The Game Room
By Peter Cohen
I've dreamed about only a few games, and Myst III: Exile is one of them. As I feverishly worked my way through it, a few of the puzzles gnawed on my subconscious like a hungry Squee munching on barnacle-moss flowers--more on Squees later. Suffice it to say that soon after I plunged into this game, solving its puzzles turned into a compulsion that gripped my mind both day and night.
Unless you've been living in a cave since the early nineties, you've probably heard of Myst. Just in case you haven't, I'll say that it's a phantasmagorical adventure game set in a rich graphical environment. 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 the world of Myst, a story filled with intriguing characters unfolds.
Myst and its sequel, Riven, both produced by Cyan, are formidable phenomena in the game world. The two together have sold millions of copies, so development of new Myst games was inevitable. They're 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's Rich Tapestry
Like Myst and Riven, Myst III: Exile shows exquisite production values--the environment is rendered with beautiful, lavishly detailed images. But Exile is even more realistic. Traveling 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, above, and below--in a seamless, 360-degree panorama--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's 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's 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.
Taking a cue from criticisms leveled at Riven, Presto carefully unfolds the story line 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.
Play Mysty for Me
Spread across four CD-ROMs, Myst III: Exile is immense, and the puzzles you must solve are every bit as challenging as the ones in Riven and Myst--often more so. 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 learning how to affect it.
To gain access to one key location, for example, you must build a bridge between yourself and the tower that contains a magi-cal linking book. (Clicking on a linking book in any of the Myst games takes you to a different Age. Some books, however, turn out to be dead ends.) 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 with some unusual auditory characteristics. This whole process involves five distinct observations and interactions--and this is one of the easiest puzzles you'll find. Though this type of challenge is what makes the game so compelling, you may want to pick up MystIII:Exile, Prima's Official Strategy Guide, by Rick Barba (Prima Games, 2001), or at least visit some of the Myst fan sites on the Web for hints.
Each of the Ages has a unique style with particular challenges. One deals with energy phenomena such as electricity and steam; getting a generator online is a key part of solving this Age and moving to the next. Another Age, in contrast, deals with kinetic forces. In this one--which is my personal favorite--the puzzles all involve weights and balances, and one big honkin' roller-coaster ride. Yet another is a nature Age, where the puzzles take a more organic tone--you must make plants and animals interact in certain ways. And still another requires a good understanding of Atrus's cryptic shorthand.
No Exit? Don't take Saavedro too seriously. There is a way out, but it'll take some work.
Call Me an Optimyst
This challenging game may put off folks who don't have the time or 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 with a sarcastic "Yet another Myst game, whoopee," you should just move along--probably nothing here will interest you. For the rest of us, however, it's an immensely enjoyable and thoroughly engrossing experience.
Macworld's Buying Advice
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, 3-D panoramic 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.PETER COHEN, international man of mystery, is actually the very same person as Peter Cohen, MacCentral.com's senior editor.
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Mystified? Try your hand with these tips and tricks.
Myst III: Exile doesn't waste any opportunity--if you can interact with an object, chances are it's a key to one of the puzzles.
Read Atrus's and Saavedro's journals carefully. They will give you insight into each character. Look carefully for the pages Saavedro has dropped, too--they're easy to miss.
Note that the control mechanisms used by the telescopes in the J'Nanin observatory are the same as the controls you'll find inside some tusks.
As you solve puzzles in Amateria, note the hexagonal designs and colors on top of the control panel covers. They're important in gaining access to the tower and activating what's within.
The puzzles on Edanna are among the trickiest, because they're based primarily on natural forces that interact in subtle ways. Pay careful attention to the effects of light and water on Edanna's flora, and note that some of it can reflect and channel light.
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