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Capt. Sage's Review of
Myst IV: Revelation

"Myst IV", continuing the venerable Myst tradition, is played from a first-person perspective, from which one explores a variety of huge worlds and solves puzzles in order to access more locations within these worlds and learn more of the excellent story. Usually, it is impossible to die, although it is possible to have an unhappy ending, but this can be remedied by returning to a saved game. I can easily imagine some players wanting to explore every ending, including the unhappy ones, because the cinematics in the game are done very well. The actors are good, the dialogue is good, and they are integrated extremely well into the gameworld- no graininess.

The gameworld itself has been rendered incredibly well. As in "Myst III", one moves in slideshow format, moving one step with each click and without a transition video. At every place where you stop, you can look around you in 360 degrees simply by moving the mouse. The team who made Myst IV has managed to improve upon the engine to increase lifelikeness incredibly. For the first time that I can recall in a computer game, I was able to see wind ruffling the branches of far away trees. In one environment, I was astonished to find another first; the ambient light and pattern of shadows on the ground changed as clouds moved across the sun. These are just the most noticeable of the graphical flourishes that created an astonishing effect: there are doubtless many subtle touches that also enhanced the game's art.

Touch is a new and well-implemented component of the game. Tactility is represented by your hand cursor, customizable to right or left hand and various natural skin tones. When you touch something, you hear an appropriate noise generated. Within seconds, it'll almost feel like you are touching something, as every object in the game generated an utterly appropriate sound. The sound people did excellent work here, and I encourage all players to appreciate it.

The music is, once again, excellent. The style is an intriguing combination of orchestra and modern, with many other elements as well. The composer, Jack Wall, and his excellent and large group of musicians have created yet another great soundtrack, marvelous as was their work on "Myst III: Exile." Another big name who contributed to the music is Peter Gabriel. All the people involved in the music have clearly done an excellent job. The wait for the soundtrack to be released on CD was oddly long, several months after the game's release, but at least we can enjoy it now. You can visit Jack Wall's website, www.jackwall.net, and go to the Journals section and the Myst IV journal to learn the inside story of the soundtrack.

Gameplay is slightly different from previous Myst titles. One constant is that, as in all Myst games, you don't get to have conversations, although you can hear other people talk to you. There are therefore no conversation puzzles. Most of the differences in play are because of the use of the hand: instead of simply clicking on a lever, you drag on a lever, making you feel as though you're actually pulling it. The other major difference is that some puzzles are timed puzzles. You won't die or be significantly set back if you don't complete a puzzle within a certain amount of time, but you will usually have to start the puzzle again. The time is a factor in the puzzle because you want something to happen simultaneously with something else. Patches to the game give you more time to complete the puzzle, so be sure that you get the patches.

The game comes with a helpful updater. Whenever you want to check for a patch for the game, you can activate the updater, which will determine if any patches are available, tell you what the patch does and ask if you want it, and then will install it for you. Patches are available to make the timed puzzles easier, as I mentioned above, and also solve some bugs and expand compatibility with various things.

If the gameplay is too tough for you, there is now a hint map available. It is literally a map covering a very large area around you. By clicking on icons on the map, one can access hints about the puzzles at that location. The hint map has three levels of help, from clues to step by step directions. The help map doesn't walk you through everything, and certainly doesn't even come close unless you ask it to, which is good. Sometimes its first and even its ultimate level of help is puzzlingly obscure, but that is an occasional occurrence with every adventure game hint guide, made by companies or fans. The hint map has an intuitive and attractive interface, and succeeds in its purpose.

Another new feature is the combination camera and journal. Using the camera, one can take a picture of nearly anything one sees in the game. Later, using the journal, one can add notes to a picture using the keyboard, or one can make a journal page without a picture and type on it. The features work very well, and have intuitive interfaces. A big word in the camera's favor is its ability to take pictures of animals, even when in motion, which the animals are most of the time. The camera allows you to record complicated clues, but you have freedom to take pictures for aesthetic value as well. These devices are not large parts of the game, but their high quality indicates the dedication of the development team.

