Game

Review: Myst Enters the Age of Virtual Reality

Screenshot: Myst

The Quest 2 continues to impress me, so much so that it’s become the virtual reality headset that I use the most. It doesn’t outperform my Valve Index, but its mobility makes it convenient in a way that the Index can’t touch.  It isn’t a graphical powerhouse, but it gets the job done. It’s the perfect fit for puzzle games, like The Room VR:  A Dark Matter and now Myst. I always thought Myst would be a good fit for virtual reality.

Myst is an adventure puzzle game that doesn’t really need an introduction—it’s one of the original classics. I have nostalgic memories of trying to figure out Myst’s cryptic puzzles at a very young age, but I never got too far in the classic version of the game. In Myst you play as a traveler who stumbles across the Myst book, and after reading it, find yourself on a mysterious island full of cryptic puzzles controlling strange mechanisms. Nothing is explained outright—it’s all about exploration and discovery.

Screenshot: Myst

Myst has been completely rebuilt for VR. I thought I would be playing the real Myst version updated for virtual reality, but that’s not the case. That means visually, things look different. Gone are the FMV shots of actors, replaced with new 3D models—which is a shame, since it loses a tiny bit of charm. I’m pretty sure they kept the same voice acting, though, so it retains some of the original’s cheesy line reads. If you’ve played Myst before in any of its forms, you’ll feel at home here. Locations and puzzles work mostly you would expect, and the sound effects and music remain intact.

There are some slight differences between Myst VR and its other versions. First of all, when starting a new game, you have the option to randomize puzzles. This allows Myst to be a somewhat refreshing experience—if you’ve played through Myst countless times, the randomization will change certain aspects of the game to make them unpredictable. Outside of puzzle randomization, there have been other changes. Some puzzles are tweaked (presumably) to be a little easier in VR. Some items that you have to interact with have been raised to be above waist levels—something I very much appreciate, especially due to the lack of any sort of distance grabbing. Most VR games implement a sort of telekinesis to alleviate some of the bending and reaching required to grab objects, but that’s not present in Myst. With the puzzles reconfigured for virtual reality, though, I never felt like such a feature was necessary.

 

What I did find necessary was some method of note taking. Myst doesn’t hold your hand at any point. It doesn’t really even make it clear when you’re correctly solving a puzzle until the solution is working. I found myself taking off my Quest 2 a few times to take notes of numbers and other information that would otherwise leave my brain almost immediately. It would have been fantastic to have some sort of virtual notepad to jot down ideas, but alas, it is not so. Then again, reading those notes back might be a bit of an issue on Quest 2.

While Myst, graphically, holds up alright, it’s also its weakest feature. Open areas are covered in a fog, which is unsurprising and not as extreme as I thought it would be. The most egregious graphical issue is the readability of text. It doesn’t come up often in Myst, but the few hand written notes that I’ve come across are horribly pixelated, and surprisingly hard to read.  Myst runs well on the Quest 2, however, and is a comfortable VR experience. I mostly used teleportation to get around, but smooth movement is also available for those who aren’t as susceptible to motion sickness in VR as I am.

If you know nothing about Myst going in, you might be confused what’s happening in its story. It’s purposefully enigmatic with little introduction. Even as you move through the different areas (called Ages) and you unlock more books, the story is a little slippery. The gist of it is this: there are two sons, Sirrus and Archeron, both trapped in books. You have to scour the Ages of Myst to recover the proper pages for each book. As you do this, the brothers’ motivations and personalities are revealed, and you can learn more about what happened to get them trapped there. I don’t want to spoil anything for this 27 year old game, because this VR version is a possible new point of entry to those who haven’t played Myst and its many sequels. There is not really any character interaction, though—dealing with the few characters that make up Myst is akin to watching a video and making a decision afterwards.

The type of puzzles you’ll encounter in Myst are varied, and interesting. There’s a reason Myst was popular back in 1993 and remains so to this day. For me, as I found myself stuck in Myst, right before giving up I would find a new clue or interaction that would drive me to continue forward. Some puzzles can be figured out with few other clues, but most of the puzzles are sprawling, with some requiring interaction with other puzzles or objects that are far away to solve.  Myst is a casual game without any enemies or time pressure, but there are a few times where timing is required to successfully solve a puzzle.

With a few tweaks, the puzzles work great in virtual reality. There aren’t as many objects to interact with as you might find in other similar VR games, but that’s just a byproduct of its age. The new puzzles do take advantage of your ability to grab objects, twist knobs, press buttons and pull levels—something you could only do with mouse clicks until now.The new way of solving old puzzles in Myst is fun, but some of Myst’s larger puzzles felt a little tiresome in VR. Redirecting the long water pipes in the Channelwood Age, for instance, felt more tedious than it used to, and all of the twisting even made me a bit motion sick—the only time it was an issue I was while playing. While I found that playing while standing felt the most natural, Myst is completely able to be played while sitting—especially if you’re patient with movement and positioning, so you can get yourself within reach of some of the puzzle elements.

Myst has come into a new Age—virtual reality—and it’s a pretty good fit. It’s graphically acceptable, except for the hard-to-read text. The puzzles are classics, and with a few tweaks work well in VR. Being able to interact with objects added a tactile element to Myst that really ups the immersion—a real treat for long-time fans of this classic series. If you love puzzle games, I definitely recommend this—and if you’re a long-time fan of the Myst franchise, this is the closest you’ll come to stepping into one of Atrus’ books.

 

Myst is available tomorrow on Oculus Quest 2, and will be coming soon to SteamVR.

 

 

 

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