Myst (for PC)
Cyan created Myst 28 years ago, and since then the atmospheric puzzle game has gone on to become one of the most successful PC games of all time. While the game has been re-released with tweaks and updates and given funny names like "realMyst," this edition is intended to be so definitive that it is simply called "Myst," and it lives up to the consequently high expectations. The lush environments have never been so enticing to explore, and virtual reality (VR) offers a new way to soak yourself in the game's rich atmosphere. Available on numerous platforms and with a reasonable $29.99 sticker price, getting into Myst has never been easier, and the experience has never been better. In Case You Myst ItMyst originally debuted in 1993, sparking a cultural moment unusual for any video game, especially for a game like Myst. It didn't debut on a home console game system, but rather as one of the first CD-ROM games to hit the PC market. Myst shirked fast-paced action, and instead encouraged you to explore its world at your own pace by removing time limits, enemies, player death, and combat. Although it was little more than static images navigated by pointing and clicking, it nonetheless captured the imagination of millions of players. Even PCMag was enamored with its 1994 release for Windows. In the intervening decades, developer Cyan revamped the graphics and game engine to make Myst more accessible. realMyst: Masterpiece Edition, which I reviewed on the Nintendo Switch, lets you freely roam around instead of clicking through still images. Last year, a totally revamped Myst made its VR debut on the Oculus Quest, but the promise of a higher-quality release for PC was still dangling. It's important to understand that all of these games, and the one reviewed here, are functionally identical to the original 1993 Myst. The platform and visuals might change, but the locations, puzzles, and story are the same. There are sequels to Myst, but these aren't them. Open the BookMyst opens with you materializing on the dock of the titular Myst island. Immediately, the mysterious whimsy of this place is on display. Ahead of you is an enormous gear, and to your right a half-submerged sailing ship. Exploring the rest of the small island reveals more strange monuments and eventually portals in the form of books to four other worlds called Ages. Along the way, you learn about the former inhabitants of the island and the deadly, family plot that ensnared them all. While the game's story is key to its final conundrum, the puzzles and fantastical locales are the real draw. In each Age, you must find red or blue pages ripped from magical books and return to Myst island. Your path is often barred by puzzles in the form of complex contraptions. To move forward, you must open audio locks, ride elevators, and navigate an underwater roller-coaster maze in a golden submarine—among other challenges. While Myst sometimes gets pigeonholed as edutainment, solving these puzzles takes only patience and experimentation. This game isn't interested in teaching you math or state capitals.The game's morals about colonialist exploitation are mostly skin deep, but underneath Myst is very much a work in conversation with itself. The game's creators, brothers Rand and Robyn Miller, play the roles of the two murderous brothers Achenar and Sirrus in the game. Their father Atrus (Rand, doing double duty), a godlike figure who literally wrote Myst and the other Ages into being with words in books, touches on the responsibility and consequences of creating art. This key conceit of Myst—that magical books transport you literally to the worlds they contain—echoes the game itself as well as the Hypercard engine that underpinned the original Myst. Some of the details have changed (it's Unreal not Hypercard that makes this Myst tick), but the ideas the game plays with are still powerful. It still makes you think about more than just puzzles.(Virtually) Entering MystA lot of buzz around the original Myst centered on the technical sophistication of its graphics. With virtual reality, Myst regains that magical quality. The visual design is nearly identical to the Quest game but that's not to say if you've seen one you've seen them all; where the Quest was streamlined for that platform's limited capabilities, this one sees dramatic improvements to textures and lighting. If the Quest Myst is a sketch, this Myst is a Rembrandt. This was Myst as I had hoped to experience it. I was stunned as soon as the game loaded up on the Valve Index VR headset I used, and stood dazzled on the dock of Myst island. The island felt more alive than it ever has; water rolled and rocked to my right, and birds wheeled overhead. Swaying grasses and little flowers huddle underneath enormous trees, while crumbling stones hug the mountainside.I marveled at the sparkling blue cave within the fore-chamber and felt compelled to bend over to inspect a particularly interesting rock. I actually gasped at the whorls of the wood grain in the library. The quiet, windswept melancholy of the Selenitic Age made me a bit giddy, particularly as I descended an especially long ladder into a cave. Myst has always rewarded exploration, and in such a lushly detailed world even longtime fans will find plenty to investigate.While the visuals are the main thrust of the game, the VR experience is also a treat for your ears. Ambient sound effects like burbling water and chirping insects complete a truly cinematic experience. Robyn Miller's original soundtrack still slaps, too. I'm quite sensitive to motion sickness, so I was happy to see that the comfort settings Cyan included in the Quest version of the game appear in this one, as well. You can freely roam with the analog sticks, but I prefer Teleportation mode, where holding the analog stick forward summons a pointer you can use to select a spot to warp to. You can even roll the analog stick to determine which direction you'll face. It feels surprisingly natural, although not as tight as it did on the Quest. You can play the game sitting down quite well, but I enjoyed the freedom of leaning over a virtual railing to admire the rolling waves underneath. If you prefer free roaming, I highly recommend standing up and starting slow.Even with this significant graphical upgrade, Myst still has some low-res moments. Objects still emerge and submerge from water with underwhelming flatness. Occasionally, tree limbs float disconnected from their trunks. You really have to look for these letdowns, though.Not Your Daddy's MystTo adapt the game for VR, Cyan made environment tweaks so they'd be easier to interact with. The paintings in Myst's library, for