URU: Ages Beyond Myst review

The Good:
  • Gorgeous graphics
  • Some great classic Myst puzzling in half of the offline game
The Bad:
  • A lot of jumping and action elements
  • No gameplay or direction apparent in the online version
  • Serious technical problems online
Our Verdict: Generally overpriced for the offline game, especially considering there's no actual game in the online "game."

[EDITORIAL COMMENT: Fifteen hours after we posted the following review on our site, Bill Slease, URU Director of Online Content for Cyan Worlds, posted this statement on the UbiSoft forums that the URU Live project was being shut down. We sympathize with the rest of the adventure game community at this loss and wish for a quick rebound and continued success for both Cyan and Ubi, two true legends in the adventure gaming industry. We have elected to let the review stand as it was originally written.]

Welcome back, Constant Reader, to the third and final chapter of my URU Diaries. “Wait!” I imagine some of you crying. “You promised us four parts in the series!” And those of you saying this would be correct. Part Three was originally supposed to chronicle my experiences in the post-Prologue game of URU Live. However, it now appears that this portion of the game, which was the original purpose of the entire project, won’t be ready for its grand opening and full-scale play anytime in the near future. In fact, the date given for the end of my Prologue subscription has changed from Feb. 4 to Dec 31. As a result, I am going ahead with the official, final Adventure Gamers review, based on URU as it exists now, right out of the box

Getting Primed

The standalone “offline” portion of URU (or “Prime,” as it is called by those in the know) is two-thirds of a pretty cool Myst game. Graphically, it is a wonder. While no real-time 3D graphics engine can match the breathtaking beauty and clarity of pre-rendered ray-traced graphics, Cyan has narrowed the gap considerably with URU. I’ve said it before, and I imagine I will be saying it for the next couple of years: This is the most gorgeous 3D game on the market. The Ages of Teledahn (the Mushroom Age) and Eder Kemo (the Garden Age) are particularly stunning, while Eder Gira (the Lava Age) has the kind of primitive, desolate beauty that appeals to those who thrill to documentaries about volcanoes and the formation of the Earth. Perhaps prettiest of all is Kadish Tolesa (the Tree Age), which, while semi-dark, is lit in a permanent blue-purple twilight that brings an otherworldly serenity to the environment. Only Gahreeson (the Prison Age) fails to live up to the incredibly high standards of the rest of URU. Most of this Age is set indoors in dingy rooms that all look basically alike. You do eventually make your way outdoors in Gahreeson, to find yourself on top of a rotating building looking out over a pretty-but-dull forest. If you are prone to motion sickness, this Age will have you gobbling Dramamine, as trying to walk straight toward a distant point while the floor and background spins around is certain to induce nausea among those who are prone to such. This aside, URU more than lives up to the graphic standards of its predecessors, even showing dramatic improvement over the 3D realMyst. The controls have a bit of a learning curve, but generally are smooth and workable regardless of whether you prefer a third- or first-person perspective and whether you prefer keyboard or mouse control.

The gameplay of URU Prime is a 50/50 good/bad split. Besides the aforementioned ages, there is the Cleft, your starting point in URU. Unlike other Myst games, this Age is located on Earth, in the remote New Mexico wilderness. Here the player is introduced to the basic elements of URU: puzzle solving, jumping and Journey Cloths. There are a couple of easy puzzles and a little bit of jumping to acclimate you to the controls. It is in this Age that you discover the true nature of URU – the game is an elaborate version of hide-and-seek. There are seven Journey Cloths hidden in each of the five Ages. The entire point of URU is to find and touch each Journey Cloth. Some gamers will rejoice at this concept, as it incorporates 3D into “puzzle” design more successfully than even the much-ballyhooed Broken Sword 3. You have to look up, down, and around on the back side of various environmental features to find the Journey Cloths. However, adventure purists may come away feeling that this primary component of URU isn’t “puzzling” at all. The fact that two of the Ages focus primarily on dexterity tests of running and jumping to obtain the elusive cloths just added to my frustration and sense that I wasn’t playing a Myst game or even an adventure game at all. Fortunately for all concerned, the Ages of Teledahn and Kadish Tolesa provide exactly the kind of brain-busting environment-manipulation puzzling that we have come to associate with the name Myst.

The storyline in URU is presented in much the same manner as the original Myst. While small bits of it are told to you “live” during the gameplay, the majority is contained in reading material. The “live” bits are monologues given to you by Yeesha, the daughter of Atrus and Katherine of the earlier games in the series. These lectures are mostly a cryptic and incomprehensible mishmash of historic references concerning the Bahros, a race of sub-human (or are they?) creatures discovered in one of the Ages created for an ancient D’ni king. A second storyline which is more relevant to the online game is revealed in a few of the dozen or so notebooks you will run across in the course of your explorations. If you are an “Avid” (i.e. someone who is as fanatical about Myst as some of us were about D&D twenty years ago) then these notebooks are a treasure trove of otherwise useless information. You can peruse book after book detailing the history of D’ni royalty, marriage customs, guilds, social structure and other such trivia. Though I can’t swear to it, I am guessing that much of this material came from a couple of the more prominent Myst fansites.

Overall, there is much to like and much to dislike in the standalone version of URU. It provides a variety of truly eye-popping worlds and a few great puzzle sequences combined with some very un-Myst-like run/jump platform gaming. The coma-inducing load times when “linking” between Ages become frustrating in the extreme… especially when you find that you must go through this annoyance twice every time you “die” from an unsuccessful jump. The lack of a save game feature just exacerbates this annoyance into a real design flaw. As a Myst game, URU succeeds to a limited degree. As an adventure game, the primary success lies in the innovative implementation of 3D technology into the game design.

But then there's URU Live...

Continued on the next page...

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