13-Aug-2001 'A world o' mystery, beauty and style/To journey through and hear its tale/Myst respawns and sings anew/But I'd rather drink of ale.' (Paul Presley wrote this during National Poetry Day, bless his cotton socks).
Quantum thermo-dynamics and their relation to inverse spatial co-ordination. The internal workings of the feline digestive system. Jim Davidson's continual presence on British television. Myst selling over 3.5 million copies world-wide. There are many things in this crazy old world that I simply don't understand, and the bowel-inflating success of Cyan's beauteous adventure game is perhaps the one that plays on my mind the most during the long winter nights when Mellors refuses to join in my games of Hunt The Thimble.
As best as my limited intellect could tell, Myst was an interactive photo-album masquerading under the guise of a 'game'. A collection of high-quality stills with the occasional brain teaser thrown in for good measure. A digital siren, luring in games players with her seductive visuals, before dashing them against the rocky shoals of misery.
In truth, I think its prosperity owes a lot to the non games-playing type; artists who were thankful to see a game appear that actually worked on their Macintosh computers; office workers who needed something to while away boring lunch hours; Daily Mail readers who were shocked to find a game that didn't fit into their stereotypical ideals of youth-corrupting, Satan-worshipping, crime-encouraging, paedophile-supporting 'Hell Boxes'. In short, anyone but the average games-player. Believe me, I've asked around. It's like the Spice Girls album. It sold through the roof and yet no one admits to liking it.
So it was armed with a healthy level of cynicism that I approached this sequel. I'd read all those Wired articles and fawning preview pieces in US mags about how 'captivating' and 'hypnotic' Riven was going to be. How, once I'd started, I would forever become encapsulated in the beauty and majesty of this fantastical world. How my life would forever be altered by the mesmerising power of patiently clicking from one pre-rendered KPT Bryce landscape to another (most of us call it sleep-induced boredom). And so I entered ready to dislike the game, challenging it to beat away my pre-conceived notions, urging it to win me over.
The depressing news is that it did. Sort of. As I write this, I have, in a way, been captured. I do kind of appreciate it. I (gulp) did actually quite like it. Sorry. I feel as though I've let you people down.
Alluring and beautiful?
Let me set out a few ground rules here and now, though. If 'your bag' is all-action Quakeathons, high-speed gaming at the edge of adrenalineville, then leave now. If, however, you have a superior mind, a willingness to think, to ponder, to appreciate, then you, as I, may just find yourself wanting to take more than a cursory look...
...As you will if you played and enjoyed Myst. Riven, quite simply, is more of the same. The plot, as best I can tell, centres around some bloke trying to rescue an island world from his father's evil schemes, while rescuing his beloved lady. Except that bloke doesn't actually live in the same, um, 'dimension' as the island world (Riven). No, he has to travel there via, er, a book. But, uh, for some reason he can't actually go to Riven himself, so he sends you. It seems to make more sense when you read the interminably long-winded on-screen novella. You know, I hate dull FMV sequences as much as the next man, but there are times when they can and should be used.
Doesn't it just. To be honest, the closest non-Myst comparison would be Zork Nemesis. Essentially you have a whole world mapped out in pre-rendered screens, which you travel through by clicking in the direction you want to go (fortunately the programmers have included a 'quick travel' option, allowing you to cut out whole chunks of pointless screens that stand between point A and B). Hot spots abound and form the adventure side of the game and, to be fair, some of the puzzles are actually very well thought out. Conversely though, you're also left wondering what on Earth is going on a lot of the time and whether the animation of a beetle sprouting wings and flying off actually means something to the storyline (or whether an animator at Cyan just wanted to show off and add to his CV). I'm not sure that the storyline is being told as well as it could be. It's undoubtedly an engrossing tale, but because the information is so scant and so heavy on the symbolism, you tend to spend more time confused out of your mind.
I expect that's where the whole, 'You will be captivated' ethos comes from. You know there's something going on, but you'll be buggered if you can work out what it is.
Look, I've got cash. Should I spend it?
I don't know. There are far better adventures of this ilk out there, games that manage to combine well crafted storylines with challenging gameplay and lush visuals to a far more captivating level (Zork Nemesis for one). There are also far worse. To be brutally honest to the game, Riven is a nice collection of breathtakingly well drawn visuals with some interesting moments that do (providing you're of an open mind) sort of captivate you. It's not going to take over your life by any means, but I wouldn't dismiss it outright either. I've no doubt that it will be a big seller. For one thing, all the Myst owners out there will eat it up for dinner, and there are far more of them than there are people reading these cautionary words. All I can really say is, tortured and cliched as it is, try it before you buy it.