There are only a few truly monumental moments in video game history, a small number of games that have fundamentally changed the cultural landscape. However, it is clearly the case that Myst was one of those games, and its heyday was one of those moments. When Myst became the best-selling PC game of all time (a title it held for eight years), video games were no longer just for kids. Gaming had suddenly risen to a new level, a respectable and artistic level, and it was no longer possible to simply dismiss it as childish entertainment.
In the original Myst, players slowly wandered around beautiful, fantastical environments composed of pre-rendered, two-dimensional stills. To progress, you had to solve mind-bending puzzles designed to challenge Mensa veterans in an effort to slowly unravel the story of two deranged brothers, Sirrus and Achenar, and the strange book-worlds their father created, which eventually became their prisons.
There's a good chance many of you already know all of that, but despite the fact that Myst sold a monster six million copies, I'm aware that ten years after the fact, many of GR's younger readers have no idea what the hell I'm talking about. So just take my word for it when I say that Myst IV: Revelation is a true sequel, sticking to the exact same formula that made the original such a smash. You wander through detailed, picturesque otherworlds, solving challenging logic puzzles while uncovering the story of a missing girl and the fates and ambitions of our old demented friends, Sirrus and Achenar.
Unlike Real Myst or Uru: Ages Beyond Myst, Myst IV: Revelation is not a 3D game. Like in the days of yore, players move via fade-to-black transitions to new locations, which these days aren't exactly 2D, either. In every Myst IV location, you can turn around and look in all directions - including up and down - much like in a Quicktime VR.
And you'll do a lot of looking around, because the game's scenery is a gorgeous as ever. Apparently, the tradeoff for not having actual 3D environments is an unbelievable level of detail. Water flows, boughs sway, insects buzz by, leaves flutter, and birds land near you, snatching at invisible crumbs. If you could actually move from your fixed position, the graphics would put Doom 3 to shame. But you can't move, except to teleport to a new position and fading to black and back, which makes the graphics more of a cool trick than an immersive world.
Your constant companion throughout your journey is a disembodied hand floating on the screen. It's pretty smart, and if it moves over something it can manipulate, it will grasp out. When it passes over an interesting object, it whips out a magnifying glass. Click, and it does exactly what you would expect it to do. The interface is staggeringly easy to use, removing the need for tutorials or large instruction manuals, and like the original Myst, opens up the game to expert and casual gamers alike.
You can also use your hand to tap, and I only mention this because you end up doing it constantly for no particular reason other than to assure yourself that the world is real. You can tap your finger on any nearby object, producing the appropriate noise. This has no real purpose, but it makes the world feel more visceral. Tap on a flowerpot and it clunks. Tap on a pillow, or paper, or the metal railing, or a thousand other objects and the precisely appropriate sound greets your ears. It's oddly reassuring. Tap near a gecko and it will scamper off, or tap the bucket of water to watch some perfect ripple effects. If you like tapping on things, this is the best game ever made. Obsessive-compulsives will be in heaven.
Of course, there are more noises here than just tapping sounds, and Myst IV handles these well. Dragonflies buzz by your head, wind whistles through the trees, and the haunting, low-key music apparently has enough to do with Peter Gabriel that his name appears in the credits. I personally haven't been allowed this close to Mr. Gabriel since the restraining order.
He is also one of the voice actors in the game, and although you don't see him, there is proper video of all the other actors integrated right into the in-game graphics. I hadn't realized how much I missed real actors wandering their way through video games (which nobody seems to do anymore) and honestly it hasn't been done this well since the video segments in Command and Conquer or Wing Commander.
Despite it's clear quality, Myst IV: Revelation just might not do it for contemporary gamers. Games have come a long way since Myst, and while that doesn't always mean they've gotten better, you cannot get around the fact that the gameplay here feels dated. The puzzles are tough and well-designed, but they're still totally obtuse. If you're the type of person who runs for the walkthrough every time you can't figure out where Lara has to push a stone block, you're not going to like this game.
Myst IV is for thoughtful gamers with no interest in quick twitch mechanics. Plenty of rewards are here for those patient and smart enough to get them – Myst IV puts a massive 8 GB of content on your hard drive, which is about double the space of your operating system. That's enough content to fill up two DVDs (make sure you have a DVD drive if you want to play, by the way). Want more? Forget a free set of steak knives, because it also comes with a full copy of Myst III. The value alone is commendable.
Like most of the free world, I was crazy for the first Myst and didn't stop until I had solved it, although these days, papa's got a brand new bag. For better or worse, my sensibilities have changed with the times, and likely, so have yours. But if you're the type to obsess over increasingly difficult crossword puzzles, Myst IV: Revelation is more than a nod to history - it's your future.