Myst IV: Revelation

Developer/Publisher:  UbiSoft Entertainment
Year Released:  2004

Review by Steve Ramsey (October, 2004)
If you were one of those Myst fans that found Uru a little disappointing, your first moments inside Revelation will be enough to make you forgive and forget.

You literally burst into the game aboard a cable car, piloted by Yeesha, the 10 year old daughter of Atrus and Catherine. She has come to collect you, as you have been asked by Atrus to come to Tomahna to undertake a certain task. It will suffice to say it involves his troublesome sons, Sirrus and Achenar. He can trust only you.

The first thing you will likely notice, once you stop gawking at the passing landscape and pay attention, is the game cursor. It's a hand, one of the most lifelike I have seen. It was almost eerie at first, this limb floating in the middle of the screen, but its strengths are still to be revealed.

Like any point and click game, the cursor/hand is your way to explore the world. Unlike any other game, this hand is almost alive. It points the way with a debonair flourish, but it's not just a theatrical prop. If there is something you can grab, the hand will open; click and hold to grab and then complete the action as you would in real life. Open a cupboard by taking hold of the handle, turning and pulling. Turn the pages of a book by lifting one corner and flipping.

Want some finer action, say, pressing a button? The hand extends its index finger, waiting to do your bidding. Want to look at something more closely? The hand will sweep up from nowhere a small magnifying glass, and grasp it ready to examine the item or scene in question. It will even cup itself so you can catch stuff. It's quite remarkable to watch.

Wait though, until you use its fingers to tap on various objects. You can almost feel the material, so good is the noise produced from your inquisition. Things don't just look like glass or wood, they sound like it. It's an extraordinarily tactile experience.

The hand will fade from view if you don't move it for a short time, a thoughtful touch if you want to simply appreciate the view. When you are exploring and looking about, it can either remain centred in the screen, the game world moving around it, or right click and it becomes "unattached", giving you free exploration of the screen in front of you and your toolbar, but still causing the scene to move as you approach the edges. I used a mix of both, depending upon what I was doing.

You will probably then notice the myriad of movement in the world, particularly when you step outside. There is smoke and water, drifting clouds and fluttering butterflies, leaves blowing in the wind, and shadow skittering across the ground. Birds rush by, land and take flight as you approach. Little green lizards might sit cautiously, until a gentle tap sends them scurrying up a wall. Nothing stands still.

The sounds too are all there, even for the most mundane of actions. Simply turning in one spot causes a little shuffle of your own feet.

I spent several hours exploring Tomahna. I achieved little, but it didn't matter. It was a true Myst world. Atrus and I blew up a machine, sending Atrus to Rime to retrieve a spare part, and leaving me to restore power. I pushed some buttons, read some books, pulled some levers and encountered several obvious puzzles. I poked lizards, let loose fireflies, spoke with Yeesha and fiddled with some machines. I took notes, observed action and reaction, and gradually unpicked the tapestry that was the first part of Revelation. Little things came together, puzzles were solved, new paths opened up, and all was right with my gaming world.

Three items will help you. Two are really parts of the same thing -- a camera and a projector. You can take pictures of anything you see, whether in close up or normal view, but you will find it most useful recording key pages from books, or maps or drawings. You can then view them with the projector, and make annotations and notes on each one. I drew numerous diagrams when playing Riven and Exile, and I still made my own drawings and jottings here, but the camera was invaluable. It certainly meant I didn't have to go back and check what I had seen or read.

Plus, if you take pictures of the game world, you will have in effect a photo record of your exploits.

The other item is an amulet that you will find during your time in Tomhana. It enables you to experience the memory of a place or thing. It is through the amulet that the story of Revelation unfolds. Snippets of memories will be revealed, and they can be pieced together to tell what went on.

One more thing. The insertion of Yeesha and Atrus into the world is almost seamless. Not like a viewed cutscene at all, but as if they were really there.

The Ages
I eventually moved on, first to Haven then to Spire. Haven was magnificent, a captivating menagerie of plants and fantastical animals. The zeftyrs were truly a treat. Haven struck me as a cross between Channelwood and Edanna, but far more alive than both. It teemed with life, and the life truly lived. The animals you come across don't just appear in one spot, and do the same thing all over again next time you pass that way. I watched a camoudile bring down some prey and then begin to feast. Next time I came that way some different scavengers were feeding, and birds had begun to circle. Eventually there was almost nothing left. Even the animation loops are quite lengthy. If you stand and watch karnaks diving for fish it is quite a while before the activity repeats.

The jungle paths were a tad maze-ish and I did go round in circles a few times without finding all the trails, but there was so much going on that I didn't really care. It was almost disappointing when I ran out of new paths.

Haven was all the more impressive because of the juxtaposition of the back story with the world itself. The will of one man must make an impression, but one man is no match for a world. Time and place will impose itself on even the harshest of wills.

Spire was less captivating, but initially no less interesting. A three tiered world built in the clouds, surrounded by electrical storms and floating rocks and energised crystals. It's a hard, almost drab place, particularly after Haven, although it is punctuated by some softer touches. I confess, though, that before I had finished I was tired of it, and was most pleased to move on. More on that later.

The tunnels you might slide down are, however, a blast. In fact, all of the "rides" (and there are a few) are what you would hope for. Ubisoft clearly understands Myst people like to ride.

