MYST by Broderbund

Reviewed by David Pipes

      System: IBM PC 
Requirements: '386DX/33 or better, '486 recommended, 4MB RAM, MS/PC-DOS
              5.0+, WINDOWS 3.1, SVGA (640x480x256), MPC Compliant sound
              card, Mouse, Hard Drive, CD-ROM Drive

   Tested on: '486/66 SLC2, ATI Ultra card, Sound Blaster Pro, Creative
              OmniCD (Matsushita 2x, approx. 320ms access)

     Summary: Myst is an excellent offering for those who like puzzle 
              games.  It's beautiful graphics and sound help to create 
              the illusion of several strange, eerie worlds.  A very 
              compelling game.

Myst. The name whispers of fog and obscurity, of mysteries not yet understood. It intrigues and draws one to the box, which contains a number of detailled screen shots. Should you purchase it, the box contains a CD- ROM - hardly unexpected - and a troubleshooting guide, as well as a parchment journal (for notes) and three hints, sealed in an envelope (sanitary for your protection, no doubt...). Hardly the makings of a world, or so I foolishly believed.

I will admit that Myst is my first extended contact with CD-ROMs and MPC. After the easy installation, which used a few megabytes on the hard drive (if that much), I clicked on the icon and started the game. That was the last time I thought about it as a game.

As the credits roll, a voice talks about losing a book, and a book falls through space. It lands open and with the questions ringing in your ears - the sound is extremely evocative - you see a picture on a page. A picture which moves...And as you click again, the picture expands and you are standing in it. Or, on it. A dock, with the wind hissing above you, the water splashing irregularly, a bird (or is it a small dragon?) flying in the distance. Before you lies an electrical-looking switch, of all things; a sunken sailing ship is in the water, there is an odd hill before you with *gears* on the top, and a forest nearby, with some buildings between.

As you move about - simply clicking the mouse in an area and watching the dissolve to a new scene - the sounds become appropriate to the new surrounding, while the views show your new location. Some things can be examined closely, but only if they are of interest. This may seem like a giveaway, but it is not. What is the obvious signifigance of a perfect model of the sunken ship, placed in a bird bath halfway across the island? Sure, it must be important - you can look at it! But that does not give away a whit of information, and it is this ability to both simplify and obscure which gives the world it's strongest illusions.

Everywhere I went, I felt that I was there. Beautifully detailled furnishings decorate lush, strangely disturb-ing buildings. Devices stand ready, with no apparent instructions. And yet a little thought and some logic reveals the purpose of many things, while the occasional written clue helps you along. You feel very alone, and at times, even scared, as if you were there, and did not know which way to turn next, or what results your actions would produce. I have had games make me nervous before - will I kill the wizard this time, or he me? - but I have never had a game affect me like, say, a Lovecraft story, where the slow accumulation of details leaves me as nervous as the characters after a time. Myst can do this to me.

The images are SVGA, and painstakingly constructed. The scenes are clear and beautiful, and strikingly detailed; all the more so because they are often bizarre, with weirdly intermixed elements worked in to the images. This is a dream which can alternate from beautiful to eerie and back with no effort, a waking dream. That perhaps describes the experience best - a waking dream.

As the player wanders, puzzles become apparent. None are presented obviously, but rather all are part of the environments. There is no Othello game hanging on the door to the secret chamber, nor are there codes scrawled on a mirror over a set of switches. Instead, there are machines, a generator, a planetarium, a massive clock, a rotating building whose functioning must be determined by observation and experimentation. This is the very essence of creative puzzle-solving. Myst avoids the usual candy-coated logic puzzles for much more interesting process puzzles. While there are some traditional puzzle forms present, even their form is strangely changed and imaginatively presented. And care seems to have been taken to enable color-blind or tone-deaf people to solve all the puzzles, even those with visual and sound elements.

Myst has a plot, but not a linear one. Any problem can be attacked in any order, with the caveat that most of the problems in a world must be solved to find the way back to the island. (There are several different worlds to visit, besides the island). Of course, it can be hard to tell which things relate to other things, but that is part of the attraction. And the plot is not fully obvious, even as it advances. Yet another way for Myst to shine.

I have not yet completed my journey, but I have spent many pleasurable hours wandering through the worlds, and even more contemplating this puzzle or that, and even remembering the places I've been. Myst has created a new world for me to escape to, and I gladly visit there, as I can. It is a truly unique game, and worth the recommendation of an instant purchase. Bear in mind that it can sometimes have a slow pace, and you won't go wrong. Just relax, and enjoy the visit. It is all too soon over.

This review is Copyright (C) 1994 by David Pipes for Game Bytes Magazine. All rights reserved.