Guest review series: Myst IV

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Headless Hollow once again welcomes Peter Miller with the first in a series of guest reviews of the latest in the Myst saga, Myst IV: Revelation (Mac version). Go here for his review of the downloadable demo. Take it away Pete!

Well, first impressions of Myst 4: Revelation are that it might well live up to expectations. Even my very high expectations.

I was suspicious at first. The installer boots a frustrating command-line ‘Wizard’ that is so redolent of Windows that I felt that I might need to wash my hands after touching it. I would have thought that Ubisoft might have gone the extra few inches to make an OS X friendly installer, but I guess I should just be grateful that Revelation got to Mac in the first place. Anyway, it’s but a moment’s distaste and the installer did its thing without problems. Be warned though, a complete install takes in excess of 7 gig so you need plenty of space on your drive. There is a minimum install option which I assume may require swapping of the 2 DVDs which the game comes on.

The menu page is still rather cheap-looking. It seems kinda weird to me that it shouldn’t be a beautiful hi-rez illustration. It’s not as if it has to do much. The music here is the same lovely piece used in the demo.

Without spoiling things, starting the game moves you quickly into the story. There is the usual preamble from Atrus and a rather twee but bearable intro to the new world.

Then you get to see just how good the game mechanics are. As promised in the demo, everything is full of life and movement. There are beautiful lighting effects, sun, shadow, moving clouds, birds, insects, smoke, water; it’s all there. It is a joy to just move around this world and look. It reminds me of the first impression I had of Riven which is my favourite installment of the Myst saga.

There are still some ragged moments; on my PowerBook the synchronisation of dialogue in the movie clips was never right. Some of the transitions are a little bumpy and there is annoyingly long pause between most of them.

Music-wise, Jack Wall’s score is more evocative and better realised than Exile. It seems to have a greater emphasis on atmosphere, and a much wider palette of instrumentation. It feels folkier and more appropriate to the Myst ouvre than Exile’s rather more derivative offering. That’s not to say it doesn’t have drama—there are some great moments and I found myself getting quite caught up in the story at one point when I should have been hurrying off to keep an appointment. I think that can be taken as a very good sign. The music features quite a bit of vocal work too, which is a thoughtful musical reflection of the addition of more player/character interaction than in the previous titles.

The ambient sound is also nice—not quite as evocative or original as Riven but appropriate and well realised. I recommend that you play the game on a good sound system to get the best out of the beautiful sonic environment. There are some lovely little tricks that you might miss if you’re just relying on your Mac’s inbuilt speakers.

Thus far, I have encountered only a couple of the game’s puzzles, and they seem appropriate and clever. The story is simple but there is already some subtext: SPOILER FOLLOWS! (For instance, at one point Yeesha shows you a pendant and talks about what it can do. She complains that Atrus doesn’t take it seriously when it shows her ‘visions’ but that her brothers do… Wait a minute. Her brothers? Sirrus and Achenar? Aren’t they supposed to be imprisoned and isolated on other worlds… and she has spoken to them? That doesn’t bode well… )

There’s also another engaging feature in this game—there is humour! I laughed out loud a few times, once at some clever psychological manipulation (oops, I probably shouldn’t have opened that box… ) and another time at a pretty obvious reaction (well, what do you think happens if you poke your finger into an electrical generator?).

Some warnings. A friend who is running the game on a PowerBook with a slightly slower video card than mine doesn’t have access to the interactive water effects, nor to some of the ‘immersive’ effects (the moving trees and plants and the depth-of-field effect for instance). The same thing happens on my G4 and Cinema display. On that machine, even at the minimum resolution there are also many graphic anomalies such as visible mattes, image tearing, strange glitches and so forth. So you need a pretty fast video card to make the best of the game.

So, first impressions are good. More as it comes to hand.

Shaun of the Dead Myst IV

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