Play MYSTy for me.
The gaming world can be broken up into two factions: those who have played MYST, and the four guys who haven't. As the best-selling PC game of all time, it broke open gaming to a much wider audience, exposing mothers, fathers, aunt and uncles to the joys and pains of dealing with a newfangled technology called "CD-ROMS."
MYST came out back in 1993, so it's a little surprising that there has only been one official follow-up, the critically acclaimed Riven, released in 1997. Why has it taken so long for another game to arrive? Blame it on a slew of publisher changes more confusing than the relationships in a daytime soap...though that's all been settled. The developer is - Presto Studios (the minds behind the Journeyman Project games), and the publisher - Ubi Soft. Cyan, the folks who made the other two games, were consulted as bearers of the license and offered feedback during the process. That's really all you need to know.
The long awaited third installment, MYST III: Exile, looks to both tread new ground for the series while retaining the artistic vision and compelling puzzles that the previous games captured so well. And if the playable demo is any indication, history could very well repeat itself.
The story takes place 10 years after the events in Riven. Atrus, whom players met in the first MYST, has attempted to locate D'ni survivors from a catastrophic incident and has created a new world called Releeshaan. However, a dastardly villian wronged by Atrus' sons has returned to wreak havoc on the plans, and somehow, you get caught in the middle.
And what a beautiful middle it is. MYST III: Exile continues the tradition of exemplary graphics in 5 brand new, gorgeous Ages: Atrus' home of Tohmana, the rocky J'nanin, the desolate Voltaic, the mechanical Amateria and Edanna, a land described as a "giant, inward growing tree." Sweeping vistas, brilliant colors and intricate details help paint a fresh, new world for players to explore.
And yes, the game will support - but not require - 3D hardware, leading to nifty enhancements like rippling water and terrific sun effects.
But MYST III is more than a mere painting. The game incorporates a brand new game engine (dubbed the 'Sprint' engine) that allows, for the first time in the series, a full 360-degree free look system. While the game still moves using POI (point-of-interest) 'nodes,' each scene can be fully panned. This leads to some cool new gameplay elements, such as localized sound that requires that player to look in a certain direction (perhaps behind them) to cue a new sequence. It's a small but important step forward.
Speaking of gameplay, MYST III lies somewhere between the earlier games in terms of difficulty. The imaginative puzzles tend to be self-contained, so time isn't wasted running back and forth through a level just to open a door. Likewise, there are no inventory based puzzles - it's just you and your wits. Will they make your brain hurt? I suppose that all depends on your skills, young grasshopper, but the developers have tried to keep in mind that the game isn't designed purely for hardcore gamers. Accessibility has been the hallmark of the series, and that isn't lost here.
To match the visceral treats, MYST III features a fully orchestrated, original soundtrack. Thankfully, the designers remembered that sound can affect gameplay as much as anything and have cut no corners in hiring top notch talent. The emphasis on music is so extensive that gamers can actually tweak the frequency that music crops up during play. Very cool!
The game also features live-action actors to help convey the sense of realism and drama. And again, the emphasis is on quality - Academy Award nominee Brad Douriff (One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest) plays the villain.
As questions regarding the continued validity of adventure gaming swirl in and out of developer circles, the folks at Ubi Soft and Presto hope to offer at least one positive answer. MYST III: Exile could very well be the shot in the arm that the industry has been waiting Ages for.
We'll find out when it ships in early May.