Eventually you will get to Serenia, a lilting tranquil place of ethereal beauty and feathery glades, gossamer birds and forest sprites. You will meet some people there. And catch bubbles, should you wish to. It's an Age of memory, and of winding, twisting paths. You may think it too twisting after a while, but it isn't too daunting.

You can link back to Tomahna whenever you like, bouncing between the Ages as you unravel their secrets. There is a lot to explore. When I got stuck I went elsewhere, fiddled and poked some more, came back and tried again. If that is what gives you a gaming buzz, prepare to be zapped. Often.

The puzzles are generally extremely well integrated into the respective environments. There are a lot of them and they vary in difficulty. Some are one dimensional, others multi-faceted, but they (mostly) encourage persistence. There also seemed to be a bit of a gradation involved. Certainly the puzzles that needed solving to leave Tomhana were not as complex or as many-pieced as some of those that came after.

Some are downright hard. I required more than one nudge, and an outright solve, to get through, and I had one of those "brainburst" moments when you can't solve the simplest problem because you are looking for something a whole lot harder when all you need to do is open your eyes. I did think though, particularly in Spire, that some of the large multi-part puzzles could have been a little tighter, and a bit clearer. Other players have commented that more direction is needed; certainly you have to fiddle and mull and fiddle again to make headway with some of them, and even then you may not be too sure that what you are doing is correct. The irrigation puzzle in Serenia is a bit like that. At times I admit I was lost as to what to do, as opposed to how to do it. It's at those times I went somewhere else, or when I was nearing the end of the game just took a break. But I always looked forward to coming back.

I did finish the game none the wiser as to the 'why' of one puzzle, and worked around another one. Clues are many though, some obvious and some subtle. Some are quite clever, maybe integrated into the background story or not being what they seem. Lateral thinking will help, as will careful observation and attention to detail, visual and aural.

Puzzles can be a very personal thing, and whilst I wasn't enamoured of all of them, I did enjoy the vast majority. Some are rather excellent. The bathysphere puzzle was one of those, a neat little variation and a Riven link to boot. I was also taken by the last memory puzzle, even if the exploding tick thing was somewhat bizarre. There is, though, a fiddly sequence puzzle in Spire which has a timed aspect that may well frustrate you more than once. It has apparently frustrated many others, so much so that a patch is apparently being written to give you more time.

Sound plays a part in some of the puzzles, which isn't usually my strong point, but in Haven I found it not only interesting, but fun. Getting past the camoudile was a hoot J. It was less fun in Spire but I eventually got through.

An in-built help menu means you shouldn't remain stuck for too long. It gives three different levels of hints, with the third being the information necessary to solve the puzzle. It is a little less than user friendly if you can't discern the name of the puzzle you are stuck on or work it out from the maps, but it is potentially a useful aid. Except that a bug in mine prevented the reproduction of the bottom 5 or so lines of each hint page. It didn't happen in any other book, just this one. It wasn't a problem the one time I used it in Haven, the hint being only a few lines long. In Spire however, key information was simply not being shown in the hint I was looking at.

I know others have struck this problem. It kept me honest, but it was an imperfect help tool. I also haven't gone back to read all the clues to see if they are indeed helpful.

Other things
Given the amount of material in each scene, it probably isn't surprising that Revelation is released only on DVD. Even then, there are two DVD discs, but there is no swapping necessary during play. I did a full install and game play was virtually unimpeded by any lag or load. You can tweak many settings, including quite a few of the video settings, and you can also set how much music you want in the game. I left that at the default setting as the music is anything but muzak. Real and lush compositions, with Peter Gabriel lending a hand on a song. The dreamworld sequences were a bit cosmic but then, perhaps, the dreamworld really is like that. You can also configure the hand cursor to suit your own hand preferences.

The voice acting is rather good to excellent, and in perfect sync with what was going on. Flip a page in a book because you have read ahead, and the voiceover simply picks up at the next page. It waits, too, till you turn the page. A "zip" mode exists, which enables you to be instantly transported to places you have already been in a world to prevent walking back. I didn't use it early on, but resorted to it quite a bit in Serenia. There are two endings, depending on a choice you make.

Final thoughts
I am a great fan of Myst style games and I loved this. I do look back on Spire as a bit of a disappointment, too messy and fiddly for my liking, and not terribly engaging. And all the more so because it is bookended between two quite wonderful Ages. Their look and feel sucked me in, and I enjoyed just being there, picking away at the puzzles. Add Tomahna, and they more than made up for my feelings about Spire.

So if you like meandering and cogitating, if soaking up the world around you is a pleasure in itself, if immediate understanding is not essential, if kicking back and looking at the sea is an ok thing to do when you haven't got a clue what else to do, if you can forgive the odd puzzle, and if patience is your virtue, then you should definitely make haste to Revelation. rating:  

Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2004. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows 98SE/2000/Me/XP (only), 700 MHz Pentium III or AMD Athlon or better (Pentium IV recommended), 128 MB RAM (256 MB recommended) (256 MB required for XP), 32 MB DirectX 9 compliant video card (64 MB recommended) (see ubisoft site for supported list), DirectX 9.0-compliant sound card, DirectX 9.0 (included on DVD), 4x DVD or faster, 3 GB disc space (minimum), 800x600 display.

Macintosh OS X 10.2.8, 10.3.5, 700 MHz or better, G4 (G5 recommended), 32 MB video card (64 recommended), Standard sound card, Quicktime version 5 or higher, 4x DVD or faster, 3 GB disc space (minimum), 800x600 display.