reviews\ Nov 9, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Myst III: Exile - XB - Review

I’ll have to admit here that Myst was not my favorite game when it was hugely successful back in the early 1990s.  Having been the top-selling PC game at the time and one that has collected quite a following by fellow gamers, I felt compelled to check the game out and see what all the fuss was about.  It turned out to be a point-and-click adventure filled with puzzles and beautiful backdrops . . . but nothing else.  So you can imagine my surprise when I heard that the series reached its third chapter with Myst III: Exile.   Again, with my curiosity peaked, I wanted to give the series a second chance.


This third chapter is a story of revenge that continues the story found in Myst and its sequel, Riven.  The story follows a man named Atrus who is a writer of worlds--and by that I mean he writes a book (known as an Age) that also magically contains a living world or Age within its pages.  When we meet him, he is living with his wife and baby daughter as he is penning yet another a new Age for his people the D’ni called the Releeshahn book.   Suddenly an exiled madman known as Saavedro (played by actor Brad Dourif of “The Exorcist III” and “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” fame) appears and snatches the Releeshahn from Atrus and disappears with it.


Your task is to chase the elusive Saavedro through different worlds and get the book back to Atrus.  Each world is huge and alien with spectacular views as far as the eye can see.  The first-person perspective allows you to examine the world with no interference.  Like the PC game there is a hand icon that tells you what you can pick up and take, open or examine more closely.  Atrus has given you his journal, which you can use as a sort of guide and a peek at the events of the last games.  The only thing you come armed with are your wits.


The bulk of the game is just exploring each world . . . slowly.  The thumbstick swings the camera around but if you want to move, you just click on the direction you want to go, unfortunately each step you take is met by a loading time of two seconds.  Two seconds might not sound like too much time to wait, but believe me; the seconds give the game its slow pace.  Thankfully there’s a feature included in the game that allows you to “zip” through areas you already visited much more quickly.


There are also many puzzles to solve, each puzzle varying in difficulty.  One puzzle might have you attempting to pump hot air into an airship’s balloon by setting the correct pressure reading through the manipulation of four valves.  Another puzzle might have you trying to balance a bridge to make it safe to cross.  The puzzles require you to pay attention to the little details scattered throughout.  There are clues on how to solve mostly every puzzle, but the trick is to make sense of each clue.


Solving puzzles and exploring the worlds are the only thing that gamers can look forward to since there are no battles or any action sequences that can bring you harm.  In fact, your life is never in peril in this game and you never die from, say, accidentally falling off a rickety old bridge.  Many gamers not use to a game like this will most surely be bored with it pretty quickly.  Not even the story is compelling or interesting enough to hold a gamers’ attention long enough to go through the entire game. 


It’s unfortunate that such stunning graphics are attached to so dull a game, especially when the graphics in question are a shining example of what the Xbox can do visually.  While the background might seem like beautifully rendered still photographs, there is movement in this world.  The ocean waves crash in the distance while a breeze makes the alien vegetation sway a little.  The things you interact with, for the most part, move fluidly.  However, the technology used to incorporate a live actor into the neatly rendered graphics will impress until the character moves.  The game stutters and jumps when a character starts moving around and you’ll see the same movements over and over again as if in a loop.  Otherwise, the graphics are a marvel to behold.


And to add to the gorgeous graphics is a score composed by Philharmonic composer Jack Wall that’s epic and unforgettable, it follows you throughout your quest and fits every scene quite nicely.  The lush score does a better job than the sound effects, which are minimal and sometimes almost nonexistent.  You’ll hear the winds through the canyons and doors creak when you open them, but other then that you won’t find much.  Still, this isn’t so bad in comparison to the voice acting.  The voices are often muffled and unclear; you’ll find yourself straining to hear what is being said with little success.  How are we supposed to complete a task if we can’t even hear what the task is?


Regardless of the magnificent visuals and outstanding score, Myst III just doesn’t translate well on a console.  The game’s extremely slow pacing and absence of action will not appeal to the average gamer looking for entertaining adventure game.


#Reviewer's Scoring Details


Gameplay: 5.1
Using the old point-and-click interface, all you really do is move the hand icon in the direction you want to go or over the item you want to examine and press a button.  Of course, not every item can be examined, the icon changes when there is something of significance to look at or to manipulate.  There are also items to collect, such as journals and useful symbols.


The game is played through a first person Free-Look Mode gamers can turn off or on depending on their controller liking.  It really doesn’t affect the way the game is played, however, the Zip Mode feature does move the game along faster by “zipping” you across a path you already visited much more quickly.  Still, even with this feature, this is one slow paced game.


Graphics: 7.1
No question about it, Myst III is a gorgeous-looking game with beautifully rendered environments that seldom appear to move but is still a sight to behold.  Despite the fact that the backgrounds appear as if you’re interacting in a painting--you won’t see birds flying overhead--much attention was placed on everything around you such as the alien vegetation or the interiors of places such as the greenhouse.


Sound: 6.7
With a beautiful and sweeping score, the game’s soundtrack really is the highlight of the game aside from the graphics.  With soft melodies that change with each action, the score gives the illusion of a true cinematic experience.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the sound effects that have not been more present.  There are moments in the game where the sound effects really shine, but other then that there isn’t much else.


The voice acting is also great, with strong performances from the always-excellent Brad Dourif.  The only problem is that sometimes the voices are barely audible and gamers have to really strain to hear what is being said.  This is especially annoying if what is being said is important.


Difficulty: Medium
Since there are no battles to be fought or enemies to deal with in this game, with the exception of Saavedro, the only thing that poses a challenge are the puzzles.  Some puzzles might keep a gamer busy for long periods of time than others since it’s easy to miss clues in this game.  Many of the puzzles have been cleverly concocted like the one where you have to save a mother bird from a Venus flytrap.   Other puzzles, like the one where you have to connect track circuits together, can be really frustratingly difficult to solve.


Included in the game’s instruction manual is Prima’s Official Hint Guide that doesn’t exactly tell you how to solve every puzzle in the game but points you in the correct direction to leave you to solve the rest of the puzzle. 


Concept: 5.0
Despite the success of the series on the PC, Myst III doesn’t translate well on a console.  For starters, the game’s pacing may not suit those gamers that like their games to move a bit faster.  The nearly photo-realistic backdrops with the live actors inserted in it are most impressive, making this game more of a visual treat--but that’s really not enough to hold a gamers’ attention.


Overall: 5.5
Sadly this game seems completely outdated despite the gorgeous visuals and excellent score and with nothing much to offer, gamers should go ahead and skip this one.


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