In a sense, I wish more games were like Myst. To me, it seems like hardly a videogame is released these days without involving guns, fighting, explosions, race cars, ninjas, girls in impossibly skimpy costumes, or power-ups. The Myst series has long been a beacon of sorts, proof that a game need not be like a B-grade action movie to be compelling. It relies on more subtle qualities like storytelling, puzzles and the simple wonder of adventure to captivate its players.
And yet, as much as I wish developers would find more creative ways to engage players than sex and violence, I must also confess that the Myst series is wholly inadequate as a leader to guide developers out of their narrow minds. Not because Myst and its sequels are not good games; indeed, the storytelling is excellent, the settings beautifully surreal, and the puzzles as fascinating as they are perplexing. Rather, it's because, as I lamented in my review for Myst III: Exile, the interface is lousy. So lousy, in fact, that the game is virtually unplayable for all but the most patient gamer.
The problems with the previous game are every bit as relevant here; the movement is simply far too slow and time-consuming. Rather than feeling as though I wereexploring a fascinating world, I felt like I was constrained. Interaction with objects felt unnatural and contrived—players simply wander from one elaborately staged puzzle to the next. The cumbersome movement from one freeze-frame to another makes any kind of backtracking incredibly testing. Though the worlds are certainly visually impressive, the inability to move freely and interact with the environment detracts greatly from the back-of-the-box sheen of the graphics.
Having said that, I found Myst IV to be a more enjoyable game than the previous chapter. Naturally, it continues the story of the D'Nai Atrus and his ability to travel to different worlds, or "Ages," through books. This time, Atrus plans to rescue his two sons, who betrayed him in the first game, from Ages in which they are imprisoned. Players take control of a nameless hero who sets off to help Atrus deal with his troublesome sons yet again.
But, it wasn't so much the story that is improved—Riven was quite well written but chock full of bizarre, frustrating puzzles that often felt too obscure or contrived to be enjoyable. The puzzles in Revelation are much less intimidating, though by no means unchallenging. As in Riven, some hints are mercifully included with the game, as no doubt some of these puzzles will test the patience of even the most Spartan gamer. The addition of a camera helps greatly, alleviating the need to take notes on assorted clues found throughout the game.
However, despite some improvements, the navigation is simply too clunky and unnatural for Revelation to appeal to anyone but fans of the series. With technology fast improving, it's time the team at Ubisoft took a few more risks with the formula and capitalized on the opportunities that weren't present at the time of Myst's inception—interactive worlds, lifelike physics, advanced artificial intelligence, etc. In the meantime though, Myst IV serves at least as a pleasant reminder that there's more to videogames than "ka-blammo!"