I feel that since I mentioned that I recently picked up Myst III, among other games, for the Xbox, I should post a brief follow-up: I have finished the game.
I enjoyed it a lot; it was definitely worth the $9 I paid for it, and a bit more besides. Let me see if I can quickly outline what I liked and didn’t like about the game. I won’t spoil any of the puzzles, and I’ll try not to reveal too much of the plot, beyond what you’ll find out in the first few minutes of the game.
- The plot, in rough outline. Some of Atrus’ chickens come home to roost, in the form of one of the inhabitants of the Ages ravaged by his sons, Sirrus and Achenar, seeking revenge. This is an angle I’ve always wanted to see developed a bit more in the games. Atrus is so precious, with his cream-coloured paper and his quill pen and his deep meditations on nature and reality, but always in the back of my mind, I’m wondering: if you’re such a sensitive new-Age guy, how did you manage to raise two twisted little monsters? The writers of Myst III: Exile don’t really pursue this line of questioning to its logical conclusion, but they at least raise the issue.
- The puzzles. Nearly every puzzle in the game seemed impossible to me, and then I’d stare at it for a long time, slowly put the pieces together, generate hypotheses, and use them to solve the puzzle. At which point I felt like the smartest man in the world, which is exactly how a properly-designed puzzle game should make you feel. There was only one puzzle in the game (fairly early on, unfortunately) where I had to resort to a walkthrough; it was one of those “analog controls, and you are off by one millimeter” situations. Other than that, the puzzles were perfect.
- The concepts underlying the ages were well thought out and well-executed. Lots of breathtaking scenery and clever spatial design. I enjoyed looking at the game.
- The music was the best of the three Myst games I’ve played so far. It’s a little detail, but one that helped keep me immersed.
- The acting. But I expected that would hurt going in, so it’s not such a big deal.
- The user interface. If you’ll recall, Myst was essentially a glorified Hypercard stack: static pictures with a cursor, and sometimes the cursor would change into another shape. The player could then click and something would happen: he’d move forward, turn around, open a book, flip a switch, and so on. The interface in Myst III: Exile is a hybrid between that view of the world and a first-person shooter. In any given game location you can move the cursor and rotate freely, looking all around you. This would normally be an improvement, but there are some irregularities in how the game indicates that there is something interesting to do. Sometimes, your cursor will change into an “action” item indicating there’s something you can click on. Other times, it doesn’t — you need to touch some device, but the cursor is in its “default” shape. Because of the seemingly random behavior of the cursor, you’re reduced at times to the most basic of strategies: start moving the cursor around the screen and press the mouse or joystick button wildly in order to “locate” the hotspots. This one interface glitch was my least favorite thing about the game. It added no actual intellectual challenge for me to find the hotspots. It just aggravated my obsessive-compulsive tendencies.
- A side effect of the “free look” is that there are a few places in the game where I had exhausted everything I could find, and wandered around for a long time looking for “the next puzzle.” I was unable to find the next puzzle easily because it involved going somewhere and then turning around to see the barely visible little alleyway that I had walked past 30 times without noticing. I guess one could claim the same thing happened in the original Myst, but it seemed less egregious there. Perhaps I’m just getting hypersensitive in my old age.
This game is on bargain racks all around the country, for a variety of platforms. If you like puzzle games it’s an easy choice that will provide hours of thoughtful stimulation. Go down to your local non-chain game store and buy a copy tomorrow.