You feel that tingling in your mind? That feeling that you forgotten something, yet this sense of nostalgia tingles inside you and never goes away? That is the feeling of games from your past, games that are now obscure from the public eye. Some are herald classics, others are better left in the landfill, but while they are no longer in the public eye, they still live on in some way. Each week, I plan on embracing that nostalgia, so to speak, and review one of these forgotten games in a series I like to call “From The Well.” This week, we look at Myst.
(Note: This review reflects the original PC version of the game, not the Playstation version. Unfortunately, GR does not have a PC version page for me to piggyback on, but well make do.)
The words “genre defining” are usually reserved for the most revered classics in the gaming industry. As with any entertainment industry, like movies and music, there are certain greats that have redefined how we perceive specific things, like the great camera techniques in “Citizen Kane” to the blockbuster potential in “Jaws.” Video games, over it’s two generations of existence, has numerous games that have defines genres, Mario the platformer, Guitar Hero the rhythm game, Doom the first person shooter. One game that people should never forget, however, is Myst.
Myst was the brainchild of Robyn and Rand Miller, the cofounders of Cyan studios. Back in 1993, the PC was the reigning king for video games, with the emerging 16-bit generation coming through on the console systems. Their game, Myst, was a complex point and click adventure game that has had numerous incarnations later on, thanks to the success that Myst would enjoy, and is still today regarded as one of the greatest games ever made.
The entire game takes place in a surreal world that looks like Salvador Dali conjured up. You control a silent protagonist known as the stranger who washes up on this mysterious island all alone, with no idea as to where to go or what to do. The object of the game is to explore the island and the various worlds connected to the island by opening portals, and through a series of events you begin to discover, you uncover the mysteries of the Myst world.
The games entire surrealist approach is what was most memorable back in the early 1990’s. It is very rare that a game would engross a player and force them to explore on their own, without any reason or method to do so, just randomly clicking items and seeing what works. While this may anger some gamers who prefer a sense of direction to what they must do, Myst’s true rewards came from the use of exploration and ingenuity at puzzle solving.
At the time, the games graphics were also unparalleled. One of the first games to be released on CD-ROM only for the computer (the other notable one being the horror adventure game The 7th Guest.) Myst was a graphical powerhouse; using pre-rendered graphics in full 3-D. creating great lighting and polygonal effects that were unseen at the time. By today’s standards it may seem primitive (and in later incarnations of the game, such as the Playstation version, the shortcomings are noticeable.) but the very scope of the worlds design, right down to the last texture, was impressive.
Also impressive were the series of challenges a player had to accomplish. Once the story begins to reveal itself and unravel around you, players need to solve rudimentary puzzles in order to proceed in the game. The puzzles range from the simple, such as finding switches that need to be uncovered in an observatory, to the downright evil, like trying to channel electricity from a giant oak tree, or navigating a sewer system that can go on to infinite if your not careful. The games mysterious aura is all around you, and you feel it in what you see and do, wondering what is around the corner after you figure out the next brain teaser.
Perhaps it’s greatest achievement was the sound effects. The game boasts no music whatsoever, but instead relies on the swirls of the wind, the clanking of the gears, the woodpeckers in the trees, to tell the story for you. The game simulated what it would have been like to be on the island itself, and you had a sense that you were there based on what you heard, a truly marvelous experience at the time.
The game does have a snag later on, as once the mystery of the island and it’s various ages begins to unravel, it will become somewhat confusing as to understand what is really going on, even with what was revealed to you. And the endgame is excellent, but also somewhat anti-climatic; especially after all of the exploration and backtracking you need to do in order to get to it. Plus, once the game is over, there is no need to play it again, as the adventure is great for a one-time romp.
But what a romp it is. Myst was the highest selling PC game of all time from 1993- 2002, and is truly the definition of genre defining. While adventure games are a thing of yesteryear in the current gaming temperance, it is clear that Myst’s influence is still seen today, from games like Grim Fandango to Professor Layton. The game even influenced the media used to play games today, creating a boost for the sales of CD-ROMS and leaving floppy disks behind in the dust. Yes, the near non-existent story, lack of direction, laughable graphics and slow pace may be negatives in today’s market of gaming, but Myst still deserves the praise that it was heralded fifteen years ago, it is truly a classic that will exist for all of time.
Final Score- A