Review by Pilgrim Shadow
"Great ambition, failed execution"
Uru: Ages Beyond Myst is easily the most ambitious game in the Myst series. It promises a massive, cooperative multiplayer experience where hundreds of players around the world meet to compare notes, solve puzzles, and explore new and ever-expanding areas of the game.
What it delivers falls short of that lofty mark by a fair amount.
Uru Live, the online portion of the game, has been scrapped. This is probably the single biggest reason the game exists at all; without it, there is very little reason to play. The single-player experience has been hamstrung in order to accomidate it. Thus, the failure of Uru Live in many ways detracts from the overall experience of the game.
It is true that new expansions will be offered. The first, To D'ni, is already availible, and, to Cyan's credit, is being offered free of charge. Uru will remain the first Myst title that is expandable. However, without the promised online features - collaboration and cooperative puzzle-solving - the luster of that offering tarnishes somewhat. Lackluster gameplay and frustrating controls add to the sense of general disappointment.
GRAPHICS - 7
Uru's graphics are stunning - for a first-person shooter or a 3rd-person platformer. They are a noticeable letdown, however, from Exile, and so what might otherwise have been a 9 or 10 drops a few points. This is the first Myst game to be presented in 3D, which is a polite way of saying that they have opted for textured polygons instead of photorealistic images - a necessary step to accomodate the now-defunct online features.
To be perfectly fair, Uru only pales in comparison with the previous Myst titles like Riven and Exile. This is a series that has always been strong in the visuals department. Even for textured polygons, the vistas of Uru - such as the vast jungle surrounding a D'ni fortress in one age - are exemplary. Also exceptional is the degree to which you can customize your character - another online element, but this time, one that works well even for the single-player game. My own personal character bore such a striking resemblance to myself that it was often a treat just to watch my avatar walk about through the fantastic scenes the game provided.
At other times, it was a chore. But I'll get to that in a moment.
SOUND - 10
Another aspect of the Myst games that has always been as near-perfect as humanly possible has been the sound. Those who were perhaps put off by the package's proclemation that it featured ''the previously unreleased track, 'Burn You Up, Burn You Down,''' by Peter Gabriel can rest assured that it occupies only a very small and insignificant part of the game. (I, myself, couldn't be happier, since I never wanted to listen to the song in the first place - Peter Gabriel is not quite my cup of tea. For those who actually *want* to hear his song, though, prepare to be disappointed.) The music is understated, mysterious...it adds perfectly to the atmosphere of the game. Never once does it become annoying or repetetive.
The sound effects, similarly, are top-notch. Footsteps sound like footsteps - not only that, but the surfaces you walk on sound as they should. Gravel crunches, metal tings, and so on (a minor point, perhaps, but I've played several games where the sounds and environment seemed conflicted).
There really is nothing more to say about the sound. It is fantastic.
GAMEPLAY - 6
Ah, but here is where the game begins to bog down.
Your mission in Uru is to locate seven Journey Cloths, or ''Journeys,'' in each age. This makes the game seem more like a scavenger hunt than anything else. The Journeys are often hidden, meaning that, like any other platformer game, you must poke around in dark corners and look around in odd places for them. Who put the Journies there is never explained; for that matter, neither is your quest to locate and touch each one of them. Surely, the team that created Riven and Myst are capable of better than this?
Worse than the quest is the reward. As you poke around in these dead ages, you will often stumble across journals, much like in previous Myst titles. Here, though, the journals rarely have any bearing to your mission. Sometimes they are interesting; more often, they are boring. Very, very boring. In my explorations, I discovered journals detailing: D'ni marriage ceremonies, the reigns of a half-dozen kings, and the various rooms of a D'ni fortress (most of which I'd already explored, and the purpose of which rooms were fairly obvious at a glance).
Upon locating all 7 Journeys within an age, you may then pass through that age's ''Journey Door,'' at which point you will be given a long, rambling, and largely incoherent speech by Yeesha, the daughter of Atrus, central figure of the previous games. Yeesha appears to be quite mad; I cannot recall ever having gleaned anything from her besides a very vauge sense of what my next goal was to be (and that only rarely). She also seems to love the sound of her own voice, because once she starts talking, she will drone on for what seems like hours.
CONTROLS - 3
If the gameplay is annoying, the controls are downright frustrating. Uru is, essentially, a combination first-person shooter and third-person platformer, with puzzles in place of monsters (think Jedi Outcast without the violence). That being true, one would think that the controls should be far easier and more intuitive than they are.
Now, in all fairness, most of the key controls are re-mappable. Not all of them are, however (the run controls are stuck, for instance). Regardless, most players will abandon the keypad for the mouse, which sort-of responds to what you want to do. Even there, however, there are difficulties. Foremost amongst them is the fact there there is no automatic ''mouselook;'' you have to hold the right mouse button down to look around. Considering that this was a feature Exile had, Uru certainly should have had it, too, especially since it makes the game far more difficult to move about in without it.
Some control issues are just strange. In first-person view, you can turn yourself around 360 degrees using the right mouse button to look around. In the third-person view, however, you can only turn within a narrow, 60 degree cone (or so). Of course, the third-person controls are already next to impossible to use, as the camera follows you from a set angle regardless of which way you turn. This means that you'll find yourself walking sideways across the frame as well as towards and away from it from time to time.
And then there are glitches. At least 4 times now, I've encountered a glitch where solid objects suddenly and unexpectedly fail to register. This causes you to fall through the entire age before linking back to the safety of Relto, your own version of Myst island. You'll then need to link back into the world, making it a frustrating and time-consuming annoyance. Surely this issue should have been dealt by now.
OVERALL - 6
Expansions may make Uru worthwhile, but, while the first one is free, the subsequent expansions will almost certainly not be. And if Uru Live, arguably the heart of the game, could be cancelled, then what guarentee does anyone have that any of the promised expansions will materialize? (Although, again, To D'ni is already out, and Cyan is said to be working on at least one more to be released in the near future.) For a game with such an uncertain future, there is little to offer a potential player. True fans of the series will find much to like here, but it is a game aimed towards those steeped in Myst lore, and newcomers will find themselves lost amidst a history that is richly woven - but incredibly dull. Frustrating controls make the gameplay a chore, and the rewards...the rewards feel more like punishments, leaving you with an incredible sense of apathy towards the D'ni and what happened to them.
In Myst, Atrus told us that the ending had not yet been written. It is sad to think that this may be the game that writes it for us.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 04/19/04
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