The fourth chapter in the myst
series is part of a dying breed. PC adventure games (in the classic sense) have been on their way out of the market place for some time now. In their place stand countless action games and first-person shooters, most of which are hardly worth their space on store shelves. On the console side of things, true adventure games are practically non-existent. And there's no real mystery as to why that is. Let's face it, the typical adventure game requires more patience than the average gamer can muster.
You usually need to invest serious time reading dialogue and other text, for example, and puzzles are often more compex than the "pull the lever, open the door" type seen in many action/adventure games. Still, certain developers have tried in vain to save the floundering adventure genre by inundating the marketplace with insipid Myst clones; titles featuring a string of illogical puzzles without so much as a sentence of riveting dialogue or narrative.
Myst 4 on the other hand, takes you where most other adventure games haven't in a very long time: anywhere but wherever you happen to be playing it. Myst 4 is escapism in a box. It somehow manages to advenure fans from the opening sequence and not let go until the very end. This isn't to say the game is perfect, as no game really is, but as far as adventure games go, it's damn near flawless. It boasts mind-bending, yet logical puzzles, graphics the likes you've never seen in a game of its class and a story worthy of its own novel. Not to mention the highest production values seen in any adventure game in recent memory.
The Xbox version, while identical in most respects, loses some of the appeal of the PC version. The graphics lose a bit of their luster, even though Myst 4 runs in HD. The FMV doesn't look so hot either; it appears blurry and lacks the seamlessness of the original. Graphical issues aside, however, Myst 4 still has it where it counts.
Ask any adventure fan what two elements make a great game, and they'll probably say good story and puzzle design. Thankfully, the story in the latest Myst does more than string a series of puzzles. It continues the story of Atrus and his troubled family through a captivating narrative full of betrayal, deception and corruption. All the good stuff in other words. Fans of the series know the back story behind the events in Myst 4, but I'll bring you virgins up to speed.
At the heart of Myst lay the D'ni, an ancient civilization with the power to travel to different worlds through books. Although it may sound like a line from an over zealous librarian, the D'ni used these "linking books" to visit worlds across the cosmos. This ability, known simply as "the Art," enabled the D'ni to flee their home before a great calamity could destroy their civilization. They wound up linking to a great cavern underneath the planet Earth.
To the D'ni, the ability to create "Ages" represented near infinite opportunities. With any great power, though, there's a chance something will go wrong. Thankfully, something did go wrong, igniting the story behind the original Myst adventure. Progressing through each installment, you discovered how the D'ni created specific Ages for pleasure or pain, depending on the person who would write them.
Although there's no main character in Myst (you play a faceless, nameless hero,) each adventure revolves around a D'ni named Atrus. Atrus and his wife, Catherine, had three children: a daughter named Yeesha and two sons, named Sirrus and Achenar. Although Yeesha plays the part of perfect daughter, both Sirrus and Achenar abuse the power bestowed upon them and create all sorts of havoc. They wind up destroying several ages written by their father, ultimately forcing Atrus and Catherine to imprison their sons in two isolated Ages. Years go by without Atrus and his wife contacting or even seeing their sons.
At the beginning of Myst 4, you arrive in an age known as Tomanha, where Atrus, Catherine and Yeesha have made their home. Atrus has once again enlisted your help in a time of need. Seems as though Catherine has been bugging him about their sons. Having spent years in isolation, Catherine has convinced Atrus their sons have changed for the better. You, the player, arrive just in time to help Atrus finalize preparations before his trip to the two prison ages where his sons have forcibly taken residence.
Using one of his inventions, Atrus hopes to view his sons one last time through a "crystal viewer" before heading out. The crystal viewer grants Atrus the power to monitor Ages from afar. Before he can take a peek, however, an explosion rattles the inside of Atrus's laboratory, knocking out the power throughout his home. Atrus runs off to gather some tools and leaves you to bring the power back. Thus starts the adventure. The first puzzle you'll encounter helps summarize the type you'll face throughout the adventure: challenging, logical and fun.
One of the biggest complaints when it comes to puzzles in any game is the lack of reason behind their solutions. As well-designed as the puzzles in earlier Myst installments might have been, they were still quite obscure. For example, you could flip a switch in one corner of an Age and have a door unlock miles away. Other puzzles were so academic you'd swear an engineering degree was required to solve them. Riven accounted for many of these brain-melting puzzles.
