Gaming PC Reviews 4

Flashback Friday – realMyst: Masterpiece Edition – Review

One of the biggest tragedies in the video game industry is that most truly brilliant classics are not remade. Technology has advanced so much that many classics can now be fully realized on platforms like Unreal Engine 4, but such things are very rare. Thankfully one of the most beloved PC classics (originally released on Macintosh actually) has been remade, and that classic is Myst. In this article we will evaluate this remake, realMyst: Masterpiece Edition, and see how it fares not just as a remake but as a game itself in this modern era of gaming.

 

Closer Look

Like the original, realMyst: Masterpiece Edition is a first-person puzzle adventure game taking place in a distinct fantasy setting. It is remade on a brand new 3D engine, while the original had pre-rendered environments and point-and-click movment. So by clicking, you’d teleport forward in the original. Nobody can truly prefer this original style, but regardless realMyst: Masterpiece Edition can be played in that style. Or it can be played as it should, as a 3D first-person game with normal movement.

realMyst: Masterpiece Edition is one of few remakes that was made by the same developing studio, Cyan. Unlike other “remakes” like Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition this is a real remake; the developers did not just take the classic game and apply a patch to make it compatible with modern operating systems, hardware, and widescreen resolutions. They remade it from scratch on a new 3D engine, albeit it’s a poorly optimized engine but it’s better than nothing.

But that’s really the extent of the differences between realMyst: Masterpiece Edition and the original Myst. They remade Myst’s environments and puzzles on a 3D engine. realMyst: Masterpiece Edition utilizes the same soundtrack, and they even brought back the old live action recordings. It is thus a perfect remake, it follows the original script 1:1 except for one new chapter (Age) added at the very end of the game, so this isn’t a change but an addition.

But all of this means little to those who haven’t played or don’t know Myst, so now we’ll start from the top. The protagonist is an unknown stranger, explorer, who arrives at the mesmerizing Myst island. This is where the game begins, with the player immediately control and with the freedom to explore Myst island. There is no direction, there are no quest markers or even a quest log. This is one of the reasons it’s loved, this along with the beautiful, distinct design of Myst island as well as every other location you visit.

How did the protagonist arrive there? The opening introduction shows this… somewhat. He is shown finding a book that links to Myst island in some black void. The details aren’t known, nor are they important to this game. The protagonist opens the book and sees a moving picture of Myst. He touches the picture and teleports to the island of Myst.

Myst island is filled with all sorts of contraptions with very little instruction on their purpose or how to use them, and what instruction there is lies hidden. A note on the floor is a good clue to start the player off, giving them some idea of direction.

But really, the player should make their way to the library and read the books in there. Most of the books found within are journals of otherworldly adventures, written in spectacular detail and filled with technobabble, giving insight to many of the puzzles. These other worlds are called Ages. These books effectively describe the start of different civilizations, and it’s like reading the work of a god. A unique type of writing and very well done here.

These worlds and their civilizations are created by a man, Atrus, through his writings. He is able to create these Ages by writing them in a book, and these books can be used as portals to these worlds, with “Myst linking books” serving as portals back to Myst island. Atrus says he learned how to do this from his father. Of course, books physically teleporting you to another world is of course a metaphor for stories and the power of books. Furthermore, this puts into question whether or not Atrus, like his ancestors before him, are gods or god like, as they seem to be able to create worlds and life. Granted, this isn’t a theme heavily explored in Myst or its remakes.

So Myst island is a hub, and the player will be traveling to these unique fantasy Ages through books. The journals in the library, which were written by Atrus, are his detailed accounts of his experiences in these Ages, so the player would be wise to read them before venturing to them.

But these portal books are hidden. Through some clever logical puzzle solving entailing intricate object interaction, the player will find them and travel to them. But for what purpose? Just to explore? Myst, including realMyst: Masterpiece Edition of course, is an open ended game that allows the player to define their own purpose. It’s a game with many endings, in fact you need not visit any of these Ages to end the game.

But exploring and puzzle solving is all there is to the gameplay. Every puzzle is unique and most are challenging, but never completely illogical. There are clues and common sense goes a long way. Puzzles involve intricate object interaction and it’s not always clear what you have to do. They involve discovering the unknown and it is not always obvious. Obscure at times but not illogical. Complex for sure, as Myst (and thus all versions) is one of the hardest puzzle games out there.

Spoilers begin here.

There are two other books in this library, which are kept separate from the others. One is red, one is blue. Each one contains a live feed (that cuts off constantly) of a different man, and both say something about rescue. The man in the red book, who can be heard saying his name is Sirrus, demands the player to bring him red pages, while the man in the blue book who appears quite mad demands blue pages. They appear to be in need of aid.

