home > review > Myst III: Exile Review (PS2)
GamesFirst! Online since 1995
ups: Stunning graphics; great storyline; sound to die for.
downs: Movement through the game;

View Image Gallery || Get Prices

Myst III: Exile Review (PS2)
game: Myst III: Exile
four star
posted by: Monica Hafer
publisher: Ubisoft
developer: Presto Studios, Inc.
date posted: 09:10 AM Sun Dec 1st, 2002
last revision: 01:06 PM Sat Oct 29th, 2005

Unlimited Game Rentals Delivered - Free Trial

As console reviews began to pour in for Myst III: Exile, I was somewhat taken aback by the response by my fellow reviewers. I began to wonder, \"Are they playing the same game I am?\" This port from one of the most popular PC franchises in history had me excited from the moment I first saw it at E3. I have friends and family who have been addicted since the beginning, and I was looking forward to such a great game opening up a whole new fanbase. While I will grant that this title has some issues in its progression to console, it really is a phenomenal game. After much thought, it seems to me that what many reviewers find problematic with this game are issues which are more closely related to the deep psychological differences and expectations of PC gamers versus console gamers than actual problems with the game. This statement may seem a little abstract, and I grant that it is, but if you\'ll bear with me, you may find yourself more willing to pick up a title that will give you a great gaming experience.

First and foremost, this franchise has always been about solid and immersive storytelling, and Exile is no exception. The character of Atrus has created many worlds, or \"ages,\" by writing them into existence in his many books. In this latest installment, he is attempting to build a new world for the D\'ni people whose existence was nearly wiped out through the actions of Atrus\'s sons. He is riddled with guilt and is attempting to make amends while creating a new life for not only the D\'ni, but his wife Catherine and his new daughter. The game begins in Atrus\'s home where you are readying to take a journey with Atrus and are being shown his latest book. Before you can begin your journey, however, a man named Saavedro (played by Academy Award nominee Brad Dourif of One Flew Over the Cuckoo\'s Nest) bursts in, steals the book, and escapes into another age. You will follow him, and with the help of the journals you find along the way, you will discover the actions of Atrus\'s sons which have driven Saavedro to seek retribution. There are six worlds that you will move through in your chase (along with a \"hub\"), and each is a unique environment with its own mystery to uncover. To those simpletons who might refer to this as simply a \"revenge tale,\" I say it is far from it. The characters are ones that you come to love and who reflect the complexities of human life, and the stories from this franchise are generated from, and have produced, full length novels that have a solid fanbase.

The gameplay basically consists of solving puzzles that are seamlessly integrated within the story and all of them further your adventure into each world. The puzzles in this game seem to be a little easier than Riven while still remaining challenging. In a positive step by UbiSoft, the Prima Official Strategy Guide is included with the instruction manual, and it is set up in a way that it doesn\'t tell you exactly how to solve each puzzle, but gives you enough information that you\'re not flailing blindly. This is especially helpful to cut down on frustration from console gamers who may not be used to the type of gaming experience, but still lets us keep the \"I made it through without cheating\" feeling.

The graphics on this game are, in a nutshell, stunning. The occasional live action video punctuates the realistically rendered indoor and outdoor environments of each age. These elaborate and unique worlds are rendered in crystal-clear detail and the colors and textures are great. The 360 degree \"free-look\" feature allows maximum ogling of each environment, and the only downside is an infrequent framerate issue. This is not surprising to me because of the \"downsizing\" required to bring the game from computer specs to PS2 (never thought 32 would become a problem, but...). The beautiful graphics make each world a stunning experience and the odd quirks and unique elements that create the environments support and enhance the magical storyline.

The music also lends a sense of mystery and adventure to the game which is hitherto unparalleled. The soundtrack is created by Philharmonic composer Jack Wall, and I give him full credit for generating an ambiance that is critical in making this game such a pleasure to play. It echoes the feelings that are stirred in a player when something beautiful and new is discovered or causes our pulse to quicken when danger and evil abound. I also give props to the other sound engineers, as not only do they blend realistic sound effects that are familiar to us from our world, but they create new sounds for the fantastic creatures and elements which inhabit each age. All of this auditory magic was streamlined for PS2, but as far as I can tell, nothing was lost in the port from PC.

