realMyst: Masterpiece Edition review
Myst was the first computer game I played, back in 1994. I was captivated from the start. I found myself alone on an island with a sunken ship at the dock. Walking about, I discovered a planetarium next to a giant gear, a rocket perched on a stone platform, and a log cabin hidden in the trees. A Greek temple-style building turned out to be a library and contained works by a man named Atrus, an inventor who seemed able to “write” new worlds into being.
Other books opened, revealing the faces of strangers. They spoke to me, their words obscured and disturbing. Realization dawned (once I started solving the game’s puzzles) that I could visit those worlds – called Ages – described in the books. Perhaps I could discover why Myst Island was abandoned and deduce how I had ended up there in the first place.
Since then, I’ve played each game in the Myst series soon after its release. The most recent, the realMyst: Masterpiece Edition by Cyan Worlds, was produced in conjunction with the game’s 20th anniversary. It is a reworking of realMyst, released in 2000, which was itself a 3D remake of the original game.
Sunrise over Myst Island – Original realMyst (L), Masterpiece Edition (R)
Upgraded to work with current operating systems, the Masterpiece Edition contains elaborate graphical enhancements and player-friendly interface updates. It offers a choice between two first-person gaming modes: Classic Myst (point-and-click) or Free Roam (using the mouse and keyboard). For the first time, players who feel so inclined can explore Myst in 3D while moving about using a traditional interface.
The story and characters are identical to those in the original. The mystery deepens with each Age visited, and the personalities of Sirrus and Achenar – the young men who speak to you out of the books – gradually emerge as you visit the rooms they have crafted in various locations. Atrus remains a shadowy figure. Something horrible is impending, but he seems unable to stop it, offering only urgent, cryptic warnings.
Myst’s puzzles are embedded into the environments and often involve the manipulation of visual and auditory symbols. They are logical, but range from tricky to dastardly. The puzzles in the Masterpiece Edition are unchanged from those in the original. However, the challenge can be eased with a helpful graduated hint system and optional arrows to assist with the interactive gadgets. The sole remaining potential showstopper is the rocket ship organ puzzle, which still requires the ability to distinguish between close musical tones.
A treetop vista above Channelwood’s walkways – Original realMyst (L), Masterpiece Edition (R)
Though the interface and hint system are significant improvements, it’s the graphical upgrades that make this version of realMyst worth even a second (or third) look. Retaining the original architectural structures, the newer edition features abundant foliage, more lifelike animations, and higher resolution, jaw-dropping panoramas.
For instance, in the previous versions, most of the trees lacked lower branches and the terrain was made of grass, sand or rock, creating a surreal, minimalist atmosphere. In the Masterpiece Edition, the foliage and ground cover have been transformed, adding ornamental plants and stocking the swamp areas with sword-leaved flora, ferns and water lilies. Tree branches reach closer to the ground, while on Myst Island, shrubs and small pine trees fill areas that once were barren. One quibble here: individual leaves have less detail than I expected in a contemporary remake.
The antenna tower in the Selenitic Age – Original realMyst (L), Masterpiece Edition (R)
Water effects in the enhanced version are much more realistic. On Myst Island, white foam laps at the rising shore. In the Stoneship Age, raindrops slide along an umbrella and sputter downwards. Rain falling into the sea makes the surface glimmer, forming amoeba-like shapes burnished by the lighthouse lamp. These water views are a good place to try out the Masterpiece Edition’s comparison feature because the waves in the original game are so abstract, they look like blotches on a grid. Pressing the “shift” key while in Classic mode brings up a small window with a screenshot from the original game at that location. So you can observe the many differences – or (if this is a return trip through realMyst) wax nostalgic.
The flyover sequences in the linking books have been completely redone to suit the changes in each Age. Nighttime is now easily navigated with the aid of a flashlight (which can be turned on or off via the main menu). No more stumbling about and stubbing your toe in dark, underground spaces. Shadows move realistically if you explore at night with the flashlight.
Selenitic’s oasis – Original realMyst (L), Masterpiece Edition (R)
Reflections are much more pronounced in this new edition, and the tiny, wan sun on Myst Island has been replaced by a larger orb and a gigantic moon. The Channelwood Age, with its enormous, swaying trees, is now dappled with shifting light. A day/night cycle, new to Channelwood, brings gold-to-mauve sunsets framed by the rustic huts that rim the treetops. Fireflies speckle the night.
An eye-popping sunburst in the Selenitic Age turns metal structures into intricate silhouettes. Fog invades a few areas, but doesn’t dominate as in the original realMyst. Overall, the metamorphosis is from a game filled with mist and odd, fantastical juxtapositions to a game brimming with dramatic light and shadow, plus verdant natural forms which augment the sense of immersion.
The Stoneship lighthouse in a lightning storm – Original realMyst (L), Masterpiece Edition (R)
If you’re concerned at all that this improved visual fidelity requires a major hardware upgrade to run, rest assured that the graphics quality can be conveniently adjusted using either a standard or advanced options menu.
Myst veterans would agree that the game’s music is almost as recognizable as the visuals. It has an experimental quality, with exotic-sounding instruments and metallic echoes. Sometimes the score is menacing, using primeval rhythms and odd, reverberating tones. At other times it’s uplifting, with a piercing melody rising above a dissonant accompaniment. At least as far as I could tell, the music in the Masterpiece Edition hasn’t changed from the original, however. Ambient sounds are also similar, though sometimes they have greater variety and complexity, especially in areas with insect noises and birdsong.
The realMyst: Masterpiece Edition has something for everyone. Myst lovers will return to a place that is familiar yet even more compellingly beautiful. Diehard point-and-clickers can now experience the latest graphical embellishments while relying on a traditional interface. Even Myst detractors who have (so far) resisted the game’s allure should be duly impressed. It’s time to experience what those twenty years of fuss have been all about. Set aside any preconceptions and settle in to roam this spectacular world that is forever evolving, growing more and more real.
The original realMyst has been reviewed and scored separately.