Uru: Complete Chronicles
This compilation pack from Ubi Soft and Cyan includes three games: Uru: Ages Beyond Myst, which was released just last year, plus two expansion packs: Uru: To D'ni and Uru: Path of the Shell.
As we all know Uru was designed as an online multiplayer game but was terminated before many of us got a chance to test it out. Uru: To D'ni was offered as a free download shortly after, and now this bundle includes those two games along with the final excursion.
Like Myst III Exile, Uru offers a gorgeous 3D world to explore and as it was designed for online play, it introduces a new addition to the Myst experience. As well as the familiar first person perspective it offers a third person perspective where you can move your very own avatar around the gameworld. At a keystroke you can swap swiftly between the two perspectives, and movement is either via keyboard or mouse.
Uru also introduces a new telling, or a new layer, of the Myst story and takes a giant stride into the future to a time long after the 'passing' of the fantastic D'ni civilization. The long-lost ruins have been excavated and partly opened up by a Reconstruction Team. You are mysteriously drawn to the world after reconstruction has abruptly ceased. Through the journals of team leaders you'll learn something of their motives and experiences, and pick up some hints for moving through the game. Of course, there's a feast of reading, too, if you want to know more about the ancient D'ni dynasties, and your journey will also reveal the reason for their demise and, perhaps, point the way to salvation.
I won't elaborate too much here because you can read Steve's review to learn more. Ages Beyond Myst offers an awesome world to behold with a good selection of teasing puzzles as well as several of the truly mind-bending variety that will likely have you crying out for a walkthrough. I confess that I joined the queue begging for help on a couple of occasions, so expect to give your grey matter a good shake up.
It is a fascinating journey but, perhaps, a little too 'testing' on occasions which may have discouraged new players from sampling the online experience. I was certainly discouraged by one particular timed puzzle, and by the jumping episodes where I lost count of my abysmal failures. In fact I didn't rush online because I was expecting more of the same and I couldn't imagine any online companions waiting around for me to make a fool of myself yet again.
Other than that, I slipped easily into the new role of adventurer-cum-archaeologist delving into the past. I know this twist in the Myst tale was a disappointment for some players, but I thought it worked well. And it works well as you continue this journey. So just don't expect a return to the old Myst ... although, who knows what will happen?
Thankfully there are no more acrobatics to perfect from here on apart from a few simple 'hops' now and again. This second stage of the journey, however, is largely an exercise in exploration and in searching for 'markers' or glowing balls that can be found floating anywhere in the gameworld. Comparatively, there is very little puzzling.
The exploration is certainly inspiring with stairways to negotiate, hidden areas in tumble down ruins, a harbour with ghostly ships as well as bridges, town squares, fountains, and a collection of imposing public buildings with the remnants of their treasures waiting for you to admire ... or read.
In fact this first expansion feels most like it was designed for an online experience with areas clearly meant for gatherings and for learning about the layout of the world, which is essentially what the game is about. Despite being the second instalment in the package it 'feels' more like an introduction, and it's so well done it made me sorry I never got to play Uru live.
I did, however, stumble almost before I began, so this is a timely warning. Having played a succession of role playing expansion packs, I made the mistake of imagining that the 'worlds' of the Uru games were discrete. Not so. A peek at a walkthrough alerted me to go back to the locations of the original game, Ages Beyond Myst, and the ball started rolling.
There is certainly a lot of running around to do at this point. I also felt that To D'ni might favour those with experience playing Uru Live. I always felt that more familiarity with the geography of the world would have been of great benefit. I enjoyed it because I'm an explorer at heart, but it does get quite repetitive during the marker hunt. Though I must admit here that I did lot more hunting than the game anticipated because I didn't understand a vital clue and insisted on doing it the hard way.
Uru: To D'ni wouldn't stand up as a 'complete' game but, to be fair, it isn't and it was always free to download. See it as an interlude.
In my humble opinion this is the jewel in the crown. It's a journey for the patient, for the puzzler, the observer, and the explorer. It takes a turn from the original two games and is more mystical, introducing 'The Maker', and has you following an incredible path to the end game.
The Path of the Shell, however, isn't straightforward, and it isn't easy. You certainly have to move back and forth a lot.
It's a thoughtful puzzler's dream with a great machine to get working, convoluted pathways to find and follow, time shifting episodes to deal with, and even the wild life is included in the puzzling. Experimentation and careful exploration are absolutely essential because you are on your own and must make sense of what you find. Watch out for scratchings on the walls, and make notes. If you're stuck, explore some more, experiment (you can't go wrong), think about what you find and how it might hold the key to your current dilemma. Especially when you are time travelling, think about how it might be useful. If something looks interesting, then it probably is. And did I say you need a good supply of patience?
There are three puzzles, I think, on this leg of the journey where doing absolutely nothing is the answer. You must wait 10 to 15 minutes real time before anything happens. Quite new in my experience of adventure gaming, and if the 'action' in Ages Beyond Myst caught me out, then the non-action in Path of the Shell did the same thing. My patience didn't pass the test, though I think there should have been more warning to prepare players for the first such 'puzzle'. When I am so frustrated by 'action' (jumping) in adventure games it's ironic to complain about 'non-action' puzzles. Here they are most certainly 'different' and they do 'work' ... up to a point. I scrubbed the bath during one such hiatus rather than staring at the monitor, although it was my second attempt after discovering where I'd gone wrong!
Still Path of the Shell is a joy. It makes you think. It's not so much oriented towards interpreting drawings or paintings as with Ages Beyond Myst, it's more about observation and experimentation and making connections.
All up, and despite my complaints, this is an incredible journey. I could have done without the jumping in Ages Beyond Myst (and the rock pushing as well), but as a complete package it's an extremely satisfying trip. The floating camera in third person perspective is a bit dizzying and could trouble some players, but there's always first person perspective to fall back on. Unfortunately there is nothing to fall back on for deaf players, because there are no subtitles for the spoken dialogue. I expected a game of this pedigree to include such an option. Another thing that would have been nice is an option to magnify the journals. Reading is sometimes a puzzle in itself, and it doesn't help when the writing is so small.
I can only say that this trilogy is a great purchase for patient puzzlers. The graphics are inspiring and the music is superb. Not constant, but it adds that extra eerie touch. And Uru is a world so tantalising you want to keep right on going and explore everywhere and not miss a thing. When you run through puddles the water splashes, running on wooden floors sounds like there's wood beneath your feet, and stone sounds like stone. Massive doors creak and clang as they swing open and the worlds throb when you power them up. The atmosphere is exceptional and it makes exploration a treat.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 2004.
All rights reserved.
Windows XP/Me/2000/98SE, 800Mhz Pentium III or AMD Athlon, 256 MB RAM, 4x CD ROM Drive, Video Card: 32 MB NVIDIA(r) GeForce(tm) or FX; ATI(r) Radeon(tm) 7000-9800 or better, DirectX 9.0 compatible Audio Card, DirectX version: 9.0 (supplied with game, 2 GB Free Hard Disk space, 800x600 16 bit display, Mouse and keyboard.
Windows XP, 1.4Ghz Pentium IV or AMD Athlon, 512 MB RAM, 4x CD ROM Drive or faster, Nvidia GeForce 3 or ATI Radeon 8500 or higher Video Card, DirectX 9.0 compatible Audio Card, Sound Blaster Audigy 2 series EAX Advanced, HD 2 GB Free Hard Disk space, 1024 x 768 32 bit displays.