The amulet is a clever storytelling device introduced in "Myst IV." To say too much about it would be to spoil the plot. I hope I shall not spoil anything to say that it allows for flashbacks. The amulet is another well-implemented part of the interface. Like the camera and journal, it resides at the bottom of the screen until you need it. The amulet signals a new flashback with light and sound, and also allows infinite replays of old flashbacks. It is used for major parts of the story, and also tends to give puzzle clues indirectly. It's a clever device well-implemented.

The game as a whole is well-implemented, and I didn't experience many problems myself. I've heard rumors on the Internet that it is possible to have a Digital Video Disc (DVD) drive that is rejected by Myst IV's antipiracy software, preventing the game from installing or playing. The box does indeed warn that the game might not be compatible with DVD drives that can record onto DVDs.

This story is one of my own errors. Oddly, I was able to play two thirds of the game on a laptop, albeit slowly and with many crashes, and when I reached the final world the game continually crashed and it turned out that my graphics card was never compatible with the game. Still, this is more my fault than the game's, since it was I who decided to play the game upon a laptop. I include the anecdote only as a reminder to carefully check the model of the graphics card. When I had the proper graphics card, the game worked smoothly; no more mysterious crashes, and it ran at a proper speed. I had been able to enjoy the game even on the laptop, so of course I liked it even more upon a computer with a compatible graphic card.

"Myst IV" is an excellent game, with enough similarities to the previous games so that old fans can enjoy it, a simple enough interface so that new players can become attached to it, and plenty of new features to keep the franchise in the vanguard of games.

SPOILERS

I did generally like the plot. The things I least liked were the inconsistencies. Dream is something pretty much totally inconsistent with the rest of the series, because basically nowhere else in the series is there present the ideological framework for it. To be frank, I'd rather have done some more talking or reading to get the clues needed to take back Yeesha than the extremely irritating and weird puzzle in Dream that gave the color wheel puzzle. I didn't even understand half of the clue: I needed the hint map in order to figure out that some of the colors were supposed to be moved around sometimes. I did end up liking the Dream puzzle where one reconstructs memories. Still, I didn't really appreciate its presence. It was too bad, really: I liked Serenia, which could've worked just as well if the Wind and Water and Fire and stuff were just weird but plausible animals. (Honestly, when I first saw them, that's what I thought they were.)

In fact, I argue that Serenia would've worked better if we got to interact with some more animals and Dream didn't exist. I only realize it now that I write this, but Serenia was disappointingly void of the animals that filled the rest of the game. The animals were great; otherworldly but somehow realistic, and their abscence lent Serenia some tranquility, but at the expense of making it feel empty.

This game also, unfortunately, managed to be totally inconsistent with everything that the series had established so far about Trap Books. I've tried for months to reconcile Haven and Spire to the featureless void I could see through the linking panels of the brother's books in the first "Myst," and I haven't succeeded yet. There's also the problem of the Trap Books having different rules than normal books in "Myst" and "Riven," such as if someone links in, they take the place of the person in there. These rules were not even mentioned in Revelation. Finally, I remembered that once I lost the first "Myst" by giving one of the brothers all the pages. When I was trapped in that brother's book, I didn't see a world, I saw a black void, a nothingness, broken only by a view out of the linking panel, where I could barely see that brother removing the pages again, trapping me there, the traitor!

These inconsistencies with Trap Book lore are all the more unfortunate because I really was interested in finding out if both or either brother had indeed repented, and I fervently hoped that they both would. My discontentment with Serenia is similar. The main focus of the game was the drama of whether or not one or both of the brothers had indeed repented. Dream appeared to me to be an endless diversion from the discovery of their fate. Doubtless many people will disagree, but that is how I saw it.

Dream really irritated me because I wasn't convinced that it reflected reality. This was very disturbing, since the rest of the Myst series has steadfastly been real, and I was disturbed to see any part of "Myst IV" trend away from that. This may seem odd to say about a series that involves physical travel to other worlds through books, but I think we all know that the series would have no value if it did not reflect reality on a very fundamental level.

Perhaps I am too hard on "Myst IV" because of Dream. The rest of "Myst IV" did, after all, fundamentally reflect reality. I've outlined some of the ways above that it was inconsistent with earlier works in the series, but I was also very glad at how it incorporated things from all over the Myst series, from the brothers themselves to references to Saavedro of "Myst III." Also, the main feature of the plot, the possibility of redemption for the brothers, was done very well. I'd therefore call the plot overall good.