The aforementioned journals in the library do name two other characters, Sirrus and Achenar. They are the sons of Atrus. The man in the red book claims to be Sirrus, so it can be assumed that the man in the blue book is Achenar. Upon opening the blue book he even answers with “Sirrus?” so this part of the plot is no mystery. The real mystery is, why are they trapped?

Just like the original, realMyst: Masterpiece Edition is a non-linear game. It’s up to the player where to go, when to go there, and what to do. The player may visit these Ages that Atrus wrote about, only to find them devoid of life (although wildlife can be heard in the Channelwood Age, so it would have been nice if it was actually present). The living quarters of Sirrus and Achenar can be found in all of these Ages, and there are consistencies with each: the quarters of Sirrus are finely decorated and some of them contain copious amounts of gold. This matches his sophisticated appearance and speech. The quarters of Achenar often include torture devices, bones, and the like, matching his mad appearance. These are not good signs. It can be deduced from this that they plundered and/or destroyed these Ages.

As you bring red and blue pages back to Sirrus and Achenar respectively, they speak to you more and communications become more clear. Each one says the other is guilty of destroying the other ages, and each one says the other tricked their father. Each of them claims their innocence. It is interesting that as you bring them their pages and as they become more clearly visible through the books, their image through the book becomes disturbingly twisted occasionally, further indicating their sinister nature.

All of this would make most players hesitant to want to rescue either of them. The sinister nature of Sirrus and Achenar is also mentioned by their father, Atrus. The aforementioned note on the floor suggests it, but he really expresses this idea in person. Lo and behold, he is trapped just like Sirrus and Achenar, in a green book, except his image in the book is clear. This is discovered if the player solves the puzzle in the library’s fireplace. The answer to said puzzle is discovered after bringing either Sirrus or Achenar all of the pages collected from the ages which they require (so red and blue pages respectively). They instruct you on how to solve the fireplace puzzle, but warn you not to touch the green book as it is another trap like the books they are trapped in. That is a lie. Instead, the green book links to D’ni.

Atrus is trapped in an Age called D’ni. He was lured there by his sons, who removed a page from his Myst linking book, thus trapping him there. He instructs the player to retrieve the missing page, bring it to him, and allow him to deliver justice to his sons. He mentions the greed of both Sirrus and Achenar, which stemmed from him giving them free reign over the books. Their greed led to them opening up the red and blue trap books, explaining why they are in need of rescue.

So the game’s ending depends on who the player saves, whether it’s Sirrus, Achenar, or Atrus. Or the player can save neither, and end the game by entering D’ni without Atrus’s missing page, thus trapping himself/herself there along with Atrus.

The true ending is what happens when saving Atrus. After doing so, he deals with his sons in an unknown way (burn marks reside where the red and blue books were), and then continues his writings. But now he writes with a purpose; to slow down the deterioration of Riven, the age in which his wife Catherine (or Katran) is trapped. But this is the plot for the sequel, Riven, which unfortunately has yet to be remade.

After this ending, another Age (effectively another level) becomes available to the player—Rime. This serves as a setup to Riven, and just as added exploration and gameplay for the player.

Spoilers end here.

realMyst: Masterpiece Edition can last 7 hours for a first time player set on exploring everywhere, or even longer if such a player really struggles with the puzzles. But it can actually be completed in mere minutes, but this requires either the experience and knowledge of previous playthroughs or reading a walkthrough.

The purpose of Myst as a video game was to create an enthralling fantasy world and let the player explore within it. In it is a simple tale of greed, with storytelling that relies heavily on its gameplay. realMyst: Masterpiece Edition succeeds in fully realizing Myst’s potential by making this world 3D and thus far more immersive.

Is it really a masterpiece? I can’t help but say yes. The final score might suggest otherwise, but this is why you shouldn’t just look at a number. It lost points for its optimization, dated technical graphics despite the wonderful art design (neither can fully cancel each other out), and because you can’t disable mouse acceleration or change the volume of voices and music separately. Only the latter is truly harmful to the overall experience though. The game is such a wonderful design for an adventure game. Very few games can captivate me within the first five minutes like this one did. We can only hope a “realRiven: Masterpiece Edition” is on the horizon, preferably with a different name than that however.

Because of its short length along with growing ambition from GND-Tech, we’ve recorded the entirety of realMyst: Masterpiece Edition in several videos shown below. These videos are entirely unedited footage so they’re filled with spoilers. Those who haven’t played any Myst game should only watch the first few minutes of the first video, to get a vague understanding of how it plays.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[/spoiler]

Audio & Visuals

Myst games have always emphasized the visuals, primarily art design over technicalities. This applies to realMyst: Masterpiece Edition as well. For a 2014 release its visuals are dated from a technical standpoint, yet still beautiful. It features a dynamic time of day cycle with lighting that looks pleasant, although the lighting alone falls a bit short of the beauty seen on better engines. This remake uses Unity engine so it is of course poorly optimized. It runs better if you first set it to minimum settings, and then afterwards setting it to your ideal settings.

