Riven: The Sequel to Myst

a game by Brøderbund
Platform: PC
Editor Rating: 7/10, based on 2 reviews
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Myst addicts finally get a fix after a four-year withdrawal from compelling puzzles and compulsive gameplay with Riven, its 5-disc sequel. Riven retains the ambience ot Myst, but new features, such as increased use of animation and live action footage, create even more believable environments. Does Riven exceed the expectations of the Myst faithful while offering an inviting experience to newbies? Yes!

On the Road Again

You are directed by Atrus (the key proponent in Myst) to journey to the island of Riven to rescue his wife, Catherine, who has been imprisoned by his evil father, Ghen. You must solve a multitude of in-depth puzzles, in various shapes and formats, to find Catherine before the island destroys itself.

All action is viewed from a first-person perspective in gorgeously rendered illustrations simulating 3D environments. You explore by pointing/clicking on various items in each scene. Riven is a sensory experience heavily dependent upon its very detailed graphics and sound effects. This is a game best enjoyed with the lights off and the speakers cranked up. Although mesmerizing, the static graphics and sporadic animation beg a true 3D environment given current programming technology.

Riven's Riveting

Riven is a submersive, intellectual gaming experience that soothes and frustrates at the same time. Trigger-happy gamers may find Riven monotonous for all its action is conveyed in the thrill of discovery and exploration. The pace is calm, the gameplay has no time restrictions, and you don't risk dying if you make the wrong move; these, however, don't detract from Riven's unique, well-crafted, engrossing gaming experience. For a change of pace from Doom-like PC entertainment, and for fans of the original, this is a game not to be missed.

Download Riven: The Sequel to Myst

PC

System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

Game Reviews

Overview

No game release has ever been more anticipated than that of Riven. Ever since Myst, the best-selling CD-ROM game of all time, was released in 1993, people have been yearning for a sequel. While a number of onlookers -- including many prominent game reviewers -- scoffed at Myst's success and could not comprehend its continued popularity, most of us waited for four long years to see what Cyan and Rand and Robyn Miller would produce for us this time. What many of us missed during that long wait has been a truly provocative story (do I really need to recite how many computer games revert to the "we-need-to-save-the-earth-from-aliens-threatening-our-very-existence" plotline?) set within a really captivating environment that is so engrossing that you simply do not want to leave to return to reality. Both Myst and Riven seem to me so much like reading a novel -- both made me think directly of Jules Verne's Mysterious Island -- and then actually becoming a character in the story. The immediate question is, has Riven lived up to its billing, or -- like so many other sequels -- does it fall flat? The answer is unqualified: Riven is a smash success.

One of the early signs of what makes Riven so special is that instead of beginning with a flashy whiz-bang introduction, the game begins with a man (Atrus) quietly talking to you, handing you a book, and asking you to undertake a mission for him. You just know you are in for something different, something more meaningful, something where the opportunities and obstacles are going to be more subtle and low-key than in most computer games one encounters today.

In Myst, your mission was to explore the island, discover its secrets, and free Atrus; in Riven, you explore five islands, ultimately trying to capture the evil Gehn and free Catherine from prison. In each case, the deeply textured plot unravels as you go along, revealing as many twists and turns as one of the winding paths you follow as you are traveling from place to place. This orientation stands in sharp contrast to the standard computer game backdrop where players have definitive information from the outset about goals, obstacles, and the environment in which they operate.

Gameplay

The controls in Riven are remarkably intuitive and straightforward, very much as they were in Myst. You simply use the mouse to go forward or turn left or right, and when there is an object to be manipulated the pointer changes from a directing finger to a grasping hand. You may load and save games at any point, and when you need to switch CDs (this is a 5-CD set) not only are you prompted, but your CD is automatically ejected (it was quite startling the first time this happened, as this is not typical of most other multiple-CD games).

Riven's puzzles, the feature that made its predecessor most famous, are generally quite intriguing and even more than Myst are extremely well integrated into the game (this tendency stands in refreshing contrast to games like Virgin's 7th Guest, where the puzzles have little to do with the plot of the game). Even better, most of the puzzles relate to each other, creating a really unified feeling when progressing through the game. Persistence and patience are more of what is needed than raw intelligence and ingenuity. Often, one has to experiment with the time sequence for undertaking a set of moves, and fortunately unlike some games of this type (such as SegaSoft's Space Bar) there is no time limit forcing you to move more quickly. Also, it is fortunate that the designers of Riven do not resort to tiny, nearly invisible objects that need to be manipulated (as was so annoying in Sierra's Lighthouse). But it is too bad that for a number of the puzzles you actually have to write a lot of things down, keeping track of sounds and a creative numbering system using base five (there might have been a more elegant computer-assisted way of saving such information).

