Review by MacDevil18

"Pretty, but it doesn't feel like a Myst game."

After completing Myst IV: Revelation, I immediately went out and got Myst V: End of Ages, hoping for a spectacular finale to the series. Unfortunately, I found this game to be a disappointment when compared to the last game.

Let's start with some background. After letting Myst III be developed by Presto, and Myst IV by Ubisoft, Cyan Worlds, the team behind the original Myst and its sequel, Riven, decided to develop Myst V themselves. Unfortunately, Matel, the game's producer, only gave the team about a year to complete the project (Riven was developed over 4 years, to give some comparison). And it really does show. It's not so much that End of Ages is a bad game. It simply does not come close to measuring up when compared to its predecessors. Here is a breakdown:

Graphics: 7/10

Unlike all previous Myst games (with the exception of the remake realMyst, and Uru, which doesn't count), Myst V's worlds are rendered in real-time 3D. This allows the player to explore virtually ever square inch of the ages in the game. While some might see this as a great new feature, I feel that it comes at too high a cost. Gone are many of the effects that made the ages of Revelation feel so real. There are almost no trees, and the few there are don't move. There are a handful of animals, but they move in predetermined lines or circles, and they seem to be an afterthought, stuck in at the last second. In one age, the birds do not even move. Clouds do move, but very, very slowly.

Another aspect that needs to be mentioned is the people. All previous Myst games have used real actors superimposed on the prerendered scenes to great effect. You felt like you were in real worlds inhabited by real people (though you didn't ever see them much). In End of Ages, all the people are textures placed on motion capture bodies. While sometimes this works ok, there are many instances when the characters move in ways that seem completely unnatural. This contributes to the feeling that you are viewing computer generated environments rather than exploring real worlds.

Perhaps the only aspect of the graphics that comes close to Revelation is the water. The water effects are decent, though in one age the water looks more like plastic. Unlike previous games, you can walk in the water, but when you do you never disturb it for some reason. Similarly, you never make footprints in sand or snow. This really irritates me for some reason. It's one of those little things that would make the game seem more real. The only thing that saves the graphics for me is the fact that, for real-time 3D graphics, they are top notch.

Sound: 5/10

The sound was disappointing. Though, there isn't much of it to begin with. Unlike with Myst IV, you don't ever hear your footsteps on any kind of surface. Similarly, you can no longer tap on (or interact with in any way) any object that is not a puzzle. While these things aren't essential to the game, their absence does reinforce the feeling that you are walking around in computer generated worlds, instead of real places. The puzzles do have related sounds that are appropriate. But there are so few puzzles that this isn't any great accomplishment.

The music is similarly uninspired. Tim Larkin, the resident composer for Cyan, took over from Jack Wall for this installment. The music isn't bad, just very repetitive. Many of the pieces sound the same (a bunch seem to sound like Saavedro's theme from Exile). A few pieces were ok, but none of it was really special. I wonder if Larkin was as rushed with the music as Cyan was with the game.

What really killed the sound for me was the voice acting. In a word it was bad. Like with Revelation, the characters voices are heard reading their journals aloud (though unlike Myst IV, there is no explanation as to why you can magically hear their voices). The characters (well Yeesha really) are so melodramatic that reading is almost a chore, especially since you can't turn the voice off. After a while I would stop listening to what was being said, as it rarely proved to be important.

Gameplay: 4/10

The Myst series has been made up of games where you solve varied and complex puzzles in fantastical, yet realistic, worlds. There are few people to interact with, and puzzles are solved through logical deduction. To see why Myst V doesn't does not fit the series, several aspects of the gameplay have to be examined.

The story is the first thing that seems odd. It isn't the Myst story. The only character from any of the previous games is Yeesha, though she is so different from Revelation that she doesn't really count in my mind. The story instead revolves around a tablet, which has the power to restore the lost D'ni civilization. This, I have since found out, is a continuation of the story of Uru, which I have never played. That turned out to be my loss, as End of Ages apparently relies on a TON of back story from Uru. And, unlike previous Myst games, there is very little information on that back story provided to you in the game. There is virtually no explanation of what the Bahro (strange creatures that can be controlled with the tablets) are, where they came from, or what their relationship is with the D'ni. You never learn how Escher (a mysterious man you meet in the game) can just appear and disappear at will.

The tablets are another major source of irritation for me. The one innovative feature of Myst V was its inclusion of the tablet system. The game allows you to draw images on the tablets you will find throughout the game. Certain images will make the Bahro do certain things, such as change the weather. While this addition seems cool at first, the designers pretty much killed any positive contribution it makes to the gameplay by making almost every puzzle revolve around the tablets. In Myst games, you often solve puzzles by figuring out how something works (usually a machine). This has not changed with Myst V. But, by making almost every puzzle revolve around the tablet, the puzzles all become the same and fairly simple once you figure out how to work the tablet. And the overall goal for each age is the same: get the tablet from point A to point B. Not much variety.

The ages in which these puzzles are found are very empty. There is really nothing in them except the puzzles. You never get the sense that anyone might have lived there. The few unrelated items you come across cannot be interacted with in any way. In fact, unless something is involved with a puzzle, all you can do is look at it. This makes it very easy to see what is a puzzle and what is not. And the ages are all very small as well. The length of the game certainly left something to be desired.

End of Ages does keep some of the successful gameplay features of its predecessors. The first is the control scheme. Since the graphics are rendered in real-time, the game can offer you variety of control schemes. You can choose from the classic click-to-move scheme (Myst, Riven), where the game is a series of unmoving frames. Or, you can chose the classic advanced mode, where you move node to node by clicking, but can look around freely within each node (Exile, Revelation). Or, you can use the advanced mode, which is like a first-person shooter.

The camera and journal are also included in this game. End of Ages even innovates by making each picture function as a game save. The only downside is that you can no longer zoom in on pictures in your journal. You also get a journal where a transcript of everything characters say to you is written down.

All in all, it just doesn't feel like a Myst game. You cannot interact with the vast majority of the game. The worlds, though pretty, feel very empty and contrived. The puzzles are similar, repetitive, and fairly simple. And whoever took all the linking books, could you please return them? Linking, in this game, with the exception of one age, takes place by touching stone pedestals inside magical soap bubbles. And after beating the game, even after Atrus' speech, I was still so clueless as to what was going on that I didn't really feel I had accomplished something. Put another way, I solved the puzzles but didn't really know why I was solving them. I've never solved a puzzle in another Myst game without at least the overall goal in mind.

Replayability: 0/10

This game is short and not particularly interesting. I can't really imagine why you would play it again.

Overall: 5/10

Certainly a disappointment after Revelation. An ok game if you want to see the end of the Myst saga. Though, the story is so unrelated to the previous installments that I don't really see this as any more of a finale than was the ending of Revelation. For someone who has loved the Myst series, it is a shame the last installment is such a dud.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 07/26/06

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