Myst IV: Revelation
First posted on 20 October 2009. Last updated on 09 October 2012.
Any fan playing this game may get the distinctive feeling that everything which has happened in the Myst series so far has been building up to the monumental sequel that is Myst IV: Revelation. In many ways, Myst IV: Revelation can probably be described as a "make or break" title for this long running franchise. Every element that fans love about the series has been greatly improved, and almost all of the flaws that have haunted the previous titles have been addressed. Consequently, Myst IV: Revelation may potentially be the most polished game for the celebrated series.
The story begins relatively simple. You, a trusted friend of Atrus (who, in the Myst mythology, possesses special power to literally create worlds known as Ages by writing magical linking books about them), have been summoned by Atrus to care for his young daughter Yeesha for a short while Atrus leaves his home in Tomahna for an important errand. Once Atrus has left, you decide to take advantage of your short stay there by doing a bit of sightseeing, but your exploration is quickly put on hold as a sudden earthquake knocks you unconscious. When you awaken, you discover that Yeesha is gone, Tomahna is left in ruins, and Atrus is stuck far away unable to reach home. Now, it is up to you to find out where the girl is, get her back, and discover who her kidnappers are before revealing their nefarious motives.
Despite the achievement that the Myst series has garnered from a technical perspective, the same cannot be said for its stories. Myst III: Exile attempts to tackle this shortcoming with a sympathetic villain named Saavedro, but it too ends up with a fair share of the stick from fans for its contrived storytelling. It is thus pleasing to learn that Myst IV: Revelation has done a better job than its predecessor. In fact, there are subtle moments in the game where the story even reaches the point of being quite moving. Although some elements of the story may not be as flushed out as it can be, the game succeeds in connecting you more to the main villain's slow transcendence into insanity and obsession. This, in turn, draws out the antagonist's multiple facades and helps to make the villain easily the most complex character in the Myst mythology to date.
Much of the story in Myst IV: Revelation is told through visual representation, with clues usually given in the form of objects in the scenery rather than literally in cut scenes and from reading books left scattered around in various places. This minimalist and simplified way of telling the story is admirable, since it constantly demands that you, as the player, pay closer attention and essentially appreciate everything that is on display in the game.
Myst IV: Revelation is vaguely nonlinear, to the extent that from an early point of the game you will have access to 3 of the 4 main Ages (Tomahna, Haven, Spire), with the last Age (Serenia) being available soon after. With the ability to switch between the Ages at any time, you can decide on the order to which to visit them.
If the story does not grip you, the spellbinding graphics that are in Myst IV: Revelation will. Indeed, the real reward for playing through this game is to see some of the most visually dazzling scenery ever created for a video game. The imagery is almost photorealistic, and the artwork is highly original. This is as closest as you will ever get in visiting an exotic planet from far away. Serenia, in particular, is my pictorial notion of heaven. Each of the Ages feels both unique and organic, from the lively creatures living in the jungle of Haven to the galactic asteroids floating in the skies of the freezing, lightning prone Spire.
However, if you ever want to get far in this game, you will need to do a lot more than just admiring at the beautiful scenery. Many of the scenes are highly interactive. In many areas, you can rotate in full 360°, both horizontally and vertically. You can open shelves, pull levers, flip book pages, poke lizards, flip over pillows, and interact with items with the swing of the mouse. You can touch and tap on items too: tap a paper pad and it makes a thudding noise; touch a cup and it makes a tinkering noise. It is remarkable that so much of the details, even if some of them may appear superfluous, have been inserted into each scene just to enhance your immersion into this exotic world.
Even if you have never played a Myst game before, there is no need to worry that you may get lost in the complex mythology. Using a special necklace that you acquire early on, you can trace past memories of the game's characters by simply touching the simplest of items. Together, these seemingly innocent objects slowly weave a picture of what has happened to them and their stories from past games. The necklace also allows you to watch again cut scenes and replay clues for the current game that you may have missed the first time around. Although this may sound a bit gimmicky, the necklace in fact plays a key role in the story, so its use never feels arbitrary or as a mere scapegoat to tie up loose ends.
The necklace is not the only device at your disposal in this game. After all of your past adventures with Atrus, you (more precisely, your character) have finally come to your senses and have brought along a camera with you in your travel this time. This means you can now take photos of any scene just for pleasure or for recording clues to puzzles you have found.
The developer has clearly put in a lot of efforts in making the game's environment highly expansive. Unfortunately, the major downfall of Myst IV: Revelation lies precisely in the same element that makes it so interactive. Finding clues in Atrus' relatively simple home is easy enough. However, when you are asked to look for clues in the most minimal flaws or markings from the near endless scenery of a lush jungle or ridged rocks above the clouds, finding your way or making sense of what you need to do begins to get complicated and confusing. In many ways, Myst IV: Revelation has returned to the roots set in Riven: The Sequel to Myst of having overbearing, almost overzealous locations such that backtracking can become quite an issue. The Ages where the kidnappers dwell are particularly disorientating, which (I guess) explains why they both appear to have gone slightly deranged in the story. There is an option to teleport quickly to the different locations of an Age. However, remembering where you have seen a particular small but important clue in a scene, to which you then must return later on, becomes a quite challenging puzzle in itself. There is a map in the game, but it is pretty much useless since it does not track your current whereabouts on the map. It goes without saying that there will be times when you will miss a pathway or well hidden object without realizing it because you have been overwhelmed by the surroundings that are of all shapes, sizes, and colors.
