At any rate, the textures were so good that I often had trouble telling what things were, or where I could go. Especially on Edanna, the world of nature, I would find myself awash in a riot of colors and textures, until all was abstract shape and light. The ability to move in 3D, as you can in realMyst, would make a world of difference, so to speak. Come to think of it, the addition of parallax to the panning would have served a similar purpose, allowing me to distinguish depth better.
The designers at Presto Studios clearly knew how good the art looked. Every world had water -- which looked amazing, I must add. Every world had clouds. In fact, despite the disparate focus of the three practice worlds, they ended up feeling very similar, with a better-than-perfect look that became bland over time. Saturation of wonder, perhaps. "Aha, yet another beautifully-rendered stone texture lit by colorful light of some sort," I would say.
Could anything be better than the graphics? The sound could, and is. Myst III is alive with little sounds which make its worlds real. Suspension bridges creak, birds shriek, doors groan as they swing open. And the music! Granted, often it sounded as if Jack Wall, who composed the music, said, "Hey, kooky worldbeat friends, come help me with my music! And Carl Orff, don't go anywhere; I'll need your help later." But the music always complemented, fitting in well with the worlds and what I was doing.
On to design, which is good, as you might expect from the creators of the Journeyman Project series. Pacing varied from good to spectacular. Amateria as a whole, and the end sequence in particular, was the best of the bunch. The payoff for all the puzzle-solving in that Age was wonderful. I just about shouted when the final movie began, and replayed that sequence some three or four times before I moved on. Clearly the folks at Presto Studios realized that some of the best parts of Riven were the movies, such as the one which accompanied your tram rides; Myst III has those movies in spades.
In fact, the game is so carefully designed that several times I felt the overly-heavy hand of the designer at work. When you get near the end of some Ages, the world closes off through careful contrivances. You cannot go backwards from those points, only forwards. This is not a bad decision, really, but the obviousness of it took me right out of the game. It all comes back to immersion and a suspension of disbelief. As soon as I notice the wires I'm no longer enraptured by the magic trick.
Puzzles are what you would expect from a Myst game. There are mechanisms and animals and plants. They have local consistency, with one Age full of plants, another with balls and rails, and a third with pipes and steam, but there is no overarching theme beyond occasional references to the number three. They're good puzzles for the most part, and a heck of a lot easier than those in Riven, but they lack the thematic resonance of Riven's. Most of this is because of the game's plot, or lack of one. Like Myst, Myst III is all disconnected Ages and random puzzles. But unlike in Myst there is no mystery to Myst III. Behold, here are worlds full of puzzles, which you must solve just because. Why are there no people in these Ages? Because that's how Atrus wrote them. Where did these mechanisms come from? From Atrus, who wanted to create puzzles for his two sons. Lacking the element of the unknown of Myst or the intriguing story of Riven, Myst III is less affecting, less compelling.
I said the game lacks much of a plot beyond, "Bad man steal book! Go fetch!" What it does have is a greater exploration of one of the central tenets of the Myst mythos: Ages can be created by the act of writing. It's a trope which echoes the Christian faith of Rand and Robyn Miller. As is stated in John's gospel, in the beginning was the word, the logos. Myst III affords a greater glimpse into how various words define an Age. It's an interesting theme, and one which I'm glad to see the series return to.
Acting, what of it there is, is solid. Brad Dourif turns in another performance as a Strangely Creepy Guy. You see him the most of all of the actors, and he does an okay job, but at times the script fails him. (c.f. the soon-to-be-infamous "No no no no no" scene.) Also, in the end of the game he seems to be wearing a red bathrobe with golden tassles and fringe.
I have some other random quibbles with the game (saved games are listed in alphabetical order, not in order that you saved them), but overall I thoroughly enjoyed the game. It's very good bordering on excellent, and its lustre is dimmed only because it feels like a backwards step from Riven and one off to the side of Myst.
PC: Pentium II 233 MHz, Windows 95 or later, 64MB RAM, 200MB hard drive space, 4x CD-ROM drive, 8MB SVGA graphics card.
Mac: G3 233 MHz, MacOS 8.1 or later, 64MB RAM, 200MB hard drive space, 4x CD-ROM drive, 6MB graphics card.
My computer: iMac DVD SE (400 MHz PowerPC, 386 MB of RAM, 24x CD-ROM), MacOS 9.1.
Bugs: Movies occasionally ran slow, becoming out-of-synch with the sound. The Mac 1.1 patch might have fixed that, but when Ubi Soft released the PC 1.2 patch, they took away the version 1.1 Mac patch. Good gee golly willikers, but this is horrible planning on Ubi Soft's part, and sadly it's not the first example of Ubi Soft botched technical support I've been witness to.
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