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Lora's Adventure Game Reviews: Myst IV Revelation

Revelation (Game release date: 2004)
Beautiful visuals, clever puzzles, and a convenient interface can't entirely compensate for the fact that this is a stale retread of previous Myst games.

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Highlights: Good puzzles, smooth interface, lovely
interactive graphics, innovative memory flashes
Lowlights: Annoying characters, contrived plot,
derivative feel

"Revelation" opens with a cute 10-year-old girl driving a cable car precariously through a redrock canyon, cheerfully telling you that her mother doesn't usually let her drive by herself so it's a good thing her mom's, like, not around right now. From this intro you can be pretty sure of two things: one, you're about to play a Myst game, and two, this child is on the cusp of either turning evil or having her life destroyed due to the benign neglect of her bumbling semi-divine parents, Atrus and Catherine. Indeed, it transpires that Atrus is considering paroling his villainous adult sons Sirrus and Achenar--the ones who slaughtered the Narayans in Exile and tried very hard to kill you in Myst--and the perky Yeesha informs you within five minutes of meeting you that she's been spending time with her evil older brothers and they aren't really that bad after all. And off you go, into another chapter of rescuing this family of dysfunctional demigods from their own mistakes.

Myst IV: Revelation is beautiful, and the interface is much improved from previous Myst games (you can now turn smoothly in all directions and see where exits are simply by mousing over them); the puzzles are clever, the Ages are fascinating, and little Yeesha is cute. So what's not to like? Just the staleness, basically, of the Myst franchise trying desperately to recapture the magic (and unprecedented financial success) of the first installment by repeating the formula over and over and over again. Contrived circumstances conspire to thrust you, the player, into this family's disasters in ever more improbable ways with each passing game. In the original Myst, there was something fresh and new about this--you were cast as yourself, an ordinary Earthling who happened to be the one person to discover the Myst linking book and find yourself trapped on a strange and lonely world with no way out other than to unravel the mystery of who had once lived there and what had happened to them. Then you were re-cast as the hero of a mission to rescue Atrus' wife, because of some silly plot reason why Atrus couldn't do it himself. Then you were re-cast as the hero of a mission to save Atrus' homeworld from an old enemy of his, because of some even sillier plot reason why Atrus couldn't do it himself and some ridiculous circumstance that put you back in the storyline in the first place. Now you are re-cast as the hero of a mission to save Atrus' preteen daughter and pass final judgment on his criminal sons because of some even more ridiculous circumstance that puts you back in the storyline and the silliest plot reason yet why Atrus can't do it himself.

Want to really recapture the magic of your first game, Cyan Worlds? Start Myst V off with a TOTALLY NEW stranger falling onto a TOTALLY DIFFERENT world, WITHOUT Atrus on it. (If you think that might alienate some of your fanbase, make it Narayan and watch your fans swoon in delight. You could even get Brad Dourif to play a brief cameo. His wife and one of his daughters has survived and he's settled down to the business of rebuilding his world, and being in an accordingly better mood, he directs the stranger to the one linking book on the entire world, which is unlabeled so no one has tried using it yet. C'mon, this stuff writes itself.) Then, as the player winds his or her way through new and interesting worlds trying to get home, he or she uncovers signs of some ominous mystery or other involving Atrus and his family, and gets caught up in trying to find him to warn him about it. Plot twists happen. I don't really care what they are. The point is this: what was great about Myst was discovering the plot for YOURSELF. THAT was why this game sold however many million copies it did. Not Rand Miller's acting skills. Not the backstory novels about the history of the D'ni Empire. It was the feeling of being there, not knowing what to do, and then figuring it out bit by bit by clicking on this and clicking on that and examining the clues scattered around, without any NPC's appearing in the first scene to give you a quest, recite the backstory for you, or give you a hokey tutorial on how to use the game interface.

Get back to that, Myst. Because unless I hear it on good authority that you have, I'm not playing one more iteration of this tired old formula, game review site be damned.

Style: Myst IV: Revelation is a first-person puzzle-adventure game with an augmented point-and-click interface. The game is untimed, but manual dexterity is required for one important puzzle near the end. Combat and leveling are not elements.

Series: Revelation is the fourth game in a series (the other three being Myst, Riven, and Exile). It doesn't really matter what order you play them in, but you're more likely to enjoy Revelation if you've never played any previous Myst games and therefore won't realize at some point during it that you've just been charged $40 to play the same game you already paid for a few years ago.

Finding Revelation: Many software stores still carry this game, but because its release was more than five years ago, they often overcharge for it. For a better bargain, try the "Used and New" section of Amazon, or try Ebay. This is a DVD-ROM, and will work on either PC or Mac. Revelation is also available for Xbox.

Getting Revelation to Work: I encountered no problems while playing this game, nor have I heard about any major issues. It definitely works on XP, definitely works on Mac OS X, and is even said to work on Vista with minimal disruption. It should be good to go.

Hints For Revelation: I have a page of low-spoiler Revelation hints up online, which makes some gameplay suggestions and helps point you towards any parts of the game you might otherwise have missed. If you're stuck on a puzzle, there is a really good hints page at UHS which reveals only one hint at a time, so you won't accidentally learn the answers to future puzzles while scanning for the one you're stuck on; you can also buy a Revelation Hint Book.

