game? I think so. Some will no doubt argue to the contrary on both counts.
For me, the immersive world created by realMyst was a visual and auditory joy, but it was still essentially a game I had played before, even with the addition of Rime. If you haven't played either version, play this one. If you have played the old version, then take off your shoes and stroll the grass of Myst island. Stand on the hill and watch the sun come up. Poke into all those corners you could see but not get to. And when you have had enough, go and do some puzzles so that you can climb the trees of Channelwood and listen to the wind in the leaves and the creak of the walkways. And so on.
Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2001.
All rights reserved.
Windows 95/98/2000/ ME, Pentium II 450 MHz, 64MB RAM (128MB recommended), 300 MB hard disc space, 6X CD-ROM, 640 x 480 display, High Colour, 16MB Video card with 3D Acceleration, DirectX 7, DirectX 7 compatible sound and video cards.