Myst IV: Revelation

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Save everything that Atrus loves from the machinations of his villainous sons.

PC Release: September 28, 2004

By Ian Coppock and Branson Roskelley

It’s hard to believe, but we’re on the second-to-last Myst game already. For a series that has inspired millions of gamers worldwide, it feels weird to cover the whole thing in just a few weeks. Revelation was a game that stirred controversy among many core fans, but it was critically acclaimed and a great deal of the fanbase still appreciated its achievements.

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Myst IV: Revelation was the second Myst game in a row to be developed outside of Cyan Worlds. Its development was handled by our old friend Ubisoft, whose villainies I have railed against many times since taking up blogging. In the days before starting up Uplay and casting aside its scruples, Ubisoft was a champion of indie projects. It went so far as to hire artists who specialized in point-and-click games to preserve Myst‘s aesthetic, and how many Triple-A studios go that far out of their way these days?

The Myst narrative seems to favor ten-year increments, because just as Exile took place a decade after RivenRevelation starts off 10 years after the Stranger’s exploits in Exile. Once again, things begin with the Stranger being summoned to Atrus’s home of Tomahna.This time it is Atrus’s daughter, Yeesha, who shows you around and acquaints you with the basic mechanics of the game.

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Yeesha serves as your guide during the prologue of the game.

 Myst IV‘s gameplay remains largely unchanged from that of its predecessors, with a few upgrades that nicely round out the series’ focus on exploration. You get a camera, a Myst first, that allows you take pictures of the environment. This might not sound like a big deal at the outset, but for a puzzle game that deals with complex solutions dealt out over several levels, it’s a huge deal.

To compliment that feature, the Stranger is also given a holographic journal, and you can write entries to accompany your photos. As with the first Myst, note-taking is hugely important in Revelation, but it was nice for that feature to just be in the game directly. No more tree-killing for the glory of Myst.

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Playing Myst is a great way to put some mileage on your reading glasses.

The addition of the camera and journal are the two major augmentations to the same point-and-click gameplay we’ve seen four times now. It’s pretty self-explanatory; look around a gorgeous pre-rendered scene and click wherever you want to go or on items you want to interact with.

Thankfully, Myst IV also adds Zip Mode, a feature that allows players to travel instantaneously from one region of an Age to another. It’s a great way to cut back on tediously pointing and clicking. You have to actually explore the area and find points you can travel between first, but once they’re there, you can teleport around at any time.

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This is an in-game screenshot. No joke. For a game that came out in 2004, Myst IV’s visuals are stunning.

Because Myst IV‘s visuals are pre-rendered, its graphics are competitive with games that came out even last year. You can cast your gaze around the scene, and each point you can look at has been rendered to accommodate exploration. I can’t imagine how much of a nightmare it was to engineer hundreds of scenes like this, but it pays off splendidly. Myst IV: Revelation is a gorgeous game.

The primary difference between Myst IV‘s environments and those of its predecessors is the work that went into adding environmental effects. Myst‘s environments were almost completely static. They still felt immersive because of the music, but you’d otherwise feel like you were moving around in a picture. Exile‘s environments added a bit more detail, but not a whole lot.

Revelation‘s are bursting with movement and sound. Everything from the shifting of leaves to the flutter of a bird’s wings is there to complete the scene. These animations and sounds were also taken into account when rendering Myst IV‘s environments. It’s an impressive feat of video gaming and makes for an immersive world.

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It looks like a scene that you can step into.

The one aspect of Revelation‘s visual design that could’ve used more work was the characters. For the fourth time now, Myst‘s human characters are presented as live actors against the game’s vivid backgrounds. We were pleased to see that the actual transposition of the characters into the game’s worlds looked a lot less shaky; the presentation looked less like a crappy hologram and more like an actual person.

Unfortunately, this didn’t save the presentation from some unintentionally goofy acting. Cutscenes that are meant to ramp up the tension or convey character motivations often fall flat as a result of poor execution. Rand Miller, who plays Atrus, does a serviceable job as our hero’s best friend but absolutely nothing more than that. Other characters vacillate between flat and melodramatic voice acting, to say nothing of the “action” sequences.

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The acting is well-captured in Revelation but unintentionally comical, as with this over-played fight scene. It’s like each actor went into the scene thinking “okay, I’m fighting. I AM FIGHTING!!!”

It would take more than some stiffly choreographed fighting to detract from Revelation‘s main narrative. Remember Sirrus and Achenar, Atrus’s wayward sons? The dudes who tried to convince us to forsake Atrus in the first Myst, and who were directly responsible for the destruction of Saavedro’s home in Exile? Well, as it turns out, they’re not actually dead. Atrus has kept them imprisoned in their own Ages for the last 20 years.

