Stian probably meant well when he asked me to play Myst. Hearing him talk about the game surely made it sound like a work of art in video game format. A notion that is supported by the game’s legacy as one of the most renowned puzzle games of all time. Yet, here I find myself, once again having to argue why a worldwide sensation was actually terrible. At least, it was for me.
To start off on a positive note, Myst does a great job at drawing you into its world. Its story sees you being absorbed into a magical book called “Myst”, whereupon you find yourself on a strange island. There are weird structures and buildings all around filled with machinery whose purpose you can only guess at.
The painterly visuals set an enchanting mood. Myst is a gorgeous game to look at, thanks to its creatively-designed locales that are depicted in 3D. The artstyle goes for an almost realistic look that pays off tremendously well. Combined with an ambient soundscape, it makes for a game that feels artistic, mature. It really made me want to explore and see what was out there.
Eventually, the basic framework of the game becomes clear. Two brothers are each trapped in color-coded books held within the library of the island. You need to explore and solve puzzles to access portals that then transport you to entirely different worlds. Within these, you must solve yet more puzzles to retrieve color-coded pages and find your way back to the HUB world with them.
My excitement for solving these mysteries was unfortunately short-lived. Stian had primed me that I would want to take notes and I was okay with that. Until I realized just how blatantly Myst uses note-taking as a crux. One of the first areas you’re likely to find on the island is the library. There you can find a number of books that all contain cryptic phrases, diagrams, illustrations, maps, and codes. 5 minutes into the game and I had to stop for an hour just to read all this background story and jot down all the clues for later.
I didn’t mind taking notes in isolated cases. Like you enter one of the worlds and find a console with 3 ambiguous buttons. Only way to find out what they do is press them and then wander around to see if anything changed. You write it down, go back, and press the next button. That’s solving a puzzle to me. Reading 20 pages of lore and copying down a map that I’ll need 5 hours later is not. Especially when it’s impossible to go back to the place with that map by the time you actually need it.
Myst also loves to waste your time. Animations are often needlessly slow and you can’t just walk away or interrupt them. If you click something by accident, you are going to watch the results unfold in full every time. Usually to then immediately click it again to reverse what you just did. One puzzle that tried my patience involved charging a battery by using a crank. You have to keep moving the mouse to work the crank, but then click out-of-screen to let go and click on the battery to see if it’s full or not. If not, then you gotta go click back to the crank and spin it some more; repeat until full. If you then go into the next area and make a mistake, the battery instantly depletes and you have to do this routine again.
Time-wasting is an issue that extends beyond isolated puzzles into the game’s overall format. For utterly inane reasons, you can’t take both pages from any world at once. You have to puzzle your way to the world, figure out where a page is, puzzle your way back to the HUB, and deliver it. Then you have to do it all again to get the second page. These are not different puzzles, mind you. Often the red and blue pages are seconds away from each other, just lying in plain view. There are some shortcuts you can take and puzzles you can skip, but some of the worst you will have to repeat. I contemplated getting a bad ending on purpose just to avoid some of these.
While the note-taking and “deliberate” pacing may be a matter of taste, what irked me the most was the game’s reliance on sound. Several puzzles revolve around subtle audio cues that I plainly couldn’t hear. Some I could work around once I realized I was missing something. Then, I ran into the the keyboard puzzle. Here you have to press buttons on a keyboard and then match the tones it produces on a set of sliders. I could not hear the these well enough to distinct the sound. I tried looking up a guide and matching the positions of the sliders used there, but the slightest nudge up or down can invalidate your input. You also have to press a button to test your answer every time and it won’t even tell you if any sliders are correct, meaning that you can’t Mastermind it either.
This infuriated me. I understand the puzzle, I know what to do, except I literally can’t hear well enough to do it. I wasted over an hour trying my damnedest to somehow make it work, having 0 fun throughout all of it. In the end I had to quit and buy RealMyst instead. A remake of Myst with slight differences, including that this puzzle is more mechanical in its input. Now I could force my way past it.
I get that not everyone has my problems. Many, many people can no doubt hear these sounds just fine and had a jolly good time solving the puzzles around them. What bothers me is that closed captions and less finicky input could have provided a workaround that needn’t bother anyone who doesn’t need them. Perhaps it’s too much to expect from Myst to have closed captions, however. After all, it doesn’t even have normal subtitles!
Yeah. It has been re-released countless times, runs on every system imaginable, yet still Myst doesn’t have the most baseline of accessibility features. This is a problem, because its story is conveyed largely through FMV video sequences. The audio in these is screwy at the best of time and deliberately overlayed with static on top. Even the “clean” cutscenes are difficult for me to understand due to the audio mixing. With all the other disappointments, I could not motivate myself to put effort into deciphering these. I read the in-game books and the Wikipedia summary of the plot afterward.
A game that Myst constantly reminded me of was Zork. Both are respected classics in the puzzle gaming genre, but you need to be able to cope with a lot of frustrations to revisit these games. You need be able to tolerate slow, frustrating puzzles and blatant wastes of your time. You have to be in the mood to take pages upon pages worth of notes before you can even embark on the adventure proper. All while dealing with dated designs like the rigid movement system and poorly-rendered FMV sequences. I am willing to put up with a lot bull for the sake of enjoying old school games. But I’d rather get eaten by a Grue than ever touch Myst or any of its sequels ever again.
For inflicting this upon me, I curse you to play Pathologic Stian.