Myst III: Exile

I’ve dreamed about only a few games, and Myst III: Exile is one of them. As I worked my way through it, a few of the puzzles gnawed on me like a hungry Squee munching on barnacle-moss flowers – more on Squees later. Soon after I started this game, solving its puzzles turned into a compulsion. There are no foes to kill and no dragons to slay – just you, your imagination, and your problem-solving skills pitted against some of the most brain-twisting puzzles imaginable. And it has no specific instructions – as you explore Myst, an intriguing story unfolds. Past achievement
Myst and its sequel, Riven, both produced by Cyan, are formidable games. They have sold millions of copies, and are tough acts to follow, but Myst III: Exile is a worthy successor. Cyan, having moved on to other projects, handed over the production of Myst to Presto Studios, and Ubi Soft is publishing the game. Myst III: Exile shows exquisite production values – the environment is rendered with lavishly detailed images. Travelling through Myst and Riven was like watching a slide show: rather than moving freely through the landscape, you had to move one click at a time. This is true of Exile as well, but you can also look all around with every click. Exile also supports OpenGL-based graphics, which add nice atmosphere. Ocean waves undulate and roll gently, for example, and as you manipulate objects that reflect or project light, you’ll see the whiteout of lens flare. The game features an engaging soundtrack that’s thematically linked to the events in the game, so it never plays the same way twice. And if you turn away from a sound source, such as a character speaking, the sound grows fainter. Myst III: Exile picks up the story about ten years after the events in Riven. You follow the trail of Saavedro, an old colleague of Atrus, the man who created Myst, Riven, and many of the other Ages (or worlds) in which the games are set. Atrus’ evil sons devastated Saavedro’s own Age, Narayan, and after losing his world, his people, and even his family, he goes mad – all he wants is revenge. You take the role of Atrus’ dear friend, here to help Atrus recover the Age of Releeshahn. Saavedro hoped to trap Atrus in his web, but he got you instead. You’re always one step behind Saavedro, trying to solve his dastardly puzzles and gather clues about what to do next. Story teller Taking a cue from criticisms levelled Riven, Presto carefully unfolds the storyline in bits and pieces throughout the entire game, rather than dumping most of it at the beginning and end. One key to understanding what’s going on is Saavedro’s manuscript, which he drops page by page throughout the various Ages. You also receive a manuscript by Atrus, which will give you some background on what this author of Ages is doing and why it’s so important for you to recover the Linking Book to the Age of Releeshahn, which Saavedro has taken. This process of discovery makes it rewarding to play the game all the way through, since you’re always sure to gain enlightenment just around the next bend. Spread across four CD-ROMs, Myst III: Exile is immense, and the puzzles you must solve are challenging. Most of them involve logic, a bit of computation, or visual perception. Often your challenge will be making sense of what’s happening, and then affecting it. To gain access to one key location, for example, you must build a bridge between yourself and a tower that contains a magical linking book. (Clicking on a linking book in any of the Myst games takes you to a different Age.) Constructing the bridge involves figuring out the relationship between Squees – furry, adorable, chirping creatures – the barnacle-moss flowers they like to eat, and the Hearken Fern, a huge plant – and this is one of the easiest puzzles. Though this type of challenge is what makes the game compelling, you may want to pick up Myst III: Exile, Prima’s Official Strategy Guide, by Rick Barba (Prima Games, 2001), or visit some of the Myst fan sites. Each of the Ages has a unique style and challenges. One deals with energy phenomena – such as electricity – another deals with kinetic forces. In this one – my personal favourite – the puzzles all involve weights and balances. This challenging game may put off folks who don’t have the patience to solve very intricate puzzles. And with four CDs, a fair amount of disc swapping is involved (a DVD version was in the works at the time I wrote this review, but I didn’t have the opportunity to test it). Chances are, if you started out this column thinking “Not another Myst game,” you should move along. For the rest of us, however, it’s a thoroughly engrossing experience.

OUR VERDICT

Hats off to Presto and Ubi Soft for bringing out what could possibly be the best Myst game yet. Myst III: Exile brings the franchise to a new level, with sophisticated new effects, panoramic 3D-environments, and mind-bending puzzles. Though it’s hard – maybe a bit too hard sometimes – ultimately the game is very rewarding. If you liked the first two Myst games, consider this a must-have.

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