example, now have switches and dials. Pedants might feel that these additions give away their function too easily, but I have no such complaints. The elements blend into the reimagined game and feel more solid and reliable than the same features did with the Quest. The left side shows the restored FMV performance; the right side shows the new CG model.The Quest version of Myst let go of the iconic, full-motion video (FMV) performances from 1993 in favor of CG simulacra, but with the same audio as the original Myst. So did this version, until Cyan wisely patched them back in after launch. By default, the game uses the CG models. These are fine, but lack the charm and strangeness of real actors colliding with a digital experience. The FMVs are wonderfully restored, although a little harder to see than the boldly colored CG versions. Even when you select the classic videos, some portions of the game use the new models since you always retain freedom of movement and the FMVs are, definitionally, two-dimensional. I'd give up movement in a small part of the game for the complete experience, but that's a quibble. It's wonderful to have the choice between CG and FMV performances.An integrated photo tool helps keep your head in the game by letting you capture in-game images with a few clicks. I'm not sure this will fully replace taking notes with pen and paper, but this feature is an especially welcome addition in VR where you'd have to take off the headset to take notes. Myst also boasts excellent subtitles along with situational labels for key sound effects. This is really helpful for accessibility, as so many of Myst's puzzles rely on audio queues. Not everything works perfectly with VR, however. Myst uses books and notes to help tell its story, plus kick off some of its puzzles. Holding and paging through a VR book feels quite natural, but it's a little tiring. One excellent element from realMyst: Masterpiece Edition on the Switch was an integrated hint menu. These surprisingly entertaining tidbits were fun to read on their own, and were gradually more specific, so you could get a nudge without simply being given the answer. The Room: A Dark Matter did an excellent job of integrating a hint menu into VR. Sadly, this is not present in this version of Myst. Also missing from this Myst is Rime, an Age that was added with the release of realMyst in 2000. I'd like to see it added at some point, but it's no great loss.Flat, But Still FunAfter my all-too-brief time with Myst in VR, I played through the entire game on a regular screen with a mouse and keyboard. While I missed the spectacle of being fully immersed in Myst, the game is still arresting on a regular screen.One thing I more easily appreciated without VR was how improved graphics help bolster the game's atmosphere with, well, literal atmosphere. Each location has its own distinctive look and light, from the heavy, damp air of Channelwood, to the warm, comforting glow of Myst island. Experienced players, especially, will revel in these small details. The foggy, flooded forest of Channelwood bloom with tiny aquatic plants and even the occasional frog. Meteors streak across the sky of the ruined Selenitic Age. In Stoneship, schools of fish make underwater views all the more engrossing. I felt an urge to rush through the game while playing with a traditional keyboard and mouse. Puzzle randomization will slow down people already familiar with Myst, but this only changes some of the details and not the structure of the puzzles. The answers may be different, but knowing how and where to find them will still work. I didn't test puzzle randomization, but with my rough knowledge of the game, I finished it in about six hours.Can Your Machine Run Myst or Myst VR?Developer Cyan has taken care to bring this Myst to numerous platforms and devices. It's available in the usual places: Steam, the Epic Games Store, and GOG, but also in the Mac App Store, the Microsoft Store on Windows, and the Xbox Games Store (where it's notably included with Game Pass). Switch players must content themselves with the older and less-impressive realMyst: Masterpiece Edition. Oculus users should be careful not to confuse this game with the Quest version in the Oculus store.In my testing, I played through Myst on a Dell XPS 17 9710. This large laptop features a 2.3Ghz 11th Gen Intel Core i7-11800H CPU, 32GB of RAM, and a Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Laptop GPU. I found the experience smooth, even at the highest graphical settings and with ray tracing enabled. For VR testing, I used a Valve Index VR headset connected to a custom gaming PC with a 3.6GHz Intel Core i7-9700K CPU, 16GB RAM, and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 GPU. Myst can be played in VR using the aforementioned Index, as well as the HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift, and Oculus Rift S. Cyan says you can play this high-end version of Myst on Oculus Quest devices using an Oculus Link.For a Windows machine, developer Cyan recommends at minimum an Intel i3-6100 or AMD Ryzen 3 1200 FX4350, an Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti or AMD Radeon RX 570 GPU, and 8GB of RAM. The game runs on Windows 10. For macOS, Cyan suggests a minimum Quad core Intel or Apple M1 processor; an Apple, AMD, or Intel GPU; and 8GB of RAM. Note that Myst requires at least macOS 11.5.2 to run.I started testing Myst with a prerelease build provided by Cyan and I found a few graphical and usability issues. All were quickly addressed by Cyan with post-launch patches. The developer also curates useful information on its Steam community page. For instance, the game's menu refused to appear in VR, but adjusting the refresh rate as advised by Cyan solved the problem.Ages of WonderI had never played a Myst game until quarantine began, and quickly devoured the franchise in short order. Since then, I've reviewed three different versions of Myst and can say with certainty that this one is the best way to experience the game today. Despite the dramatic face-lift, it doesn't lose the strangeness that has made it a classic. The FMV restoration makes this game all the better, preserving one of the game's unique facets for modern players.Myst is extremely accessible to the modern player, and it dazzles in VR. Whether you've never played the game, or could solve its puzzles with your eyes closed, Myst is ready to delight you. It's an Editors' Choice pick for point-and-click adventure games.For more Steam game reviews and previews, check out PCMag's Steam Curator page. And for in-depth video game talk, visit PCMag's Pop-Off YouTube channel.
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