Review by BlackMageJawa
"It may be that in books, as in stars, the ending can never truly be written..."
If you don't recognise the quote, then you should probably leave now. Although you can play and enjoy Uru without having any previous experience of the Myst series, fans will definitely get the most out of this new installment. If you do recognise the quote... then you should probably leave right now. Go and buy it! It's Myst for goodness sake! I'll be assuming that you are somewhat familiar with the saga throughout this review, and not pointing out the obvious stuff like the whole idea of Linking and books, the complete lack of violence and the relatively slow pace of it all. If there are any fans of GTA or Tomb Raider still reading, this is your last warning.
(Before I get properly started, if you're just looking for category scores and summaries, skip straight to the bottom)
OK, the story. This is not Myst IV (That's still being developed in top secret somewhere in Cyan's top secret labs), but rather a sort of spin-off. It's set in the present day, where a group of explorers have discovered the ruins of D'ni beneath the surface of New Mexico. Years ago, these explorers released a series of games based on the writings they discovered in the city- and now people who have played these games are finding themself drawn to the desert, where they find a cleft in the ground, and begin their journey through the ancient civilisation.
So, what happens when you start up Uru for the first time? Well, first up you have to create your avatar. You are effectively playing 'yourself' in Uru, so try and make it look something like you. Then after you fail miserably to create a reasonable facsimile,just try and get your hair and eye colour right and pick the cool t-shirt with a map of Myst island on it. You'll have to recreate yourself when you go online anyway, so nobody else is going to see this version of you.
Once you've got someone to play as, select start. You find yourself dumped, without much in the way of explanation, in New Mexico. Explore a bit, and you'll come across a guy named Jeff Zandi sitting outside his trailer, who explains what's going on a bit. You've been drawn here, just like the others, and you don't know why. Apparently 'she' left a message for you, down in the cleft. Off you go to explore this mystery. Speaking of exploring, the controls have changed a lot too. No longer are you stuck in a first person 'click to jump forward' mode, but you can move fluidly in third person. Tap F1 to change to 1st Person mode, and it handles almost like an FPS. A slow FPS with no shooting, but an FPS nonetheless. Annoyingly, there's no way to pick up items as in previous games- if you want to get something from A to B (and you will) you have to kick it along. Why, Cyan? Still, at least you can try and play a game of footy in Ae'gura (more on that later)
By now, you'll probably have noticed the graphics. They really are beautiful. OK, so maybe they're not as polished as the original trilogy's pre-rendered backgrounds, but even on my rather sub-par machine they still create the same ''so good looking you'll wish it was real'' atmosphere you felt back when you first explored Myst Island. From the tufts of weeds poking out of the sands, to the strangely glowing plants down in the cleft itself, everything will make you stop and stare in wonder.
Once you've stopped staring, you'll want to get on with your journey. Pretty soon you'll encounter the first puzzle. And yes, it is fairly tame by Myst standards, and you can always go back and talk to Zandi for hints. Solve it, and you find out who 'she' is. Remember Yeesha, the little baby Catherine was holding back in Exile? Well she's left messages for you. It seems that your (the other you, the one that lived 200 years ago and you played back in the original series. Yeah, I don't understand either) old friend Atrus somehow knew of the eventual rediscovery of D'ni, and his daughter had plans for how she wanted it to be restored. Although long dead, she has left a series of tests for future visitors to D'ni, and completing these will be your journey. What this essentially boils down to is finding seven 'Journey Cloths' in each Age, and then moving on to the final 'Endgame', which I have yet to reach.
Once you leave Earth, you arrive in your personal Age of Relto. And if you thought the Desert looked good, you ain't seen nothing yet. In fact, remember that phrase, it'll save me using it all the time- even if you get used to the amazing graphics, Uru will constantly amaze you with some unbelievably gorgeous scene. Anyway, where was I? Ah yes- Relto, which geographically resembles a much smaller version of Myst island itself, acts as the hub from which you can access the other Ages. Inside the hut is an armoire where you can redesign your Avatar, and two bookcases for holding any documents you find.
Back outside the hut are four stone pillars. Click on the handprint symbol on any of them to find a Linking Book and the fun begins for real.
In the offline game (Uru Prime) you have four new Ages to explore- Gahreseen is a partially ruined stone fortress, Kadish Tolesa is a forest of giant trees with some more smaller ruins, Teledahn is filled with giant mushrooms, and Eder Gira is a big desert which leads into Eder Kemo, a luxurious garden. Varied, interesting, and all absolutely gorgeous. All have their own style of puzzles, which as with previous Myst games are essentially one huge Age-spanning puzzle which, although seemingly divided into parts, must be solved sequentially. The puzzles themselves are fairly standard Myst fare- intenseley logical, and only obvious once you've figured it out. One slightly annoying feature Uru is the addition of timed puzzles and (shivers) jumping. Although the latter skill is rarely critical- this isn't a platform game, there are points where you can 'die' from mistiming a leap. Of course, you won't actually die. Any time you get into a life-threatening situation, you automatically slap a hand to the Linking Book attached to your belt and link back to Relto- which means starting back from the Linking-in point of the Age.
So, that's Uru Prime. The main attraction of the game though is the online content. It's not fully up yet- at present we're in the Prologue stage, which is glitchy and not very big, but free. Eventually there will be a monthly subscription, but there's no word yet on when or how much.
Uru Live has it's own addition to the plot. An organisation known as the D'ni Restoration Council has taken on the job of, er, restoring D'ni, and is slowly making areas available to the public. However, they may not always have the best intentions, and none of them have taken Yeesha's journey. Their plans, it seems, conflict with hers, and the time may come soon for everyone to pick sides...
I can't really comment on the bulk of Live. As I said, it's not fully operational yet, and I've hardly explored any of what is there. At present, you get a whole bunch of new outfits and access to Ae'gura, a D'ni city. You can glimpse small parts of Ae'gura in Uru Prime, but to be able to explore properly you'll need to go online. As time goes on, more and more of the city will become available, the plot will unfold, and we'll get a few new Ages to explore and find the seven Cloths in. The big draw of Live, however, is the ability to invite other players to come adventuring with you. It works a little like Phantasy Star- the city of Ae'gura is a truly MMO hub, but once you Link into one of the Ages, only you and your companions will be there. Co-operation can make the task at hand considerably easier, especially in the irritating action puzzles. Or you can choose to stay in Ae'gura, make friends, have a chat, and maybe play a game of Ahyoheek, a D'ni game which is essentially a glorified version of Stone-Paper-Scissors.
So- the category/summary bit:
As with previous Myst games, it's hidden away in the background and you're left to piece it together yourself. It's not all that important, but it's good. Nice nods back to the previous games and the novels (or so I've heard. Never read them. Can't find them). Look out in particular for the rather obvious Riven cameo right near the start. It all begins to make sense...
It's Myst! Of course the graphics are great! If Uru were a woman, it'd be a supermodel.
Another unbelievably strong point. Not for nothing did Gamespot give Uru the award for best sound in 2003.
Just when you think you've gotten used to it and it's not so bad, it seems to go all quirky again. At best it's awkward, at worst it's horribly frustrating.
The world of Myst is just as hauntingly beautiful as ever, but no longer is it eerily quiet and deserted. Make sure you're alone with the PC, turn the lights out, crank the speakers up, and slip into the most relaxing yet challenging games ever made. You're invited to an Uru.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 01/18/04
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