When I first played Myst so many years ago, I enjoyed myself so thoroughly I thought that one could not improve upon this greatness.
When Riven came out years later, I was certain of it.
Now, after much hype (which even included a film trailer at last year’s E3, no less), Myst III: Exile is here. Would this new chapter in the Myst saga be as great a puzzle experience is its initial predecessor, or would this be another cheap attempt to cash in on the Myst legacy? Only some serious playing time would reveal the truth.
First off, I don’t want to get into the whole "it’s not ‘III,’ because there was no II" debate. Lest we forget, there are precedents in the movies ‘Alien 3’ and ‘Rambo III.’ So let’s not have any whining about the title, hmmm?
So I loaded and played it for a while. Can it be that M3:E has kept everything we loved about the original Myst, while actually listening to the consumers and not making the same mistakes that were made in Riven? It was beginning to look that way.
The best thing about the original game was that you got to have three separate ‘A ha!’s’ with every puzzle: discovering that something is in fact a puzzle, discovering the rules governing the puzzle, and solving the puzzle. Now, with a Myst sequel, we are on guard looking for puzzles everywhere we go, so the first ‘A ha!’ has much less impact. What the makers of M3:E have done to make up for this inevitability is to make the middle and last ‘A ha!’s a bit less easy to come by, often requiring information that you didn’t think you’d need.
For example, early in the game there is a bunch of periscope-looking things all over the island. This is obviously a puzzle, so there is a minimal first ‘A ha!’ there. It may take a while to figure out how to arrange them properly, so the second ‘A ha!’ is more rewarding. It’s only when you realize what arranging them accomplishes, and you also realize that you need certain information pertaining to the periscope-things, that the third ‘A ha!’ comes. When it does it’s both satisfying and just a teeny bit ‘I could kick myself’ frustrating, which is in my opinion, the best puzzle experience.
The interface is one where each location is a 360-degree bubble with a pixilated fade-in-fade-out ‘motion’ as you move between them. I have found this to be the best puzzle-solving environment. Of course, the bubbles are not static anymore, the water moves as you look around. The transition between gameplay and the movies is very smooth. They kept the ‘roller coaster’ rides (which we all found extraneous in Riven) to a minimum, typically using them now only as rewards.
The music and artwork is of course terrific, but I would expect no less from a sequel to Myst. The actors all did a fantastic job, and I would especially like to commend veteran actor Brad Dourif as the quite mad Saavedro. I can’t wait to see this man play Wormtongue in the forthcoming Lord of the Rings trilogy (5 more months! oh, the agony! Of course, since Wormtongue isn’t in the first book, it will be 17 months before I get to see him. Oooh, I’m dying!).
One of the things I loved most about M3:E was that, toward the end, after making all these logical decisions based on facts and intuition, the makers of the game confront you with an honest-to-God actual moral quandary. While neither choice will prevent you from reaching the goal set before you, what you decide at this point will definitely change the outcome of the game, and determine which final movie you get to see. It is an interesting twist on a puzzle game, and I commend the developers for including it.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to point out that in Myst (quite possibly the best-selling computer game ever) and its successors, you won’t find any gory deaths or scantily-clad people anywhere. I know they always say that sex and violence sells, but I just wanted to take the opportunity to point out that it isn’t always necessary, and the Myst series proves it.
I hear you saying, "Hey, if this is such a great game, why didn’t you give it a perfect rating?" Well, I guess the time has come to tell you that all is not so terrific here in paradise. The game has problems.
First, after installing the game, I could not run it. My screen would go blank. I went to the UbiSoft site to get some customer support, because maybe I had a setting wrong or something. Know what I discovered? On the site was a patch, version 1.2 no less, that, in their own words "Fixed the M3.exe bug that prevents the game from running on many PC graphics chipsets."
Well, isn’t that lovely? The game as it was sold off the shelf wouldn’t run on ‘many’ PC chipsets. I don’t know how they define ‘many,’ but I’m guessing that it was a lot more than you think. I mean, marketing must have picked a word for them that puts the best face on it, and they settled on ‘many’. You do the math.
I was going to install the game using the ‘maximum’ option so I could enjoy the game without any disk-changing. But then I reconsidered, thinking that I owed it to our readers to test the game under typical circumstances, so I reinstalled it with the ‘typical’ option. And I’m glad I did. The disk-changing was kept to a minimum, generally requiring a change only when you moved from one Age to another. But that’s not the interesting thing.
The game will only start up with Disk 1 in the drive. That’s right, they give us a multidisk game, where 75 percent of the time you will not be on Disk 1, but they make you switch disks to put Disk 1 in to start the game, then, when loading your saved game, make you switch again to whatever disk you had in the drive from the last time you played. This is an unforgivable offense. Why couldn’t we have the same startup screen appear no matter which disk was in the drive? Is this too complicated a concept for you guys? I scream about this in practically every review I do, and you publishers keep doing it! Some games do get it right, but not this one.
Despite it’s problems, Myst III: Exile is a phenomenal game, well worthy of the Myst name and legacy. Its music and artwork are nothing short of fantastic, and they are combined with some great character acting and devious puzzles to make a quite enjoyable experience. It earns 4 out of 5 GiN Gems, and could easily have scored a perfect 5 if it weren’t for the technical-related problems I had with it.