Mr. Bill's Adventureland Review
Reviewed by Mark Hasley
It has always been deemed very difficult to end a series of stories well, mainly because it has been done so rarely. Dumas managed to end the D'Artagnan Romances rather well. Conan Doyle left a lovely image of Holmes and Watson sitting on a balcony pondering the coming Great War. Even John D. MacDonald had time to let Travis McGee grow up. These are, however, rare examples.
Imagine then, how difficult it would be to end a series while at the same time making sure that the ending ties up dozens of loose ends; shows the final results of a family's disastrous quest; shows what happens to a female character whom we have seen before as a baby, a sadly harassed child, and an angry teenager; and clarifies the future of a collapsed civilization. And to make it even more complex, the entire conclusion must be in the form of a sophisticated game. This was the task that the people at Cyan found themselves saddled with when they decided to develop MYST V: End of Ages. Thankfully, it was a task which they met with skill, brilliance... and even genius.
In the game, the player is the same unnamed friend that he has been in all the other MYST games. It begins with an introductory letter that is read by an old, weary, and broken-sounding Atrus. Then the gamer meets a middle-aged Yeesha, who states that all is nearly lost. The ages are collapsing, and the four tablets (slates) must be found and returned. She warns of various dangers, and then disappears.
Anyone who has ever played a MYST game has been here before. He is however, about to be introduced to a couple of new and entertaining twists. After Yeesha leaves, the gamer goes through a few more steps and then meets a new and quite different character named Esher. He is an actual D'ni survivor, and he says that he is there to serve as a guide throughout the quest. He does appear often, but as the game proceeds his help becomes more and more cryptic, and his personality becomes more and more manic. Indeed, understanding him becomes another of the many puzzles along the way. Later, the game presents the player with another race of beings, called The Bahro. Apparently they are not human and seem to pose no danger, and eventually they also become quite an important part of the plot. For at the end of the game, the player, having solved all the puzzles and freed the final golden slate, must decide to whom it should be given.
It is extremely important to note here that the slates are essential to the plot. The whole point of this tale is the decision as to who should get the power of the slate. The player is introduced to them early on in the game, and as it proceeds, they go from being merely an irritant, to a long-running puzzle, to an integral part of the finale itself. So learning to use the slates is an important, as well as a totally unique, element of the game.
Technically, I found the game to be impressive. It ran on my Windows XP with no problem whatsoever. The box notes that 256 MB of RAM is required and 512 MB is recommended. I barely have the minimum and yet the game operated without flaw. It never once paused or skipped. It gives you a choice of 3 different ways to explore with your mouse. There is the Classic Mouse mode, where you just point-and-click, much like in the original MYST; the Classic Plus mode, where your cursor is always in the center of the screen, like it was in MYST IV; and something called Free-Move (Advanced) mode. The first two operated without error, so I never bothered to try the third one. There is no real inventory and the cursor looks the same as it has for twelve years. A finger points directions and a hand indicates that something can be used or moved. The entire interface process is simple and error free.
There are a few ingenious additions to the interface. As the game proceeds, the player is constantly finding journals that Yeesha has written and left lying around. These go into a special inventory and can be accessed for reading at any time. There is also a D'ni camera that will take a picture whenever the player wishes. This is extremely important because the pictures are then stored in a book of photographs, and each picture is, in fact, a saved game. It's a very clever and convenient way to save a game. There's also a spot on the Startup Page that says 'Continue', so the player can begin exactly where he left off without worrying about saving and/or loading. All in all, the game seems technically perfect.
However, it was neither the plot nor the interface that made me use words like 'Genius' and 'Perfect'. The MYST games are, and always will be, where an adventure gamer goes for beautiful graphics, interesting music, exquisite atmosphere, and complicated puzzles. And MYST V delivers ALL that is expected, and more... adding a pleasing new twist to its traditional attractions.
