High Programmer > Alan De Smet > Rants > Reviews > Video Game Reviews > Myst IV: Revelation

Myst IV: Revelation

Rating: 6/10 - Pleasant but flawed
Platform: PC

(My Myst series reviews: realMyst, Riven, Myst III: Exile, Myst IV: Revelation, Myst V: End of Ages)

Myst IV: Revelation is a great looking game. It is the most visually amazing in the series. The story is interesting. The puzzles are all very well integrated into the world. Some of the puzzles are great. But some of the puzzles aren't fun at all, the graphics have inexplicable flaws, and the game's plot requires re-writing our understanding of the previous games.

You again meet with Atrus and his family. Atrus thinks his sons, whom he has trapped in prison Ages, a sort of alternate dimension, may have reformed themselves. He wants your neutral opinion on the matter before he frees them. Things quickly become complicated and Atrus is temporarily trapped out of communication, Atrus's daughter Yeesha disappears, and both brothers are loose.

After a nice scene-setting opening act, you spend the bulk of the game in the two prison Ages, investigating what the brothers have done since their imprisonment and looking for Yeesha. The game's long and satisfying finale takes place in yet another age, this one populated, as you try to save Yeesha.

Poking around online, it looks like the developer has attempted to justify this retcon. The justification is that Cyan is a game company that exists in the world of Myst. This fictional Cyan made the Myst games, but the games aren't fictional, they're based on actual history. Some artistic license was taken to keep the story simple and to work around technical limitations.

This is bullshit of the highest order.

It is painfully obviously a retcon. It also requires us to accept an unreliable narrator in a video game, and that the unreliable narrator is the game's developer. Since the narrator, protagonist, and player are the same person, this makes no sense. In their desperation to justify a slightly clumsy retcon that might be quickly overlooked, they have pointed giant arrows labeled, "Look at this sloppy retcon" at it.

As a player of Myst the first thing to leap out is the "retcon" or retroactive continuity. The brother's prisons are quite clear in Myst. They are trapped in black voids, seeing nothing unless the linking book to the Age is opened. If the book is opened all they can do is see a small viewport, and speak to the person holding the book. That the brothers are actually in full-blown ages, able to explore and build lonely lives, is a significant change for what we already know. This is jarring. Fortunately the plot is interesting enough that I'm willing to forgive the retcon, but it is a minor mark against the game.

Graphically we're using the same core engine as Exile. You can pan around 360 degree panoramas. The graphics are even higher resolution and look great. As an added bonus, the panoramas are full animations that add life. Animals move about, water ripples, and more. Without a doubt, Revelation is the best looking Myst game.

There is an odd glitch. Some transitions between locations includes a short video. The transitions are good looking, but oddly have radically different different lighting than the still panoramas. The effect is jarring and unpleasant. Each time it happened it broke any level of immersion.

The distance between panorama locations is larger than Exile, and frequently follow twisty paths. As a result it's much easier to get lost. This is especially a problem as several puzzles require a grasp of the larger map. One puzzle is especially frustrating. That puzzle requires following the flow of streams throughout a large area. In a number of places if the protagonist would move just a few steps over you could see the stream, but you can't. I spent several hours carefully mapping the area and never successfully built an accurate enough map. I ended up needing to resort to online sites to find a map.

An excellent addition to the game series is an in-game camera. Being able to take photographs of important information saves one from having to keep personal notes on paper. The game even lets you add notes to the photographs. Future games of this sort should absolutely include this feature.

A good idea with a poor implementation is "zip mode." Previous Myst games zip mode simply allowed one to make bigger jumps between locations. In Exile you get a sort of bookmark system to allow you to instantly jump around the world. This is an awesome idea. Unfortunately the bookmarks consist of itty bitty pictures. I can't distinguish them at all. Many look similar. I can't associate notes with them. They're useless.

The puzzles are very well integrated into the world. While some are a bit artificial, most feel like you are puzzling through devices not intended for your use.

The play flow is clumsy. The middle section of the game consists of exploring the two prison ages. Each entire prison age exists to give you a single, trivial piece of information necessary to solve a simple puzzle in the endgame. As a result, your explorations don't feel necessary.

The plot is also a bit wonky. We're told that the brothers' survival had been kept a secret, but Yeesha had been visiting constantly. It's important to use a non-functional remote viewing system to observe the brothers, but you can simply visit. How the brothers escape is never explained. I can take a guess at one of the two, but the other is baffling. None of these things are critical, but they stick in the back of my head, bugging me.

The very first puzzle was one of the most difficult. Apparently they realized this, and after failing at it for a while it is skipped. This is a very frustrating way to start the game. You batter your head against a puzzle for a while, making very little progress, then get told you're not good enough to solve it. It's a shame. The idea of the puzzle was fascinating, but it didn't work.

An early puzzle involving matching the shapes and colors of crystals is an exercise in fighting the game. If one was able to easily move your head around to get a better view, the puzzle would be straightforward. Instead I spent time squinting at similar shapes viewed from slightly different angles and cursing the puzzle's designer.

Several puzzles require careful timing, but don't provide any in-game guidance on how long the "long" and "short" time periods are. This led to a lot of frustration as I played through.

The game has a translation puzzle that is an interesting idea, but fails because the strange symbols are hard to read. Again, in the real world one could easily look more closely, but the game's system makes it impossible. In the real world one could also easily place the translation key and the text next to each other for easy reference. In the game you can either slowly flip between two screens, or hand copy the subtle script details.

The game has many puzzles with subtle interactive elements. So subtle, in fact, that I thought them irrelevant. I frequently was stumped by a puzzle and ended up turning to a walkthrough. Many times I was told to manipulate something that looks like decoration but was supposed to be obvious, be it a button or lever. This was decidedly not fun.

At a few points you are expected to solve puzzles with no expectation of accomplishing anything. A key puzzle in the endgame most strikingly leaps to mind. It seems like you've entirely solved the puzzle and have gained access to the next area. Unlocking further requires making further progress in the earlier puzzle, but for no obvious reason.

There is a great deal of fun here, but this is a weaker link. I would recommend it to fans of the previous three.

(My Myst series reviews: realMyst, Riven, Myst III: Exile, Myst IV: Revelation, Myst V: End of Ages)

Update 2009-01-05: Typo fix.

Update 2009-01-28: Typo fixes. Thanks to "L" for pointing them out. Clarified "in game details" as "in-game guidance".

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