Myst 4 was a game that I ended up liking a lot, despite all its efforts to the contrary. Out of all the entries in the series it has had the most technical issues when running on current-gen systems, and some odd UI choices didn’t exactly create the best first impression. I was even set up to expect it to be somewhat lackluster given the trajectory I saw from Riven to Myst III, the fact that this was now the 3rd development company to be in charge of its production, and the fairly mediocre review scores online. Despite all that, I found myself enjoying it a great deal, to the point that its strengths far outweighed its flaws.
While compatibility issues with new hardware and software aren’t exactly flaws in the game, I think they are worth mentioning as they can still hamper the player’s enjoyment of it. The most serious was that my mouse cursor would occasionally jump around the screen while trying to move it. It was possible to alleviate this a bit through changing my mouse’s settings, I couldn’t eliminate it entirely, which did cause some frustration during puzzles that required specific timed movement, or required moving my mouse slowly and steadily.
This game was also in no hurry to do, well, anything. For a game that is based around doing a limited number of actions a large number of times, it included a lot of design choices that made those repetitive actions take longer than necessary. Take for example the cursor – it now has “active” states that indicate when the player has moused over an object that can be interacted with. I really like this idea, however, the cursor “hand” would perform a short animation into and out of these states during which actions couldn’t be taken. Similarly it was very handy having an in-game way to capture images to reference later, but a several-second animation would play each time either the camera or photo viewer was opened, somewhat reducing their utility. The time to load each screen while travelling through the game was also somewhat shocking to me – approximately 1-2 seconds for each screen transition. This was mitigated by the “zip” system that allowed for fast-travel between certain points within an age. But there were some areas that would disable zipping out, often gated by lengthy un-skippable cutscenes or other mandatory interactions. As I played I did become accustomed to most of these things (or was at least able to overlook them), but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that a solid 10-20% of my total playtime was taken up simply through waiting.
One positive UI change was the addition of proper mechanical interaction with objects in the world – e.g. “clicking and dragging” to move and manipulate objects, rather than simply clicking once to change its state. I talk about this a lot in my post about The Room series, and while it was not done quite as skillfully here was it was in The Room, it still created a much stronger sense of connection with the world. There were a few sections where clumsy implementation made these interactions either difficult to discern or somewhat frustrating to execute, but overall the effect was a big net positive.
In terms of playstyle and puzzle design I would say this entry resembles Riven in a lot of ways, but with a decent amount of influence from Myst, and I consider the combination resulted in a very satisfying and playable game. Like Riven it includes a lot of diagetic puzzles and clues that require keen observation and synthesis to reach correct solutions, but it also has a somewhat more focused progression and throws the player a bone more often in terms of providing clear interactable puzzles that need to be solved. One strong example is a contraption that produces a few different tones when operated but otherwise provides no feedback, overlooking an area where some creatures are blocking the player’s view of an important object. In another area is a journal which broadly discusses the local wildlife, particularly noting a “danger” call made by the creatures near the contraption. In yet another area, it’s possible to startle one of the creatures causing it to make a noise and run off. That noise can then be replicated on the contraption, causing the creatures to leave, allowing the player to view the object properly. All of these details could be observed independently as believable or natural parts of the world, but together they can yield a very specific and useful piece of information. This sort of synthesis has become far and away my favourite way to solve puzzles, and to my delight Myst IV uses this pattern (or similar) a number of times.
I would consider Myst IV’s contribution to the overall series canon to be the strongest overall. On top of being a direct continuation of the story from Myst III, it explores what happened to Achenar and Sirrus after the events of Myst, and also provides some connective tissue between the main series and Uru (which becomes even more relevant in Myst V). The story felt very organic in its delivery and pacing; rather than only triggering character-driven scenes at regularly-spaced intervals in progression, it felt like they put a lot of attention into placing these scenes where they’d be most relevant and interesting. And despite the bulk of the game playing out in two “parallel” ages with similar driving factors, the actual story progression we get within those ages does not feel parallel or repetitive at all. The one place things fell a bit flat for me was at the “ambiguous story choice,” which was kinda predictable (and wasn’t all that ambiguous), and didn’t include the “hidden, better option” that has become a staple of the series. There’s simply a point where the player has to make a choice – one leads to a game over, the other leads to the rest of the game.
I’d recommend this game pretty strongly to folks who are a fan of the series and/or genre, as long as they don’t mind taking things a bit slower, and possibly troubleshooting some technical stuff before playing.
And my favourite part: notes!