The graphics range from very good to breathtaking. The game starts in K'veer, but quickly moves on to various new Ages and areas. Each of them warrants careful examination, and each of them will bring a feeling of pure appreciation and a bit of wonder. Each different Age is filled with puzzles that are inherent to that particular Age, and each contains a few puzzles that are part of the thematic scheme of the whole game. The game is truly an amazing piece of work.
The various Ages don't have to be attempted in any particular order so I will mention them in the order in which I entered them. The first Age is Tahgira. It's a beautifully rendered Winter Age. The frigid scenery and icy puzzles are reminiscent of the best Syberia scenes. The puzzles here were probably the easiest of those from any Age. There isn't much time spent here, but Tahgira serves as a pleasant interlude as well as a fine place to learn how to use the slates.
The next Age is called Todelmer. It is an Age which was written in order to allow the D'ni to study the universe and is, without question, one of the most eerily beautiful locations in any game anywhere. I got so involved in looking at the place that for awhile I forgot my goals, and the puzzles. I simply wanted to see it. The puzzles here are a bit more difficult, and there are still more applications for the slates. The work here gets a little complicated, but the place is so gorgeous that no one will care.
Noloben is a radical change from the previous two Ages. It seems to be a quiet Agricultural Age. But as the gamer proceeds, he learns there is quite a bit more going on here. He also learns that Esher is perhaps more than he has thus far appeared to be. Here again, both the Age and its puzzles add to the overall game and add to the gamer's knowledge of the situation. This too is a beautiful Age. The grass moves, animals frolic, and the ocean looks like an ocean. And as before, there is a logic to the puzzle process, with smooth transitions from point to point.
The last Age is a tropical spot called Laki'ahn. As in the other Ages, the scenery here is visually impressive, flawless and realistic. It is also the last world that must be dealt with before the final decisions are made. So here too there is a full set of Myst-style puzzles to provide you with further insight into the character of Esher, and perhaps a bit more about the sociology of the D'ni themselves.
I've deliberately kept the above paragraphs quite brief, because I like this game SO much that I could go into TOO much detail. I could easily move from observation into spoiler and that wouldn't be fair to you. However one further note must be made about the graphics and these Ages. Every place that the player goes is amazingly, surprisingly, ALIVE! Birds twitter and fly, hawks soar, bats rustle, butterflies flitter, and falling stars actually fall. MYST V is loaded with unnecessary but beautiful detail. For example, in one Age there is a truly weird-looking bird (it may be a fish that walks) that does nothing but strut and make strange sounds. This creature is somehow perfect for that place. The sun is always rising or setting, except in one Age where, when it gets dark, the sun isn't setting at all. Instead there is a lovely lunar eclipse to watch. And while all of the above is going on, the grass in the fields ripples, the water has waves, the trees move with the breezes, and a lot of just beautifully normal things happen. There really aren't enough adjectives to accurately describe what has been accomplished in this game!
At some point in any adventure game review, puzzles should be discussed, and this is particularly true for End of Ages. Because there are some very special and unusual things going on in this game. As the player goes through each Age, he must solve all of the puzzles there in order to proceed, return a slate and move on to the next Age. These puzzles are generally the normal MYST puzzles (if that's not an oxymoron). They are fairly difficult, but nowhere near as esoteric and irksome as what we saw in RIVEN or REVELATION. Instead they are usually of the 'slap yourself on the forehead' variety, where once they are solved, you can't believe that it took you so long because the solution is so obvious.
There are none of those strained, overly complex difficulties that were part of RIVEN and even MYST IV. There are no slider puzzles and no mazes. And more importantly (to me), there are no timed puzzles. Indeed, the puzzles are usually the mechanical, code application type for which all the MYST games are famous. A player can't die and he can't lose what he has accomplished. In fact, there are enough linking books around that if a person is thoroughly frustrated and needs to leave an Age for awhile, he can do so and have no problem returning. There is always something lying around on the ground to be picked up, read, and remembered.
