Myst 3: Exile

2001 Presto Studios
Designed by Mary DeMarle, Ron Lemen, Francis Tsai, Seth Fisher, Stephen Hoogendyk
Reviewed 2001 September 18

Rating +0 Linearity wide, branching
Reasonability reasonable Connectivity minimal
Difficulty pedestrian Relevance moderate
Interface 1st 360 simple Real-time none

While you are visiting Atrus, the creator of worlds using special writing technology (effectively magic), a man bursts in and steals Atrus' current project, a new world for the D'ni people. It turns out the thief is Saavedro, from one of the ages troubled by Atrus' sons, whom we learned about in the original Myst. He thinks Atrus was behind the boys' nefarious deeds, and also thinks that Saavedro's home age has been destroyed, and his family with it. Atrus sends you after Saavedro to retrieve his book, but Saavedro is expecting Atrus. Saavedro leads you on a chase through Atrus' old training ages, setting up puzzles for revenge.

There's not a lot of story, and it is told mostly by finding pages from Saavedro's journal scattered about. It's a lousy implementation of a lousy way to tell a story. Despite its medium, however, it's not a bad backstory, and the ending, played out in the game, has a good twist. The only character you see much of is Saavedro, and he's just a raving loony. Perhaps understandably, but he's boring nonetheless, a weak excuse to throw challenges at you.

One of the things that brought Myst and Riven alive was the reality of their worlds. Not just pretty rendering, but an actual functional verisimilitude. Aside from the linking books, there was no magic involved. You could actually go out and build a Myst or Riven theme park and play it out just as in the games -- well, if you had Bill Gates bank account. Furthermore, the obstacles you faced made some sense in the normal functioning of their worlds. Exile, to its loss, dispenses with these niceties.

The ages are supposed to be training ages, although it's not clear what they are supposed to teach. If that isn't enough, Saavedro seems to have taken them out of mothballs, possibly adding his own puzzles, all in a very strange notion of punishment intended for Atrus. To top it all off, the challenges frequently rely on magic, and even when they don't the physical mechanisms are sometimes suspect. You're no longer in a real place thinking your way through believable (if fantastic) problems, but in a computer game solving puzzles.

While the justification for them is lame, the challenges themselves are okay. There are some clever challenges requiring careful observation. Most are deductive, and all are reasonable. The designers were creative; there are none of the tired old standbys. Unfortunately, there are also some "twiddle" challenges; i.e., you just do things until a desirable result happens, not able to know or predict in advance what constitutes a desirable outcome nor the outcome of the individual actions.

The game interface is fundamentally sound, easy and intuitive. But there are a few suspect decisions.

There are, in effect, two interfaces. One has a fixed position cursor in the centre of the view, as in many Cryo games. This worked fine. The other mode was the scroll-at-edge interface used in Zork Nemesis. This mode was sluggish and slow in its scrolling, and required that the mouse keep moving at the edge to continue scrolling. It made this mode almost useless.

The other interface problem was the lack of cursor highlighting of exits. The cursor would change whenever moved over a manipulatable object, but it would not change when moved over areas that could be advanced into. Most of the time this wasn't a problem, since the graphics made it clear where you could go. In some cases, especially in the jungle world, the game became a pixel hunt for locations.

The graphics and sonics are first rate, as you would expect from a Myst title. The design of the ages is well done, although they aren't as distinct as I would have liked. Several of the musical passages were enchanting.

Immersion is not just a function of the technological prowess of presentation, but a result of the clear and consistent conceptualisation of another world. Exile is not notably bad, relative to other adventures, but it does fall far short of the standard set by the previous Myst games. With all their same weaknesses of story and sterility, what's left is a fairly good puzzle game, but a mediocre adventure.

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
  • Riven
    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.