The art design of realMyst: Masterpiece Edition makes you forget about the somewhat dated technical graphics. The mesmerizing structures and terrain, the otherworldly feel, the color palette, it all makes the game look stunning. It would have been drop dead gorgeous, the stuff of dreams, if it had better technical graphics. Thankfully Cyan’s next game, Obduction, uses Unreal Engine 4, which has inherently amazing graphics. It would be incredible if they remade Riven on UE4 as well.

realMyst: Masterpiece Edition uses the same soundtrack as Myst, which won our award for Best Soundtrack of the 1990s despite being a synthesized score. It’s a perfectly fitting score for a beautiful fantasy game that sometimes feels like a dream.

As for sound effects, lovely and distinct ambient sounds are present in every map. Some of the puzzles rely on the player hearing specific things so the sound quality is important, and thankfully the game delivers here. The sound effects are of good quality and ambient sounds can sometimes be enveloping.

There isn’t a whole lot of voice acting, but when there is it’s pretty good. It uses the same voice overs as the original Myst. Nothing award winning, but the performances fit the characters well. Some may take issue with the repetitive pauses used by Atrus’s actor, but imperfect voice acting is to be expected of a 1990s game. The voice acting here is actually some of the best from the 1990s.

Conclusion

 

realMyst: Masterpiece Edition is a quintessential video game, one of the best to introduce someone to video games. Visually stunning due to its art design, distinct in its storytelling and gameplay, non-linear and it forces the player to think.

It is also one of the most beautiful, visionary games ever made thanks to its source material. It succeeds in carrying Myst into the 21st century. It is a mesmerizing first-person adventure that should keep you hooked from start to finish. The non-linear, open ended gameplay is extremely refreshing as game design has largely regressed since the 1990s especially in this regard, with most modern games holding your hand all the way through because most gamers lack the attention span and intelligence for anything else. But realMyst: Masterpiece Edition does not go down that road, it is a faithful remake that’s merely more intuitive and beautiful than the original.

For a breakdown of our scoring system, read this.

  • Presentation: Unique. realMyst: Masterpiece Edition has a limited amount of save slots, and when starting it up it throws you right into the game without wasting any time. It does let you choose between the classic point-and-click Myst style of gameplay, and more modern gameplay with WASD movement. The latter is really the way to go. Aside from this, it has a surprisingly complete array of graphics options, but it does lack the ability to disable mouse acceleration. Also, unfortunately it lacks individual volume controls so sometimes the soundtrack makes it very hard to hear voices, and this is with good audio equipment. Optimization is unfortunately terrible; even today this is one of the hardest games to run. 12/20
  • Story: Rather than attempting to provide a deep, highly intellectual story, realMyst: Masterpiece Edition like the originals succeeds at being involving thanks to the storytelling discovered through exploration. Learning more about Achenar and Sirrus by following their trails for example, and then using this knowledge to decide on which paths to go. Atrus’s journals are very well written and succeed in building up desire to explore Ages, while giving insight to the game’s puzzles thanks to intriguing technobabble. The appearance of these Ages matches exactly what one would picture while reading these journals. Overall good writing quality and an engaging story. 17/20
  • Gameplay: The gameplay really just involves exploring and solving unique puzzles. The puzzles are very weird but aren’t without clues and logic behind them. The only complaints here are some synthetic limitations, designed to make the game longer or more tricky while sacrificing logic. One such example is that the player can’t carry more than one book page at a time, others include not being able to go to places that you should be able to reach, even if it would require jumping which this game doesn’t have. To avoid synthetic challenges like this, the levels should be designed in such a way that the only inaccessible places should actually be physically impossible to reach for a person. With that being said, these instances are minor and not too common. 18/20
  • Audio & Visuals: Despite being dated for a 2014 game in technical graphics, realMyst: Masterpiece Edition is a beauty. This is due to its artistic design, although technically speaking the graphics aren’t bad either, they just look a few years older than they really are. Aliasing is a problem, but at the end of the day the art design trumps the fidelity. The soundtrack is one of the best in gaming, the ambient sounds are wonderful and the sound effects are good, voice acting is decent overall but could be better. 16/20
  • Lasting Appeal: The non-linear gameplay and multiple endings (four to be exact) will definitely attract multiple playthroughs from those who enjoy their first. Also, the world of Myst itself is so unique and enthralling that it is sure to call you back. It’s a short game, lasting no more than 7 hours unless you’re terrible with the puzzles, but it’s the perfect length. Two of the endings can be unlocked very early, although one of these requires knowledge that a first-time player wouldn’t have. 13/20
  • Overall: 76/100 (Fantastic game on a flawed engine)

...a mesmerizing first-person adventure that should keep you hooked from start to finish.

7.6
Silver Award:
7.6

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