The story kicks off in earnest when the evil brothers break out of their prisons. When you come to, they’ve kidnapped Yeesha and spirited her away to parts unknown. Only by exploring their prison Ages can you learn enough about them to discern their next move. Atrus has gone missing, and Yeesha’s life hangs in the balance. It seems that Atrus was right to be skeptical that his sons had reformed.

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Atrus’s villainous sons plundered many of the worlds he had written Linking Books for. After 20 years’ imprisonment, they’ve broken out for revenge.

Though Sirrus and Achenar are loose and out to raise hell, they left behind Linking Books to each of the Ages their father had imprisoned them in. Revelation takes the same opportunity that Exile took with Saavedro to employ a show-don’t-tell character story. You learn of the brothers’ backgrounds through the objects and evidence found in each Age.

Yeesha also left behind a magical amulet that allows you to experience memories associated with various objects. Unlike in Exile, where almost everything outside of Saavedro’s holograms is inferred, you get to see or hear most of the brothers’ direct struggles during their imprisonments. You also learn how they came to escape, and how they survived in inhospitable environments.

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Exploring story and environment in Myst are one in the same. Sirrus’s banishment to Spire, A.K.A. Steampunk Mordor, sheds insight on his psyche.

Though exploring each Age is fun and fascinating, it’s where we found Revelation to sink to some of its lowest points. Remember how the puzzles in the first Myst were ridiculously hard, and the puzzles in Exile more palatable? Well, the pendulum has swung back, and Revelation‘s puzzles are some of the most frustrating you’ll ever encounter.

Myst‘s game design has regressed back to the puzzles of nonsense logic. From two halves of a puzzle spread across an entire map, to timing puzzles that you didn’t know required timing, we found the game’s puzzle design to be just as flawed and frustrating as that of the first game. The epitome of our despair was a massively over-complicated organ chair puzzle, which took us weeks, weeks, WEEKS, to figure out.

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Myst’s puzzles have returned to being unreasonably hard.

“But wait,” we can hear Ubisoft lazily calling from atop its hemorrhoid doughnut, “don’t worry if the puzzles are too hard! We put a puzzle solutions guide in the options menu so that you can keep going if you’re stuck!”

Thanks, Ubisoft, but the solutions you wrote down in this guide are incorrect. We’re not even kidding. There is indeed a cheat sheet hidden in the options menu, but most of the solutions it lists are wrong (or unhelpful at the very least), which is profoundly sad. This is why it took us weeks to figure out some of the puzzles in this game. We read the “answer” in the cheat sheet, assumed that we did something wrong on our end, and then go back over and over and over again. It was only when we’d figured out the true answer through sheer guesswork that we realized what the issue had been. We were not pleased.

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Sighhhhhhhh

This is not acceptable puzzle and guide design. Not by a long shot. If you’re too lazy to double-check the solutions you put into your damn solutions manual, don’t bother getting our hopes up by presenting a solutions manual. Instead, make the puzzles fun.

It’s lucky for Revelation that its environments are gorgeous and its main narrative intriguing. There’s a gradual revelation of character development with our main villains that grants them more sympathy than we’d anticipated. A lot of core fans apparently took issue with the increased mysticism in the game, which we find ironic, considering that the Linking Books binding this whole series together are both magical and mysterious. An amulet that can read memories and a handful of priestesses who smoke a lot of incense doesn’t seem like much more to ask.

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Revelation’s experiments with esoteric magic were not well-received by some fans, but we found them to be pretty in line with all the other experiments with esoteric magic we’ve seen thus far. Go team!

If the core of Revelation‘s game design has this many problems, why present it? Well, Revelation is an excellent example of… art as games. Its gorgeous visuals create an immersive world, complimented by a beautiful soundtrack from Peter Gabriel and a host of believable sights and sounds.

Its narrative is not without faults, but it feels like a fitting conclusion to the other Myst narratives we’ve seen thus far. It began with a confrontation against Atrus’s villainous sons, and our second encounter 20 in-game years later feels like the grand culmination of what we also saw in Riven and Exile. Even a walkthrough from the Internet cannot break this game’s mystical appeal.

Unfortunately, Myst IV: Revelation is not available as a digital download. Pirated versions are probably floating around out there, but this game can’t be found on Steam, GOG, Desura, or any of the other usual sources. Not even Uplay has it. Hopefully it will be re-released to the mainstream someday, but for now, it remains a great example of video game art done well. Not perfectly, but well.

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Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. You can also find Branson on Twitter @MrRoskelley, and at his website, bransonroskelley.com.

Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

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