The animated hand cursor offers little in helping you to navigate the game. When an item can be taped, pulled, picked up, or otherwise manipulated, the hand will indicate so by either opening its palm or making a gesture that suggests the available action. The hand will also point to the direction which you can move. The problem is that the hand cursor takes far too long to change. It means that, if you scan around the area too quickly, the hand often does not have the time to animate itself and correctly highlight all the hidden hotspots. This is especially problematic when you try to locate an exit quickly in a scene.
Despite the fact that most of the scenery takes place outdoor, the game still suffers from time to time the dreaded "endless corridor syndrome". Spire, in particular, has far too many clues and notable locations far and wide for its own good. The numerous open areas are actually a distraction and not an aid to solving the tragically mind bending puzzle hidden in this Age.
There has been a long history in adventure games that puzzles are made too arbitrary. This is thankfully not the case in Myst IV: Revelation. Still, just because the puzzles can be all solved with acceptable logical thinking, it does not stop them being some of the most devilish puzzles you will ever encounter in an adventure game. Below the flashy exterior lies an enigma of the most preposterous proportions. Make no mistake: if the easy puzzle solving in Myst III: Exile is your sin, then the puzzle solving in Myst IV: Revelation is your punishment.
If there is a single word that best describes the puzzles in Myst IV: Revelation, it is "ambitious". Yet, looking back in hindsight, there are actually not that many puzzles in the game. However, the puzzles that are there are all cleverly constructed so to incorporate all the elements of in each Age as part of their riddles. For example, in Serenia, you need to dabble with a number of water channels scattered across all corners of the Age. This means having to constantly keep tabs of where water flows from a given area to the next. Even if you are an astute observer, the puzzle is not solvable until you receive a heavy hint stashed at the end of a previous Age. Here is a word of advice: wherever you are allowed a closer look at an item, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, never assume it is there for mere show. Just about any object available for further inspection is either a minor detail to the story or a cryptic clue to a puzzle anywhere else in the game. Unfortunately, on many occasions, there are simply too much potential leads for certain puzzles. Differentiating which is relevant and which is a red herring becomes convoluting.
In addition, there are too many opportunities in this game to fail a puzzle, only to find out later that the answer is disguised as a seemingly innocent passive mentioning in a journal that needs to be read between the lines. For puzzle fanatics, this is more good news, but for the other gamers who are more absent minded and more interested in the visuals, these puzzles can make way to a debate on whether the game is rewarding enough to carry on. Some puzzles are almost so impervious that they fall under their own weight. I understand the developer's intention to make a tight adventure along the lines of previous games in the series, but the developer must also recognize that not all gamers, regardless of whether or not they are avid adventure fans, may not be interested in another Myst title that is as demanding as Riven: The Sequel to Myst.
Myst is highly successful in part because of its immersion created by the mature soundtracks that accompany the game. As the series progresses, so has the subtle ambient music grown to a life of its own. This is more noticeable in Myst IV: Revelation than any other titles in the series. With a more epic storyline, composer Jack Wall, who has previously composed the music for Myst III: Exile, returns to score the soundtracks for this game. Yet, despite the more ambitious score, the music sounds more generic for most of the times, though still certainly more prominent than the ultra minimalist nature in the earlier games. The typical primal bongos and drums in Haven, the sharp metallic sounds and tragic strings in Spire, and the feminine chanting and wind instruments in Serenia all contribute to create distinct ambience for the Ages and the living beings that inhabit them. Not once does the music feel out of place, though I get the feeling that Wall himself is not as enthusiastic when composing the music this time around.
It is also a pity that not much thought has been put into developing the voices for the characters from the various time periods in this game. Your necklace will give flashbacks to scenes from up to almost 20 years in the past. Unfortunately, it is not always clear as when in the timeline each flashback occurs. Worse still, the characters' voices do not change at all during these periods to reflect the passage of time. For example, the kidnappers, as I predict, are supposedly to be young adults during the earlier flashbacks; yet, their vocals are no different than when they are confronted again at present time. This means figuring out which flashback comes in what order can become a bit harder than it needs to be.
Despite these flaws, the live action storytelling in Myst IV: Revelation is captivating to watch. The actors all play out their roles perfectly. However, in a few Full Motion Video sequences, the videos and the voices are not quite in synch, even when the game is played on hardware that meets above the system requirements.
The game is available in 3 different releases. The original release includes only the game but no other extras. The Limited Edition includes a full version of Myst III: Exile. The Limited Collectors' Edition includes a pack of playing cards, a bonus disc containing the soundtracks and short videos on the making of the game, a book detailing the history of the Myst mythology, and a cardboard box disc case holder.
In the end, none of the game's minor flaws detracts from the overall joyful experience of playing Myst IV: Revelation. There is no doubt this is the most epic game in the Myst series to date. It is also among the best adventure games of all time. While Myst IV: Revelation rightly deserves every bit of such enduring praises, it is both tragic and ironic that only the most perseverant puzzle busters will reach the end and experience this game to its full potential.