Riven: The Sequel to Myst
Slideshow your way into puzzle purgatory.
Under the direction of Myst creators Robyn and Rand Miller, Riven follows the same familiar direction. Once again it often feels like a screensaver, with static screen after static screen, and an attempt at a Quicktime VR or Zork Nemesis-style 360 degree panning environment. It has the same simplistic interface, head-scratching puzzles, lack of inventory and no meaningful interaction with the natives â€“ things that frustrate long-time adventure gamers. However, Riven sucks you into its world even more effectively than Myst ever managed to do.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Riven is what it doesn’t do. It doesn’t dumb itself down in order to appease to the mainstream audience that bought Myst and never got off the first island. It delves deeper into the mythology and backstory of Myst, doling out new evidence about the D’ni, the ancient civilization that gives Riven its flavor.The D’ni possess the ability to travel between realms by writing books that describe these worlds. Unfortunately, these skills tend to imbue certain D’ni natives with the feeling that they’re god of the realms. One such deluded novelist is Gehn, the father of Atrus. Atrus created the linking book called Myst, and the game of the same name dealt with the problems of Atrus’ sons. Riven picks up after that adventure.
It’s somewhat ironic that in its digital medium, Riven utilizes the written word, without even a voice-over, to tell its story. Reading the journals littered around Riven helps bring out the game’s human element, and when you consider the family conflicts, the sons battling fathers, you realize how Riven’s creators are trying to generate their own mythology. And that is ultimately what Riven, and Myst before it, is all about. It’s about storytelling, and the game succeeds here despite the lack of character dialogue.
Riven comes on five CD-ROMs and takes place on five different islands, each contained on its own CD, so there’s actually not a huge amount of disk swapping. Each island is populated by various machines and devices, and like every first-person adventure clone since Myst, it’s up to you to figure out how to operate them. Some are fairly simple, others require painstaking note-taking and a few are a nightmare – good luck getting through them without the strategy guide.
Without a doubt, Riven is a beautiful game. The scenes are gorgeous, the sounds are spectacular, and the vistas are breathtaking. Even the travel segments as you get from island to island, using things like underwater mine carts and rollercoaster-like pods on cables, will take your breath away. Yet on the whole the game still feels a bit barren, as if the designers felt they had to keep it safe by sticking very closely to the original formula. Too often it feels like a slideshow with some puzzles thrown in, which reward you with more slideshows, puzzles and the occasional video.
Whether you consider Riven’s minimalism a strike of storytelling genius or an exercise of pandering to the game’s target audience is up to you to decide. But there’s value here to be had, especially if you want to give your puzzle-solving synapses a workout.
System Requirements: Pentium 66 MHz, 16 MB RAM, SVGA, Windows 95