It’s one of the first ever PC titles to be classed as a best seller, and there have been many games in the series, but oddly it has been a while since a good Myst game appeared. Thankfully, though, Uru: Ages Beyond Myst is one of them, especially during a time where exploration games are not particularly popular. However, its arrival will be a breath of fresh air for some gamers, but somewhat boring for others. Whichever way you look at, though, it’s still an industry plus to have a high quality exploration game with awesome graphics and sound coupled to an extremely good storyline – and nowadays not many games can boast that.
This is certainly the game’s most obvious strongpoint, unsurprisingly so considering that Myst games have always been well known for their beautiful graphics. Actually, for the most part, Myst games have been purely visual adventures; almost like playing through a painting. In any exploration game, graphics definitely play an integral part and therefore more work is dedicated to this artistic department. Ages Beyond Myst is visually more stunning when played through the first-person viewpoint because of your character’s proximity to things where you can detect the intricate details and textures. Although, that said, the third-person view gives you a good look at your avatar and the immediate surroundings (which are lavishly rendered too). There aren’t many options for customizing your avatar, but the design is nevertheless awesome; the one I made scares the hell out of me – because of the resemblance to myself! As you explore through initially strange worlds, they slowly become more welcoming because they’ve been produced with such amazing attention to detail that you may think they exist. That’s a great achievement for a video game. And, like in the movies, when you make the audience believe in what they see, then they’ll be thoroughly absorbed by the story and almost anything else you throw into the mix – no matter how weird or alien it seems. There’s a considerable amount of imagination involved in the development of Ages Beyond Myst; the art design for the game is especially outstanding, and graphically it’s truly a modern work of art. There aren’t many games currently available that can proudly glean those types of credentials. Most games today look to realistic graphics for aesthetic power, and while there is nothing wrong with that approach, imaginative and innovative visuals are all the more wondrous because of it.
The game world in Ages Beyond Myst is very much alive, and not only thanks to the gorgeous graphics, but also through its immersive and involving sound. Even at the outset of the game you gather a great taste of the sound. Running through the desert you can hear the relentless pound of your footfalls across the barren terrain, and you can discern the rumble of the dirt against your shoes. And try switching between the first and third-person perspectives; you will discover that sounds feel noticeably closer and clearer in first-person. The same principle applies to where you are located and oriented. The game world pulses amid a torrent of common sounds, industrial sounds, and even bizarre, otherworldly sounds, too. They are all realized in a wonderful and, more importantly, believable way. Take the Mushroom Age, for example, once you get that sail going you will hear the clanks of the metal; get the drills going and you will hear the whole machinery functioning perfectly and sounding much like a real factory – although it is a primitive technology. Unfortunately, the aural mastery is somewhat tainted by the voice acting production (even though there isn’t much of it), because the vocal levels seem to have been recorded in too low a range. You can always decrease the volume options for music and sound effects in order to hear dialog better, but it’s frustrating that you need to. It’s even more annoying that, hopeless sound levels aside, the vocal performances are all extremely well delivered. The in-game music is right up there with the sounds when it comes to quality; it sets just the appropriate mood for hours of exploration, which is something you will do a great deal of during the game. The sounds in Ages Beyond Myst also play a considerable part in the gameplay; the tiniest of subtle details in the sound (or the graphics, for that matter) can often provide you with a valuable hint or even help you to solve a perplexing puzzle.
In terms of gameplay, Ages Beyond Myst doesn’t exactly excel. And, sadly, it’s the game’s weakest department. The new third-person viewing perspective is totally confusing sometimes; and often it’s used for little more than admiring the luscious surroundings. In most cases, the classic first-person view is the more preferable and advantageous option, but even then the gameplay is still kind of awkward. In this age of silky smooth movement and fluid action, Ages Beyond Myst finds itself lacking, but its failings won’t detract too much from the overall experience. Sometimes, though, you won’t over concern yourself if the character doesn’t respond perfectly to your direction, or fails to move as smoothly as perhaps you’d like. And why? Because this is a game reliant on cerebral fortitude – there isn’t much to worry about when it comes to your expertise with the controller. Though there really is little excuse for deficient control mechanics. The on-screen circle reticule that appears when you’re in a position to use or select items and perform actions can often be a source of great confusion. Never more so than when you can’t interact with an object because you’re not standing the exact required distance from it. And, of course, the reticule won’t appear until you are positioned perfectly. Subsequently you repeatedly waste valuable time as you tirelessly maneuver your character in search of the correct angle and distance to any given object. Yes, indeed, gameplay could have been a little better by investing more effort into the development and execution of the game’s third-person camera perspective.
For this type of game to be truly enjoyable, players need to be genuinely challenged through the puzzles. This is where the fun is to be found – not through the game’s action pieces or your shooting abilities. And, when it comes to puzzles, Ages Beyond Myst shines brightly. Its puzzles aren’t what you’d typically expect because, most of the time, they are entirely based around a fictional ancient technology that is completely dissimilar from our own. It’s not merely flicking a clich?d switch, or pulling on the proverbial lever, but rather some other diverse mechanisms that require you to consult your journal in the hopes of uncovering relevant knowledge. Note: It’s always wise to collect and collate information as you travel through the game; sometimes it’s the difference between solving puzzles through wisdom or chance. On some puzzles you can spend literally hours trying to unravel them – some of them are extraordinarily hard to solve. A word to the daring: the puzzles in Ages Beyond Myst are not obvious, two dimensional, literal and straightforward challenges like you’d expect to find in other games. Knowledge is the key. Each of the game’s Ages offers a different technology and therefore the types of puzzles you face alters in direct relationship to the evolutionary change. You’ll need a keen eye to capture all the details, and you’ll need to think (more than) a little to solve the puzzles. That keen eye will also help you find the Journey Cloths on each Age; usually, when a puzzle is solved, a Journey Cloth will be nearby and easy to find. Don’t despair, at times you will feel rather stupid, but just endeavor to be both observant and mindful, and the answers will (hopefully) reveal themselves to you.
It’s worth mentioning the storyline because, in today’s games industry, it’s fast becoming a scarce commodity. Many developers are opting for the fast buck, Hollywood-esque approach of producing high quality aesthetic games?but foregoing any tangible effort in the story dept. Thankfully, though, there are exceptions to this worrying trend, and Uru: Ages Beyond Myst, is certainly one of them. It’s a game with a storyline that has ramifications and intricacies but without being utterly perplexing through its own depth. But don’t be fooled, it will require your complete attention if you hope to follow the story – and it is big! This is not your generic ?rescue the princess and be a huge hero’ type of story, and don’t try too hard to absorb everything, because you’ll go crazy. Ages Beyond Myst finds itself grinning somewhere between a crazy artsy storyline and a science fiction plot. The best way to sink into its story is to simply allow yourself to enjoy through belief.
So, does this new Myst game live up to the hype of all those hours of exploration, and engaging adventures? It does indeed. It is a truly beautiful game, and one that exists in a genre that is not the most popular choice nowadays – first-person shooters have all but wrestled the mantle away from Myst-type games. Myst was once not only popular but also the best selling game of all time. Today it’s harder for this type of game to steal some limelight and reclaim some of its lost territory, but thank God someone still has the courage to make high quality and imaginative games like this. It is sad that the Uru Live experiment didn’t evolve into a reality; it could have been something special. However, missed opportunities aside the single-player adventure is still very much worth buying the game for. And after you’ve played it, you too will be sad that there isn’t an accompanying multiplayer on-line experience. Maybe the next time we immerse ourselves in the beautiful and engaging worlds created for Uru, we’ll be exploring and enjoying and battling and solving?with friends.