Unlike the sterile Myst, where there seemed to be no livings things that moved around, Riven is filled with the movement of very strange creatures and humans alike. Each of these is intriguing both in stunning visual appearance and in unusual audio emissions. However, the interaction with these life forms is kept to a minimum. Thus most of the time you are engaged in solitary exploration rather than interaction with others, a feature I really like; any other approach would detract from the seductive Mystery of the game.

Graphics

Although the pre-release publicity for Riven had caused me not to expect much technological advancement here other than incredible detail, I was really overwhelmed by what I saw. True, there is the detail, which clearly surpasses any other computer game ever made. Every object has such fine features that even at point-blank range they look absolutely real. Like Myst, _Riven continues to rely mainly on a rapid succession of still shots when moving around rather than full-motion video; in the case of Riven, heavy reliance for movement on such video clearly would have reduced the detail and realism of the environment. Moreover, the scenes in the games are indescribably gorgeous, with many of the outdoor vistas looking like prize photographs of nature scenes. My very favorite scene, the view from Gehn's underwater Survey Room, simply blew me away. But what really took me by surprise in the game were the interspersed video segments, which are exceptionally well done and use state-of-the-art technology. Riding the tram from island to island is always exciting, but my favorite sequence is exploring underwater in an old-fashioned submarine: rather than simply using bubbles as the method of signaling an underwater environment as do so many other computer games, Riven displays a method of "rubberizing" the underwater view that was thrilling; indeed, the visual display of moving water in the game is both more realistic and more satisfying than anything I have seen anywhere else.

While Riven uses both Microsoft's DirectX and Apple's QuickTime to achieve its outstanding visual effects, it does not take special advantage of 3D accelerator cards. This omission is understandable given the emphasis on detail: while 3D acceleration eliminates blocky landscapes by blending colors appropriately, its detail level when one is close to viewed objects is quite limited. So I really feel the right choice was made here, given that this is not an action/arcade game, to make you feel like you are exploring a real-life environment.

Audio

When Myst first came out, one of the most startling features was its attention to sound effects, whose realism seemed so uncanny that you would just sit back in amazement. Well, Riven tops Myst in this category, with ambient sounds that are even more realistic and add even more to the enjoyment of the game. Even when pulling a switch or a knob, something you do countless times in the game, I always look forward to the carefully-chosen noise that accompanies the movement. The music in Riven is fine too, but it is overshadowed by the sound effects. One small disappointment I had here was the absence of volume control within the game: when you install Riven, you are instructed to test the sound levels with some audio samples, but if the volume needs adjustment you are asked to change your speaker settings rather than to use a within-game volume control. The problem here is that, just as Myst turned out to be louder than all my other games when I first installed it, Riven turned out to be softer than all the others, causing me to have to adjust the speaker volume every time I start and stop playing each of these two games.

System Requirements

The minimum system requirements for Riven are a 100 megahertz Pentium CPU, 16 MB RAM, 75 MB hard disk space, 4X CD-ROM drive, a video card and monitor supporting 16-bit color at 640 by 480 pixel resolution, a Windows compatible sound card and speakers, and the Windows 95 operating system. The game also runs on a PowerPC Macintosh under System 7.5. Given the sophistication of the game's video and audio components, we should be thankful that the system requirements are not a lot higher.

Documentation

The printed documentation for Riven is sparse, contained in a single jewel-case manual. Unlike Myst, there is no journal provided. While the simple interface of the game reduces the need for detailed printed instructions on how to navigate through it, one would have thought that there would be a summary of the storyline from Myst for those who never played it as well as some strategic suggestions for approaching Riven for those who have never encountered this kind of game before. Instead, one brief paragraph in the manual addresses both these important issues.

Bottom Line

Earlier this year in a review for GameFabrique, I raved about SegaSoft's Obsidian as being by far the best game in this category. Is Riven better than Obsidian? Well, it's a close race: While Obsidian still has the advantage in its subtle humor, its sophisticated counterculture social commentary, and its superb music by Thomas Dolby, Riven's graphics are more detailed and more beautiful, its story is far deeper and more absorbing, and its sound effects are more spectacular. To enjoy Riven, you need to be ready to immerse yourself totally in an atmosphere full of haunting beauty, mechanical devices, elevators, bridges and odd-shaped structures, and most of all non-linear ambiguity. The desire for quick results, immediate gratification and concrete positive feedback do not lend themselves well to this kind of gaming experience. Instead, a more relaxed and contemplative mode is needed. I really loved this game, even more than I enjoyed Myst, but I would advise adrenaline junkies to stay far, far away.

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