Review by Captain Steel
"Still trying to recapture the magic..."
This is the universe of Myst, as it was originally self-lauded, ''the surrealistic adventure that will become your world.''
The Myst saga, and I use the word saga loosely, has spanned three games and apparently a number of actual novels. Exile is the third game in the Myst series, which was exalted as an instant classic when it was released in a day and age when the 486 personal computer was the state-of-the-art piece of technology.
Well, time has passed, technology has evolved, and the Myst saga evolved along with it --- or at least tried to. The truth is, this game must both be considered as a stand alone game and in the context of it's predecessors and the entire genre of the dying breed of game dubbed ''point and click adventures''.
So... this review is going to go a little differently than my standard fair. It is divided into two sections, the first section is a look at the game itself, and the second section is a sort of ''Myst'' section: a discussion of how this game measures up to the others, and also an exploration of what became of Myst: what was commonly referred to, not-to-long-ago, as the most famous in video game in history. As far as raw number scores are concerned, The challenge is high but balanced (all regarding the puzzles of course) and gets a 7, the gameplay, which is fairly smooth with only the occasional, obligatory 3-D gaming hitches receives an 8, and the graphics and sound are just short of incredible and still score a 10. There are some very slick displays of full motion video, in one of which you are imprisoned within a giant glass marble and are slingshotted wildly about a gargantuan Rube Goldberg machine. Most excellent.
As a game out of the Myst context, standing by itself, it is fun game, if you like puzzles, and nothing but puzzles (albeit puzzles set to gorgeous scenery and symphonic mood music). There is no action (except in the intro and the ending) no explosions, no guns, and really no people except you and your nemesis, who only talks to you through a series of pre-recorded (but cool) holographic messages. There are only four characters other than yourself in whole game, in fact. And other than your enemy, they only appear at the beginning and the end.
If you are unfamiliar with Myst series, the concept behind them is a universe in which entire worlds can be created by literally writing them into existence. The gateways to the different worlds are the books in which there creation was written. The books, called Linking Books (kinda like what Gumby does, actually) can literally by jumped into simply by placing one's hand on the first page. Sometimes, entire civilizations evolve within one of these written worlds. Well, with people wielding this kind of power, it is easy to see how problems start to surface real quick like.
You explore a non-linear world searching for clues on how to operate various mechanical thingamajigs that will eventually enable you to find more Linking Books, warping you to more fantastic scenes. And of course, more thingamajigs that you have to puzzle out.
Exile is still completely a game of pure unadulterated point and click, but it shines in it's simplicity. MOST point and click games (I will entirely fail to mention the Kings Quest Series)involve you walking around and picking up a myriad of miscellaneous objects and then finding preposterous uses for them at exactly the right place AND right time. If you miss your one chance, that's it. You're stuck and you probably don't even know it. (That is until you've been stumped for hours and are forced to get hints.) Exile (and the other Myst games which will be discussed very shortly) don't have you dealing with any of that. You can never truly be stuck in Exile. There is no collecting of item after item. None at all, actually. (except for piecing together a lost journal---but that is for story purposes only and has no effect on the puzzles) All that you need for solving the puzzles is right there on the screen and between your ears. And that is that. Still, the puzzles are very clever and one must use sound reasoning to problem solve their way through. The puzzles are NOT just a series of slide boxes and rubic's cubes (And here I will also fail to mention such games as the 7th Guest). They are excersises in logic and problem solving involving everything from simple pulleys and levers, to fantastic vehicles and pieces of pseudo-futuristic technology.
Lets start with a little history refresher...
When Myst was released back in the early nineties it was an overnight sensation. It was met with rave reviews from the PC magazines, five stars across the board. Reviewers and fans glowed alike: The scenery - amazing. The sound - incredible. The story - intriguing and mysterious. The game had to be experienced to be believed. Or so they said. And more and more played the game and agreed. But also, in truth, more and more people hated it too. And a Myst hater is truly a loather of the game. Quickly Myst became controversial due to the extreme dichotomy between worshippers and despisers (which of course added to its fame and popularity) being the most hotly debated game of it's day.
In fact, so popular was Myst, that it began spawning novels, written by the creators. By the time it's sales record obliterating sequel hit store shelves, a dedicated fan base had arisen to rival any other in video gaming history.
And the Miller brothers, owners of Cyan software, made history alright, selling over 9 million copies of Riven, sequel to Myst. The hardcore fans rushed to buy Riven. The run-of-the-mill fans rushed to buy Riven. People who had never played Myst rushed to buy Riven because they wanted to get in on the action or at least find out what all the hype was about. Even some of the people who claimed that they hated Myst bought Riven, either to prove somehow by playing it that it was also not good, or just because they were hoping it was something different and better. In fact, even some people who didn't even own computers bought Riven, because they wanted to own a piece of history. (The same thing happened when windows '95 was first released. People. Go figure.)