Myst 4 gets it mostly right. Each puzzle calls for equal parts intelligence and patience, with only a few requiring liberal use of profanity and/or the use of stress ball. Let's take a look at the first set of puzzles. You need to restore power to Atrus' lab. In order to do so, you'll need to jumpstart a large dam by finding a Myst-style fuse box and re-routing power. You'll need to balance a specific amount of power between five columns.
Each column represents a different device. The two center columns represent the nearby damn, so you'll need to find a way to sap power from the three other systems to the center columns using a collection of buttons on the bottom of the fuse box. Once you realize which buttons correlate with what, solving the puzzle becomes a matter of simple logic.
After re-routing power, you need to return to the dam, flip the switch then make your way back to the lab. While this is arguably one of the easiest puzzles in the entire game, it helps illustrate the underlying logic behind most of the challenges throughout the game. If you need to get through a locked door, you'll need to find a way to unlock it, etc. None of the puzzles come off as arcane or arbitrary and each fits snuggly into their enviornment.
The interface in Myst 4 is simple and intuitive for the most part. You mouse around the game using an animated hand that points whenever you can interact with the environment. Whenever you're meant to examine something a little closer, the cursor whips out a small magnifying glass. You move the cursor using the left analog stick. Unfotunately, it doesn't feel nearly as precise as a traditional mouse. Exploring the gameworld using the Xbox controller feels downright clunky, to a point where certain puzzles wind up feeling more difficult, especially those requiring finesse. The D-Pad controlls your camera, picture viewer and Hint System, with each direction calling up a unique device.
The inclusion of the camera is a particularly nice touch. You'll never need to sketch symbols on the back of a bank statement ever again. The camera helps you solve some of the puzzles and also serves to record your journey. And since this is such a damn pretty game, you'll feel compelled to snap shots of every creature, waterfall and canyon in the game. Viewing your pictorial journal is as easy as clicking on the album in your inventory.
Early in the game, you'll find Yeesha's necklace. During specific parts of the game, the necklace flashes letting you know there's a flashback available. Flashbacks dive into events that occurred in a particular location. Early on, a bulk of these visions focused on the lives of Sirrus or Achenar as they struggled to survive on their respective prison worlds. While these flashbacks haven't completely erased the prolific journals of earlier Myst adventures, they add a level depth missing from earlier installments.
Of course, these flashbacks only make up a portion of the 60 plus minutes of full motion video, all of which is top notch. Real actors seamlessly blend with virtual environments to create the most visually-stunning Myst adventure to date. The acting itself is genuine and well done, with only a few scenes suffering from a little overacting. You'll also see some familiar faces. Series co-creator Rand Miller reprises his role as Atrus, for example.
The rest of the game is equally gorgeous. Turning away from the 3D engine seen in Uru: Path of the Shell, Myst 4 harkens back to the graphical style of earlier Myst titles. Only this time, static backgrounds make way for beautifully animated vistas. Again, the graphics don't look nearly as good on a TV as they do on a PC moniter, but it's still pretty decent. You'll also notice the framerate drop on occasion when playing the Xbox version, plus the integrated FMV looks somewhat fuzzy overall.
Still, you'll see worlds spring to life through animated flora and fauna, not to mention countless little effects such dust clouds, ocean spray and rippling water. You'll watch exotic birds dart through dense forests and otherworldly creatures scurry about the ground. While screen resolution peeks at 1024x768 on the PC version, it would have been nice to see the game run at even higher resolutions.
Myst 4 also includes a multi-layered hint system to help struggling adventurers. The system breaks into three different levels. The first level gives you a slightly cryptic hint to nudge you in the right direction. While the inclusion of such ambiguous hints is admirable, since puzzle solvers often want help and not solutions, they can sometimes be too mysterious. They end up being mini-mysterious in and of themselves.
The second layer further solves the puzzle, often telling you where to go or what you need to do to trigger a sequence. It pretty much tells you everything but the solution. The third layer lays it all out. It's a systematic solution to the puzzle leaving nothing hidden away. Well, almost nothing. Sometimes, you'll need to find a lever but won't see it due to the contrast levels of a particular monitor. While this is more of a graphical problem, it can still sabotage your efforts with or without an in-depth guide to each puzzle.
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