The great danger of going back to the past is the very real possibility that one might have an overly idealized view of the way things used to be. Often, we remember things as being better than what they actually were, and we're disappointed when we encounter the reality of what actually is.
I had that in mind when I heard that Myst was coming to the iPad. Myst is one of the great classic computer games. Through the years, new version have come and gone; some of them were released in mobile gaming, such as the Myst game (and its sequel Riven) that was released for the iPhone a few years ago. Some of these new incarnations were good, and some, not so much.
Being a fan of the original game of all these years ago, I've been waiting for an iPad version; one that could do justice to the creativity, beauty and originality of the game. I was very excited by the news of this new release, but I was also apprehensive. Would it be good enough?.... In short, the answer is yes and, very unfortunately, no.
By now, most people, I suspect, have heard of Myst, so I won't expound too much on what the game is. The game begins with the player's arrival in a strange new world. Where are you? Where is everyone? Why is there a sunken ship in the water (which is mirrored by a sunken model ship in a fountain)? What is a closed rocket ship doing perched up on the hill? What are all the levers and buttons for Who built the library full of old and mysterious notebooks? All these questions, and many more, must be answered by exploring the island and its various buildings and underground passages. Along the way, many puzzles must be solved, and strange recorded messages must be pieced together to piece out the story of Myst.
I well remember spending hours playing the game; writing clues and messages and codes in a notebook so I could refer back to them later. This is a long-term game; don't expect to be done in one afternoon! And don't expect answers to be revealed quickly or easily. Myst is a game that really engages you and makes you think. It was a great game, and it has become a benchmark accomplishment in the genre of exploration games and puzzles games. The depth of the game, the incredibly detailed back story, the inventiveness of the puzzles; it all came together to form a real masterpiece.
In this version of Myst, all the elements are present, and someone playing this for the first time is in for a real treat. It's a great game. The mechanics of exploring the island have been wonderfully adapted to the touch screen format. All one needs to do is touch and hold to move, and swipe to turn. You can look all around you, you can look up, and you can walk anywhere. There are no fixed paths restrictions. There is really nothing in the interface that comes between the player and the game, because the interface is virtually non-existent. All this really brings the player right into the game, and makes for an incredibly immersive environment. This is as close to finding one's self on another planet as one can come. Because this game has been around for so long, the makers of the game have an intimate knowledge of this world, and it has been crammed full of such detail that it all seems real. For this, I can say that the game is a great game for the iPad.
But.... and there is a but! The problems come in the technical aspects of the game. The load times for some of the sections of the game can be long, and this detracts from the immersive experience. Also, there are quite a few stutters during game play; and this also detracts from the overall experience by flinging the player right back into reality. Not good when all we want to do is believe that we really are on the island, and this is now also our story; we have become part of that world and we want to solve the mysteries, not be wondering about frame rates and the like. Another issue is that the touch navigation can be touchy at times, and a player can wind up in a place like a hillside or the edge of a precipice. It takes some practice to really get the hang of it. It can also be tricky on occasion to flip a switch, because the game thinks you want to move rather than perform an action. The player has to be in just the right location for the flipping mechanism to work, and that can be annoying. The biggest problem for me however, comes with the graphics, and it is here that I think the game isn't good enough, and for no good reason!
On the whole, realMyst is gorgeous to look at! It always was, from its very first incarnation. The universe that Cyan Worlds created is fully imagined and beautifully detailed. One can truly get lost in this world, and not mind one bit. For the most part, I was happy with the look of Myst on the iPad.
So why am I gripping? Because of the text that is found in many of the books and on some of the posters and drawings that must be read in order to solve the mysteries of Myst. While the rest of the world is clear and sharp, the makers of realMyst don't seem to have bothered to update the look of some of the most crucial elements of the game! I simply don't get it.... How could they have been satisfied to release this new version when reading the books on the iPad is for the most part an unpleasant and ugly experience? Someone slipped up, and I really hope that the first revision of this game addresses this issue directly. Some of the text is unreadable; it is so jagged and pixillated that it reminds me of the 8-bit games of old. It's truly disappointing that such an important part of the game was given short shrift. In my opinion, even long load times can be forgiven, but this is a major oversight, and it almost kills the game for me. I'd rather see the game size increase by half than put up with the poor quality of some of the graphics. They really need to be updated!
I wouldn't mind seeing the video messages updated as well... I know they are meant to be garbled and hard to see; but they are the same ones that were in the original game. Better production values really seem in order in the age of Infinity Blade and high-def video.
The sound design of realMyst is another plus. As in the original, the music gives an added dimension to the gameplay, and is a pleasure to listen to with earphones. The sound effects are quite well done and are worthy of any Hollywood movie or console game. The environment created in realMyst is quiet and contemplative; perfect to put you in the frame of mind to solve a few puzzles before going to bed. It won't thump in your ears during game play or worm into your brain once you're done for the day!
For all the nitpicking I've done, I still really like this game, and overall this is a great new version. It will be outstanding once some of the visuals have been upgraded and when the load times have been reduced. Anyone who wants a game that requires thought, concentration and perseverance will be happily served with realMyst. Expect to take time and effort. The answers will not come easy, and the mysteries will not be solved in moments. You will need to work at it. Casual gamers beware: this is not the game for you. But if you want to immerse yourself in a different world and be part of a great adventure, take the plunge. You will not regret it!
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5): 4
Graphics: 3.5 Beautiful world,, but it really needs improvement in the text department. Fix those books now! Sound: 4.5 Beautiful music and excellent sound effects make for a very pleasing experience. Controls: 4 Great new way to interact with the world, but can be a bit fussy at times and takes practice to master. Gameplay: 5 What can I say ? It's Myst. One of my favorite games, and still one of the very best computer games ever created.
Playing Hints and Tips:
One last word: get yourself a notebook and start jotting down everything! You'll never what little detail might be important somewhere down the line. And one more thing: please resist the temptation to overuse the included hint guide or to run looking for solution forums on the Internet. These did not exist when Myst came out all those years ago, and it forced players to work hard and rely on their wits. It made the game a very challenging, and also very rewarding, experience. Sort it out for yourself if you can; you'll get a real sense of accomplishment.
If you do get stuck, talk to a fellow gamer. That when Myst is the most fun anyway: when you explore in tandem with someone else. My wife and I played together for hours and it was very enjoyable to puzzle things out together. That's my idea of what social gaming really should be about !