Guest review series continued: Myst IV

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Peter Miller continues his guest review of the latest in the Myst saga, Myst IV: Revelation (Mac version). WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS!

Warning: major spoilers in this—I’m having a hissy fit about how crappy some of the puzzles are and I have to reveal mechanics.

So, I’ve explored some more of Serenia, Haven and Spire. Serenia looks marvellous and has many, many beautiful things to discover. I certainly hope that the puzzles are better than a few in Haven which are just CRAP.

Yes, crap is the word I used. The puzzle with the ‘monkey’ creatures on the totem pole is a good example. Once again, like the bookshelf puzzle in Yeesha’s room, I knew exactly what to do, but the execution of the puzzle mechanics is rubbish. To reveal the symbol on the totem pole that can bee seen from the pole hut, it is obvious that you need to mimic the warning tone of the little creatures with the sirens at the hut. But this is such a pernickity puzzle that unless you get the durations of the tones exactly right, or so close it’s not funny, you will get no result. I was so sure I was doing the correct thing, but nothing at all seemed to happen, no matter how carefully I mimicked the creatures’ calls. To add to this, the creatures make several different sets of tones, and, worst of all, the sirens are not the same pitch as the calls. This makes for a lot of variables. I got SO frustrated that I was forced to look at the hints, something I have NEVER had to do in a Myst game before. And then I find that I was actually correct in what I was doing, it’s just that I hadn’t gotten exactly the right durations of the tones. Notwithstanding the fact that I was even getting the comparative lengths of tones correct. This is just inferior puzzle design. Guys, learn from this—it’s frustrating and unrewarding. Don’t do it. It’s not fun, it’s just plain annoying.

Moving on from there (which I was very glad to do as you can no doubt tell), I was able to solve the ‘bridge’ puzzle and adventure forward across the lake into another beautiful location, replete with mist and mossy rocks and even a rather fearsome creature that actually gave me a bit of a fright. I have to admit here that I have softened somewhat on my harsh criticisms of the creatures in Haven. This might be partially because in this latter part of the game there seems to have been a lot more care taken in integrating them into the backgrounds—they don’t seem nearly as ‘cut-out’ and their movements not so repetitive and stylized. The sound and music continue to be quite effective, leaving aside the rather naff jungle drums that appear again from time to time. Another puzzle here is difficult but not unassailable, but once again, the annoying mechanics of the game conspire to make it irritating. To make matters worse, this one has a time limit, which would not be too bad except for the fact that at the critical time I frequently duffed the ‘grasping’ of the one of the tone wheels—my cursor just slipped off the place it needed to be. These sorts of things make for very frustrating game play. The puzzle is tricky enough without this added annoyance.

From there, what appears to be the final clue in Haven is not too difficult to find (it’s rather a dud concept, by the way, but perhaps more of that later). There are some nice interactions with the monkey creatures, which left me a little disappointed that this had not come earlier in the game. It occurs to me that what Ubisoft could really use is someone to look at the emotional and storytelling curves in a game like this, much like a writer for a feature film. My feeling is that had this last sequence, or something like it, occurred when you first arrived in Haven, you would have a distinctly different emotional approach to what happened from then on.

Anyway, I digress. Back to Serenia, where there are fire spirits and waters spirits, wind spirits, bubbles, dandelions, fire orchids and some kind of balloon-like craft that drift across the distant hills. There is what appears to be a major puzzle involving the re-direction of channels of water, and the possibility of visiting the island of the priestesses across the lake. Serenia is a major achievement in convincing ‘world making’. There are some interactions with various priestesses which are effective enough, although some repetitive behaviour could easily have been curtailed I feel. But immersion in this world is complete and effective.

I note here that I was forced to turn off the ‘depth-of-field’ effect in Serenia because my system would simply not deal with it. I kept getting crashes or just incredibly slow screen updating. On consideration, the focus effect is unnecessary and really not very useful and aside from the fact that it is an impressive trick, does not add that much to the game experience.

Music in Serenia is appropriate and atmospheric.

More as it comes to hand.

Journey to the Centre of the Earth

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