Originally posted at GameBoomers:
What is it?
The sequel to the sequel (Exile) to the sequel (Riven) of Myst! Just like Exile, this is a point-n-click adventure, in full screen, 360 degree bubbles. Chronologically, this game comes after Exile; Yeesha, the baby at the beginning of Exile, is now a bright, engaging 10-year old, and Atrus (played, once again, by Rand Miller, CEO of Cyan Worlds) is starting to show some age, with a distinguished display of greying hair and beard.
Okay, I have to come clean, right from the start. I've been a fan of the Myst games since 1993. So, you can imagine the sense of excitement and anticipation I felt when a certain package arrived on my doormat! I've been really good this time. I've not looked at the preview screen shots, I've assiduously avoided any Myst-related threads on adventure forums; I know next to nothing about Myst IV Revelation. Until now....
Where does it come from?
Again, like Exile, this game was not written, nor developed by Cyan (the originators of the Myst story) however the first "ident" movie is the wonderful Cyan one that sends shivers down my spine!
This game was developed for UbiSoft by Team Revelation, under license (and with artistic and plot oversight) from Cyan. Development of the project started well before Exile was complete, and you can tell from the quality of the game that it has taken all this time to produce. There's just so much in it. It comes with two whole DVDs of resources -- giving an 8GB (yes, eight gigabytes) full install. Even the minimum install is a whopping 3.5GB!
Is there a plot?
Of course... it's a Myst game! Atrus introduces the story by telling us that his sons, Sirrus and Achenar, weren't killed at the end of Myst (as some people had supposed) but remained trapped. Now we find out how Atrus and his family -- Catherine, his wife, and Yeesha, their lively (roughly) 10 year old daughter -- have dealt with the situation. You're invited to help out.
Those sons of his seem to have been the bane of Atrus's existence, providing the plot and motivation for three out of the five Myst games so far.
This is also the second Myst game to have its plot written by Mary DeMarle. She also wrote the story for Exile, to such good effect, and this one is similarly excellent, fitting the canon of Myst-lore well.
How do you play?
Starting in Tomahna (Atrus's family's home), you solve puzzles, fix machinery, go on wild rides, decode texts & sounds, etc, in four Ages. The Ages are spectacular, but I don't want to spoil any surprises for anyone. So I'll just say that the Ages are bigger, more elaborate and more fully realized than anything in Exile. Riven only rivals this by dint of it being set almost entirely in one Age, rather than four. On a personal note, I have to say that Tomahna is my favourite Age in this game; I could live there myself.
Navigation is simple, being entirely mouse driven. The customisable hand cursor is used throughout, making smoothly animated transitions between idle, pointing, grasping and touching forms. You can change the colour, transparency, and handedness of the cursor in the Options menu. A nice touch, enabling you to control how visible your cursor is.
Hotspots are rarely difficult to find - there's no pixel hunting here. Controls on machinery are clear in their location, if not their function. But then the game wouldn't be true to the Myst genre if Atrus's mechanical wonders were obvious in their layout.
The Puzzles don't interrupt game play and plot...they're essential to progressing the story. They're not just in the style of "here's a fancy puzzle-lock, you don't get to see the Treasure Chamber until you can figure out this sliding tiles game". There are some very novel puzzles right from the get-go. And the final puzzle is a complete doozy!
Just so you know, there are no mazes, nor sliding blocks, but there are sound puzzles and a timed sequence.
The live acting is excellent. Rand Miller is the *only* person who can play Atrus, much as he'd like to escape the role! Yeesha (Juliette Gosselin) is lovely. Sirrus and Achenar were played by Rand and Robin Miller in Myst, and are now played by Brian Wench, (a US TV actor) and Guy Sprung (a Canadian TV actor). Both are excellent, bringing back to life those two apparent psychopaths from the first game with great flair and enjoyable characterisation.
Technically, the live action sequences are integrated very, very well with the pre-rendered elements, animated environment, and real-time effects. Characters interact with objects, pass through doorways accurately, and show up as distant glimpses through intervening structures very smoothly. There's a great sense of the characters being real within this world.
Inevitably, I have to gush glowing praise for the graphics in Myst IV. Every time we have a new Myst game, I am astounded by the leaps forward made by the development teams, be they Cyan themselves, Presto (Exile) or Team Revelation. The Ages are stylish, intricate, beautiful (in their own ways), and fantastically brought to life by the optional immersive features. Even without the optional material, there is life in the environment, with moving water, animated insects, lightning, wind and wildlife. However, if you turn on the optional effects, the overall picture is stunning. To take Tomahna for example, the trees move in the wind, the waterfall is shrouded in mist (not myst, sic!), smoke rises from the kitchen, birds and insects flutter around the vegetation and scattered leaves blow in the breeze.