But there is also a new and rather clever device in all of the Ages. The various slates are actually part of several of the puzzles. Using these slates, and their strange capabilities, is an ongoing puzzle throughout every Age. I really enjoyed the continuity that this gave to the game. Whether I was in snow, outer space, tropical heat, or underground, the slates and their applications were a thoroughly entertaining constant.
Of course the final puzzle is the consideration, contemplated throughout the game, as to which character is going to actually be given the slates. Yeesha sometimes wants them, and then she doesn't. Esher wants them and does not want Yeesha to have them. Maybe no one should get them. Since this is the ultimate decision that the player must make, and is, indeed, the focus of the entire plot, it becomes a more and more serious concern as the end of the game approaches.
The voice acting is excellent throughout. Since this is a MYST game, there really aren't any conversations, because the player's character never speaks. He does, however, get to listen to Yeesha a few times and to Esher quite a lot. The speeches and movements of Esher deserve special consideration because the character appears quite often throughout the game and his changes in demeanor are quite important. And the actor playing Esher (David Ogden Stiers) does a magnificent job of presenting a complicated and interesting character.
The music, like most of the soundtracks for the MYST games, is also very good. It is at various times sprightly, haunting, gloomy, eerie, rousing, or upbeat. It always fits the time and the place. It never intrudes but always adds to the scene. All in all, like virtually everything else in this game, it is simply excellent.
So, finally, I come to the end of this review, and we all come to the end of the MYST series. Frankly I've had to leave several things out, lest I be accused of including too many spoilers. I haven't mentioned the ending, and won't now except to say that it too will not disappoint. And if any reader wonders about the disclaimers and negatives that are usually included in reviews, there simply aren't any. This is a brilliant, beautiful game that brings a logical, cohesive conclusion to 12 years of three novels and 5 previous games: MYST, RIVEN, EXILE, URU, and REVELATION. The conclusion is wistful, joyful, reasonable, logical... and absolutely fitting.
Like any great story, I was sad that it was over, but aware that it was a privilege to have experienced it. So I'd like to make one final comment to the people at Cyan Worlds...
© October 2005 Mark Hasley
Visit the Official MYST V: End of Ages Interactive Website to learn more about the game, view additional screenshots, download the demo and solve more puzzles.
Developed (2005) by Cyan Worlds and published by Ubisoft Entertainment.
Rated: E for Everyone
Minimum System Requirements:
Available for the PC on 3 CD-ROMs or on 1 hybrid WIN / MAC DVD-ROM. Available for the MAC only on the hybrid WIN / MAC DVD-ROM. (Hybrid means PC and MAC versions are on the same DVD)
PC: Pentium III 800 MHz or AMD Athlon or Equivalent Processor (1.5 GHz Pentium IV or AMD Athlon or Higher Recommended); Windows 2000 / XP; 256 MB RAM (512 MB Recommended); 4X CD / DVD-ROM Drive; 32 MB DirectX 9.0c Compliant Video Card Supporting 800 X 600 Display and 32 Bit Color [Supports NVIDIA GeForce 256/2/3/4/FX/6 Families (4 or Higher Recommended); ATI Radeon 7000/8000/9000/X Families or Better (8500 or Higher Recommended); Intel Extreme 2 Chipset]; DirectX 9.0c Compatible Sound Card (Sound Blaster Audigy Series Recommended); 4.5 GB of Free Hard Drive Space; DirectX 9.0c; Mouse and Keyboard
Mac: 1 GHz G4 Processor (1.6 GHz G4 or Higher Recommended); OS X 10.2.8 - 10.4.0 (1.3.9 or Higher Recommended); 256 MB RAM (512 MB Recommended); 4X DVD-ROM Drive; 32 MB Video Card Supporting 800 X 600 Display and 32 Bit Color [Supports NVIDIA GeForce 256/2/3/4/FX/6 Families (FX 5700 or Higher Recommended); ATI Radeon 7000/8000/9000/X Families or Better (9600 or Higher Recommended)]; Standard Sound Card; 4.5 GB of Free Hard Drive Space; Mouse and Keyboard
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