Now it is late in the year 2002. I played through Exile last week. Exile was released over a year ago, but I never heard a word about it. Not even a passing comment. Nothing. Certainly not the front covers of Time and News Week that Riven received!
The day I bought the game was just after I received a new laptop computer with Pentium four and the works. Because the last time a got a new computer was the time of the original Myst, you can imagine I have done very very little computer gaming. With my new flashy computer, I wanted to play a game again, just for old time sake (There is a point to this, so be patient) I went down to the neighborhood computer store and went browsing through the advanced new video games. Other than the multi-platformers (like Medal of Honor) I recognized none of the titles. There was a little boy in the same aisle also picking a game to play and I asked him what was cool nowadays. He said ''You'd probably like Medal of Honor. It's a World War II game.'' He seemed very proud of that fact, as if it made the game more intellectual. I asked, ''Is there anything more mellow out there. Anything more like Myst?'' The boy blinked a few times and said absently, ''never heard of that one.''
Puts things into perspective, doesn't it folks. Anyway, there have been many theories put forth as to why Riven killed the lifeblood of the Myst line. Some say that the new puzzles were too hard. Some say that the game was two short... or too long. Some surmise that it was the hype that did it in. And it could be any combination of these things. But what really hindered Riven (And subsequently wounded the Myst lineage forever) was the main factor that made the original so special, unique, and captivating, was absent from the sequal Thing is, Myst really was the first and last of its kind. There have been many Myst clones, not to mention two sequels, but never has there been anything that had what Myst had.
Then what was it exactly that Myst had?
It was it's total lack of context. The player was simply dropped into a strange world with absolutely no story or point of context to go on. Nothing but one's own curiosity and imagination. At first look, Myst appeared nothing more than a series of random scenes taken from one of Maxfield Parish's dreams- just add a few puzzles to them. There was no obvious objective from the start. It didn't even seem quite a game at all. (In fact, a friend of mine who falls into the ''Myst hater'' camp said, ''its not a game. It's just a lovely series of photographs.'' Devoid of human life, only fragmented letters and messages remained on the island of Myst. And then, slowly, a subtle story materialized as the gamer poked about, and a mystery unfolded. What was revealed was a parable about the conflict between a father and his two evil sons. NOTHING more. Everything else was left in lush shadow. The game didn't even end when you finished it. You could continue to explore though there was nothing left to do. And at the end, you still had only a glimmer of what Myst was all about. It left one intrigued and beguiled.
Shortly following the ensuing Myst-Mania after the initial game's release, those novels were written, fleshing in the story. And then Riven came out with a BIG story and a much bigger cast, thrusting the player into a conflict between a Megalomaniac and a full fledged rebellion. In effect, it was the exact opposite of what Myst had been. The subtle mystery had been replaced with just an overblown trite fantasy. And all that made Myst so special was therefore completely robbed from the sequel.
Good news folks, they've come closer to the feel of the original with Exile. There is no over-blown story, only a matching of wits pitting you against your enemy, who titters, twitches, and rails in insane angst with the best. Classic fans will feel right at home. The story that IS there is another mystery that is slowly revealed with the playing of the game. It is truly impossible to entirely capture the feel of the original, simply because ever since the first game, the player has some sort of context to think from, and therefore, the total seeming of randomness from Myst can never be re-attained. But, if you liked Myst and were disappointed with Riven you just might be pleasantly surprised with Exile. Of course, if you loved Riven, you still won't be disappointed with Exile. If you hated Myst, then you still won't like Exile.
It's a shame, you know? If Exile had been the sequal to Myst, I honestly think the series might have gone on successfully, and Riven may have worked better as a dramatic conclusion. But, as things are, Exile, like its two older siblings, will fade into obscurity. Unless, of course, they create something of a crescendo for the fourth game, if there ever is a fourth game. With how advanced gaming has become, no new gamers have much interest in ''point and click'' style adventure games. The creators will have to work very hard to make something in the spirit of Myst that will rival the other eye-popping games out on the market today. But I sincerely hope that they do. Not only because, ''hey, sweet, another Myst game!'' but because this story needs a happy ending in real life.
I've rambled enough. For fans of the original, Exile delivers because it contains good puzzles, and a story that explains itself without giving too much away.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 08/21/02, Updated 08/21/02
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