This game really is a tour de force in world realisation and photo-realistic environments!
As with Exile, the music for Myst IV was composed by Jack Wall. I've always found his material beautiful, haunting, dramatic, and brilliantly applied. He has linked this game stylistically and thematically to the earlier games, without just re-using Robyn Miller's material. There's also a song by Peter Gabriel (who also composed music for Uru: Ages of Myst), which fits in very well where it comes. No spoiler intended.
Any other novelties?
ALIVE technology - most objects and surfaces within range of your hand can be touched to find out what they sound like - walls, books, glass windows, plants, equipment; all sorts of things. Some objects can be used without appearing to have any true part in the game -- lovely extra colour, to bring you deeper into the game. This addresses one of the longest held gripes of many point-n-click adventurers; the fact that the game environments almost always include many objects about which the user is curious, but can never actually explore (for example, in Syberia, all those 1st floor doors in the hotel in Valadilene that went nowhere).
The game also allows you to have objects take on a degree of soft focus based upon their distance from the user. I must say that I really didn't like this feature, and turned it off as soon as I discovered it was optional. I like my world to be as clear as possible; I can get all the blurred images I could possibly ever wish for, if I take my glasses off.
There's the built-in hint system, using hints from Prima (publishers of the Strategy Guide for Myst IV, amongst many other guides). Level I, II, and III hints provide gentle nudges, pointed clues, and complete instructions for the various puzzles. There is a warning every time the hint system is about to reveal more information (almost every click whilst using the hints). This gets annoying very quickly. Yes, I know using this hint may "affect my gaming experience". Enough already!
Part way into the game, you obtain an amulet of memories that is used to give plot and character developing colour, especially by allowing the player to hear the characters read out the contents of their various journals. This makes absorbing the information in the journals a much more enjoyable aspect of the game than it has been in previous Myst games.
A camera may not be a novelty to adventure gamers anymore. There was one in Timelapse and many other games since. But the Myst IV camera is one of the most useful ever. We all know how difficult it is to take good graphical notes for Myst games; the clues can be so subtle. Well, the camera and viewer (with its note taking function too) make taking notes so much easier, it's almost simple to use Atrus's crystal viewer. Not too simple of course, because the clues are hand drawn, but still, much easier than puzzling out clues copied down late at night by someone who's own drawing skills leave much to be desired!
I'm sorry to say that my playing of Myst IV was marred by a number of bugs.
First of all, there's a compatibility issue with ATI Radeon cards (7000, 7500 and in my experience 9000 too) where the 3D environment is masked out by sandy squares. However, UbiSoft have a fix for this on their support site; a modification to a configuration file.
Secondly, the game has periodic crashes to the desktop. The game never crashed my PC, but did quit suddenly at a number of places, and never reproducibly, making it very hard to diagnose the cause. Therefore, save often; but this leads to the third problem I suffered.
As you accumulate save games, the menus get slower and slower. So either limit yourself to, say, ten save slots, or find the save directory and move save files out of the way, or periodically delete old saves from within the Load Game menu.
In a nutshell: magnificent! This is my favourite Myst game yet. There are the awesome Ages, with perilous heights, stunning scenery, fantastical creatures. We get plenty of lifts, cable car rides, amazing machines, intriguing and challenging puzzles.
Flies in the ointment: blurry focus (can be turned off), massive full install, virtual CD/DVD check, and graphical problems that weren't completely solved until I'd finished the game. It's a shame that after three years of development, there are still issues in the game. These issues, including the save game slow-down and repeated crashes to desktop, contribute to a slight tarnish on the overall product. I'll be betraying my fan-dom of the Myst games by saying that I was willing to work around the issues, and have been able, I feel, to see the gold underneath.
A patch solving the issues mentioned above would convert this into an A+.
What do you need to play it?
• 700 MHz Pentium(r) III or AMD Athlon(tm) or better
• 32 MB DirectX(r) 9-compliant video card (800x600 display)
• 128 MB RAM (256 MB required for XP)
• 3.5 GB free hard disk space
• 4x DVD or faster
• DirectX 9.0-compliant sound card
• Windows(r) 98SE/2000/ME/XP with DirectX 9.0c (included on DVD)
• Pentium(r) IV or AMD Athlon(tm)
• 64Mb or more DirectX(r) 9-compliant video card (800x600 display)
• 256 MB RAM
• 8.0 GB free hard disk space
(I used Win XP, AMD XP 2400, 512 MB RAM, ATI Radeon 9000 Pro 128 AGP)