1997 Cyan
Designed by Rand Miller, Robyn Miller, Richard VanderWende
Reviewed 1998 June 3

Rating +1 Linearity wide
Reasonability deductive Connectivity moderate
Difficulty difficult Relevance strong
Interface 1st paned simple Real-time minor

Gehn has been banished to Riven, an Age of his own making. Unfortunately, the Age is not stable. Catherine, Gehn's daughter-in-law, went to Riven to see if she could help the aboriginals escape to a new Age. She was caught by Gehn, and is now imprisoned. Gehn's son Atrus sends you to Riven to free Catherine, while he works on building an Age as a new home for the people of Riven.

There is a stronger background story to Riven than there was in Myst, and there is even a small bit of plot, mostly towards the end of the game. You actually get to meet Gehn, Catherine, and Atrus, although there is little effective interaction with them. Mostly, the game is an exploration of Riven, the Age. In conjunction with Myst and the Myst novels, Riven nicely completes the story of Atrus.

As with Myst, you have little interaction with others. There are people on Riven, but they run and hide whenever you show up. There is a different focus on your actions here. In Myst, you had many clear objectives (find a page, then the linking book back to Myst). In Riven most of the game is spent just figuring out how to get from one location to another. It felt contrived. The obstacles in Myst made sense within the game world and story. In Riven, the baroque passages and gates frequently don't make sense: they're only there to be a hurdle for a game player or to provide a cool cut scene. A large part of the game is little more than a run through a maze.

Again, as in Myst, the challenges almost all involve operating machinery and associating symbols. There is, however, a big difference in the nature of the challenge. In Myst the challenge was mostly direct problem solving. In Riven the problem solving is fairly simple; the challenge is in finding and recognising the clues. Things that might appear to be random or innocent features of the environment can be important, deliberately planted clues. This makes assessing the difficulty of the game difficult itself: it depends largely on different abilities from most adventures. A good memory and an ability to associate are paramount, logical deduction is minimal.

The interface is very similar to Myst: first person perspective, computer rendered everything, lots of neat sound effects, and just a little mood music. Of course, the sound and graphics are much better this time around. There is also a small inventory, but it is hardly used.

What is lacking is a way to quickly move about Riven. There is a zip mode, as in Myst, but with the larger world of Riven, and the absence of self-enclosed branches of play, I found most of my time spent merely running back and forth through well worn scenery, operating the same buttons and levers again and again. And frequently getting slightly lost. And wearing out the CD drive from all the disc swapping (there are five discs). This game engine desperately needs an automap and teleport feature.

I frequently found myself wanting to look in some direction that the game wouldn't allow. I've been spoiled by the 360 degree engines (Zork Nemesis). I think the slideshow format for first person adventures should be retired.

Riven is a beautiful place. If you're not content to saunter about and blow the dandelions, you will likely find the game exceedingly tedious. This is also a game for sleuths, and not for puzzle aficionados.

Beware! Here are some spoiler-ridden notes on the game. They're only recommended for people who have played the game and want to see some of my rationale for my evaluations.

Related reviews:

  • Myst
  • Exile
    David Tanguay's Game Reviews
    Here's a description of all the gobbledygook in these reviews. It's also a bit of an essay on the nature of adventure games.