My wife and I are huge Myst fans: the first Myst game was responsible for our return to adventure gaming, and the next two Myst games just served to whet our appetite for more. When Uru was released, I was probably the first person in line to buy it, even with its high price tag. If you haven't figured it out by now, we really wanted to enjoy this game. Sadly, this was not to be...
With Uru, Cyan and Ubisoft have turned a magical experience into multiple evenings of annoyance and frustration; the worlds of Myst will never be the same. Read on, and I will describe what they have done...
Graphics (quality, animations, cut scenes)
The graphics are everything you would expect of a Myst game: lush, inventive, awe inspiring, and above all, beautiful. Although the 3D graphics aren't as good as fully prerendered 2D graphics, they are easily good enough to invoke the "wow" factor. It's only when you move up close to a wall or a rock that it becomes obvious that you are looking at a texture mapped over polygons.
One thing that Uru's 3D graphics give you is a very dynamic world—flying birds, moving shadows, rain, moving water, and so on.
Sound (music, voices, special effects)
The soundtrack for Uru was perfect. The music is exactly what you would expect from a Myst sound track: somewhat New Age in flavour, and perfectly suited to the game. The sound effects in the game were numerous and well done, and the voice acting was flawless.
Story (plot, theme, depth)
Unlike the previous Myst games, your actions don't really have much to do with advancing the story. Instead, the story has already happened in the past, and you are hunting through various worlds in order to uncover this past at the behest of your teacher, Yeesha. Instead of feeling like an adventurer, you feel more like a slow student, complete with lectures at the end of every world. There is a story in Uru, but it is cryptic and feels less involving than the previous games.
Controls (user interface)
The controls in Uru are frustrating and infuriating; they are much worse than other reviews had led me to expect, and I found myself muttering imprecations at them continuously throughout the game.
You get to switch between first- and third-person viewpoints with a single keypress, and it quickly becomes obvious that you can't choose just one viewpoint and stick with it throughout the game.
If you select third-person, your point of view is limited to about a ten degree angle of movement from where your character is currently looking. The only way to look around is by turning your character, which is a painfully slow and clumsy operation when using the mouse. Turning your character is faster and more accurate if you use the arrow keys, but you risk serious nausea when the camera goes whipping around. The problem becomes even worse in cramped areas, since the camera distance shifts in and out to keep it from being blocked by the surrounding objects. The end result could force trained astronauts to lose their lunch. Even if your stomach can stand the camera movement, the resulting view is so fragmented and jumpy that it was useless for gameplay.
First-person viewpoint works much better. Hold down the right mouse button and move the mouse to look around. Hold down the left mouse button and move the mouse to move from place to place. If you hold down both mouse buttons, you run instead of walk.
So why didn't I just use first person viewpoint all the time? Because you can't see your feet when using first person viewpoint, and this is required. There are quite a few puzzles in Uru that require running, jumping, running and jumping, pushing things around with your feet, and walking on very narrow pathways. These puzzles were impossible to get through without being able to see your feet, which required a switch to the detested third-person viewpoint.
Uru uses an auto-save mechanism, so you never had to manually save a game while playing. I will need to go into some detail about the game here in order to describe how the save mechanism worked (and how it was badly designed).
You have a home base called Relto, and a bookshelf there contains all of the linking books you have acquired up to that point. As you explore, you are required to find (and touch) seven objects in every age. As soon as you touch one of these objects, Uru will remember this for you, and you can link to this location from your home base. This means that each age had two locations into which you can link: the primary entry, and the last object you touched within that age.
Whenever you start the game, you will start on Relto. Whenever you do something that kills you, you will be immediately linked back to Relto. From there, you have your choice of linking locations.
One final note about the game mechanics—while linking from one place to another, you get to watch a black screen with a progress bar. On my machine, it took 15 to 30 seconds for the next location to be loaded into memory from my hard drive (Uru only accesses the CD when you first start the game).
Now, let me describe how this all works when actually
attempting to solve one of the jumping puzzles that could
- Try the jump and fail—automatically get linked back to Relto
- Watch progress bar for 30 seconds while Relto age loads
- Walk over to bookshelf in Relto and link back to age in question (either last touched object or primary entry).
- Watch progress bar for 30 seconds while the age loads
- Find my way from entry point in the age back to jump location
Sounds like fun, doesn't it? This was especially bad when there were several jumps in a row that had to be completed. You had to get them all right, without any option to save between them.
This entire system made for slow and painful gameplay. Some evenings I spent more time watching a progress bar than any other part of Uru.
Puzzles (difficulty, uniqueness, suitability, ugliness, linearity)
The puzzles were the worst part of Uru; because your character could run and jump, the developers decided that you must run and jump. Because you could push items around, then you must push items around. Because you could climb ledges, then you must climb ledges. I honestly felt like Cyan and Ubisoft had handed the game development over to the same group that wrote Mario Brothers for the Nintendo. I would have tried kicking a barrel to get a spinning coin, but my control system was too crippled to allow me to kick things.
Since this was a Myst game, I expected worlds filled with puzzles that taxed my brain. There were some of those, but they were outnumbered by the run, jump and search puzzles. Even then, there were brain puzzles that were so inconsistent with physics and thermodynamics that I never dreamt of the solution the developers had in mind. One exceptionally nasty puzzle forced me to go through hours of agony merely to obtain some illumination. It infuriated me to see a damned lantern that I couldn't pick up.
I have already talked about the objects you needed to touch in each age. Sometimes they were the reward for solving a puzzle, but in many places, they were merely hidden in hard-to-find (or reach) locations. I find little reward in being forced to look on top of every climbable ledge and behind every box. Find-the-hidden-item puzzles aren't much fun.
I found that I had to be careful about pushing buttons in this game. I would solve a puzzle, and after a door was opened, there would be a button on the other side. Pushing that button didn't just close the door, it forced you to link back and re-work the entire puzzle again to reopen the door. I have no idea why they did this, but part of the fun in Myst was pushing every button in sight. Uru actually penalizes you for doing this.
There were a few timed puzzles. The timing was generous, but the difficult controls made the problems harder to solve than expected.
In the previous Myst games, if you encounter a barrier, it meant that you haven't figured out the problem yet. In Uru, it might merely mean that you are expected to find some way to jump over the barrier.
Bugs or problems
The game to the desktop several times until I backed off on audio acceleration. It also appeared to play slower and slower after extended periods. Exiting and restarting the game got things back up to speed.
I had no problems. The game does have substantial disk requirements (2GB). It installs entirely to disk, though the CD must be in your drive to start the game.
- Beautiful (and inventive) graphics
- Great sound effects and voice acting
- Crippled controls
- Jumping puzzles everywhere
- Pushing things around with your feet
- Motion sickness could be a real problem with this game
- Wants as much power that you can give it (especially video card)
What stands out most in my mind after playing Uru is the jumping. The texture of Uru has moved away from the cerebral worlds of Myst, and into some sort of platform game. The worlds are just as beautiful, but how I think about them has been completely changed.
Uru could have been so much better. They could have provided cerebral puzzles as an alternative to jumping, or they could have even provided some type of auto-jump facility. Instead, I was repeatedly forced to make my character perform acrobatics, and then provided me with a crippled control system with which to work.
Cyan and Ubisoft have completely ruined the Myst experience for me. I won't be playing the online version of Uru, and unless things change, I won't be playing any future Myst games.
This article copyright © 2003, Murray Peterson