At this stage, you may be asking yourself why such a phenomenal game is taking a pounding by console reviewers. The two elements that I believe have caused a certain negative response both have to do with the way in which console and PC gameplay differs. Both are somewhat interrelated-the first being the \"disembodied\" feeling of the player and the second having to do with the way one moves within the gaming environment.

The first issue comes from how I believe we console gamers have come to perceive ourselves or our character within a game. No matter what the game is, we often have some sort of hint of self. In a FPS, we still have a weapon that gives us a sense of body. In a racing game, we usually have the choice of seeing ourselves within the car environment, which many people find more \"realistic\" because it is the way we actually drive (I can see the interior of my car and am used to having this when I am driving, as opposed to feeling as if I am floating over the track with no other frame of reference). Even RPGs, which may be the closest comparison, have some visual cue for self and character. A clicking hand that moves us through the game is not really what consolers are used to. Some have attributed the clicking hand to a cheat or shortcut, alleging that you don\'t have to use your mind to figure out what you can do in an environment, all you have to do is click around until something happens. While I grant that this may circumvent some initiative, it is really no different than those games that we know and love in the console world where you get a buzzer sound when you try to do an action that is not allowed, or a distinctive \"No\" in an English accent, or even those environments that let us know what is allowed by visual clues (I know that the blocks I can move all have little cracks in them as opposed to the smooth ones, or I see that there is an obvious lever I can pull which would realistically never be located in this type of environment). If we abandon this argument in the face of console games which are a joy to play none-the-less, then we must logically allow Myst III a little leeway as well.

The second argument against this title, and the one and only reason I have given this game a four star rating as opposed to a five, is the way in which movement is handled in the game. How it functions is that you place your \"hand\" where you want to move, the graphics around you darken and fuzz out, and then you find yourself at a new, predetermined point where you must then re-orient yourself using your 360 pan. What I find problematic about this is the pace it sets for the game. This is much slower than many of us console adrenaline junkies are used to moving within an environment. Granted, once you have been through the world, you can use the \"lightning feature\" which moves much more quickly, but it is still REALLY SLOW for the major amount of your gaming time. Instead of having a fully functioning environment that has \"location\" at every visual point, you have predetermined \"nodes\" where you land and are then able to look. However, the game still makes you take specific \"paths\" to a node and you aren\'t able to skip to a node you visually see in the environment.

In case you are now confused, let me give you an example. I am outdoors and on a hill. There is a path down the hill that leads over to another hilltop where an item is located. I have to go down the path before I can get to the item, rather than being able to click on the other hill and be transported immediately. There isn\'t really anything for me to discover along the path, but I must go there because it is an attempt to add \"realism\" to my movement. This makes me insane! Not only does the feature not add to the realism, it again, slows my adventuring to a crawl. If things are based on this nodal system, why can\'t I jump to any node I see? If we want realism, then we need to make movement through the environment fast and fluid without the \"jumps\" (akin to a Tomb Raider type environment/movement) or we need to jettison the whole idea of realism and allow speed of movement to take precedence over realism.

Whatever course of action is chosen, streamlining and increasing speed of movement is, I believe, critical in winning over an audience of console gamers. Even those of us who are not adrenaline seekers do not have the patience of PC gamers when it comes to these sorts of accepted tenets in computer movement. We are accustomed to something else. Our psychology and gaming preferences lead us to choose the type of movement that is more readily found in the console world. While I grant that this game is not supposed to have the frenetic movement that other genres of games have, it still needs to speed things up for maximum efficacy. The designers realized that speed was an issue in creating relatively short load times (a real bonus), but haven\'t yet realized how crucial this is in overall gameplay. Perhaps we consolers have shorter attention spans-I prefer to think of us as people who would rather get to the great places these worlds have in store than to waste time slogging through programming quicksand. In this case, getting there is not half the fun.

With that said, Myst III: Exile really is a beautiful game that you won\'t be sorry you picked up. You need to be a certain kind of person to truly appreciate this title, though-you must have patience with the movement speed and you must love a complex storyline and deeply immersive environments and gameplay. These elements are enough to create millions of addicted players (as the number of computer players who love this game has already shown), and consolers are not immune to its sway. This series is one which you love for life, so if you can put up with the little ticks that are bound to annoy console gamers, you will find a wonderful new world worth living in for as long as they create new games.

Monica Hafer (12/01/2002)

Click images for larger version

Click for larger. Click for larger. Click for larger. Click for larger. Click for larger.