Pitfalls In Revelation: The subtitling option available in Exile has been removed again for Revelation, and playing this game without audio is not an option due to complicated verbal instructions and clues and a few audio-related puzzles. Not a game for people with hearing problems, bad speakers, or noisy children in the house. There are also a couple of realtime puzzles requiring precise mouse manipulations, though you can attempt them as often as you need to.

Game Length: 40 hours, on the long side for a puzzle adventure (though much of it was used up in wandering around--Revelation actually had fewer puzzles in it than its shorter predecessor Exile did.)

Age-Appropriateness: This game is rated T (for 13 years old and up). It's on the mild end of that continuum, with no sex or bad language and only a small amount of non-graphic violence. It is scary in places, with a 10-year-old girl repeatedly in peril and one unavoidable NPC death.

Lora's Revelation Review: (Pretty Good)

Plot and Quests: The storyline loses major points from me for being a complete retread of previous Myst games (up to and including clumsily retconning dead villains from the first game back to life). If you haven't played previous Myst games, you will likely be less bored by it. The hamhanded way in which your "character" is written into the action and the girl's father written out is very glaring regardless, and the plot offers few surprises.
Puzzles and Mental Challenges: Revelation offers up a variety of interesting and complex puzzles, some of which are highly organic (manipulating technology that actually seems to have a practical purpose in someone else's civilization), and some of which are basically just math puzzles sticking up from out of nowhere for no real reason.
Characters: In the original Myst, the lack of a main character was innovative; removing a middleman, it let you play the game as yourself and added to the immersiveness of the experience. Unfortunately, in Revelation, your actions and reactions are so defined and restricted that you feel like you're playing a 3rd-person character anyway, just one you are unable to see. NPCs are wooden and boring, and there is also still no way to talk to or interact with them, even when you learn an important piece of information that it would be logical to share with another character.
Gameworld: The Ages visited in this game are sensorially and conceptually impressive; however, the overarching D'ni mythology is starting to get crushed under its own weight. Many significant details about linking books and trap books have been altered for this game. The constant exposition about the game universe is tedious. I was frequently reminded of Star Wars Episode I, where I had to sit through a lot of stupid babble about midichlorions because the Star Wars world had gotten too ossified. Same deal here.
Gameplay: Like other Myst titles, gameplay is very simple; there is only one way to interact with any given object, and only one solution to any puzzle; you cannot talk to anyone or change anyone else's prescripted behavior in any way. What Revelation deserves special praise for its innovative "memory amulet" that gives you psychometric flashes of things Yeesha and her brothers have seen or heard as you follow their trail, providing the game's few interactive moments.
Interface: The interface has been significantly improved from previous Myst games. The cursor now informs you when you mouse over an exit or a manipulable object. Objects can be examined in close-up. There are a few "zip locations" on each Age that you can travel back to instantly, without tedious backtracking. The only glaring flaw is that unlike in previous Myst games, it is evidently impossible to skip animations in Revelation. This makes repeated elevator travel extremely grating (and of course, there is a lot of repeated elevator travel).
Ambience (Graphics, Sound, etc.): This is a visually beautiful game, and the music is excellent. The acting is passable, and some of the cutscenes are well-done. The use of ambient motion is also very good (the birds constantly divebombing me were extremely intrusive and annoying, but the trees rustling, shadows shifting, and so forth were nicely done, and I appreciated how taking insignificant actions like touching water resulted in a visual effect like a ripple). Even despite all this, though, the very first Myst game more than 10 years ago somehow managed to be more immersive than Revelation is. It takes more than beautiful set design to make an absorbing mood; it also takes a light touch, a certain plausibility of existence. The non-interactivity and overbearingly improbable plot contrivances forced me to spend much of the game manually suspending my disbelief--and that's not an absorbing playing experience.

Lora's Recommendations: I recommend Revelation to puzzle-adventure fans who have never played a Myst game before. The original Myst, by far the most compelling of the four, also has a clunky old interface and dated graphics that may keep modern adventure gamers from fully enjoying it. If you're going to play just one, this is a pretty good choice. On the other hand, if you've played the previous Myst games and loved them all, you will probably also enjoy Revelation. If you've played another game in this series, though, and were in ANY way hoping for an improvement in this installment, stay away. You'll be bitterly disappointed; it's nothing but a repackaging of the same tedious Atrus-by-proxy plot, with all the same character and gameplay flaws.

If You Loved Revelation: You might enjoy playing the rest of this series. Myst has worse graphics than Revelation and is harder to navigate around, but the gameworld has a real magic to it that none of its sequels have entirely recaptured. Riven has the best-integrated, cleverest puzzles of the series and a truly breathtaking set design, but its plot is so intensely boring that it took me six years to motivate myself to finish it. Exile has the most interesting storyline and the only three-dimensional character in the series, but the gameplay is very contrived (though if you loved Revelation, you might not mind that.) There's also Uru, a weird little spin-off of Myst that was originally supposed to launch an online game or something like that. Those plans fell through, but Uru remains as an interesting take on Myst from a different angle (3rd person graphic adventure). If you liked Revelation but aren't keen on repeating the experience note for note, my top recommendation is the graphic adventure game The Longest Journey. The puzzles are easier and less inspired than the ones in Revelation, but the gameworld is fascinating, and the characters truly make you care about them. You may also like the surreal psychological thriller Sanitarium, where you play an amnesiac travelling through various nightmare realms trying to solve an unusual mystery.

For a more detailed critique of the game involving spoilers, plot holes, and impacts Myst 4: Revelation could have on the adventure-game genre, please see my Backseat Game Designer page. Enjoy the game!

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