Riven’s remake is out today and makes me feel weird – there’s still a demo, if you’re quick

Cyan Worlds’ remake of their 1997-released Myst sequel Riven launches today on Steam. Word on the reviewvine is that it’s jolly decent, offering free movement around a real-time 3D reinvention of the original point-and-clicker’s shimmering archipelago, with its many murals of crushed and scattered civilisations. There’s still a demo on Steam at the time of writing, a relic of long-ago Next Fest 2024. Demos tend to be removed once the game hits shelves, so I thought I’d rush you a quick post based on 30 minutes with the remake over lunch.

Riven’s world feels odder today than it did when I laid eyes on it as a teenager. I think that’s partly because it’s a fossilised vision of the internet from before the broadband era, a Narnian panegyric to the humble hyperlink. The Myst games unfold in a universe of pocket dimensions or “Ages” – accessed by diving into the pages of magic books and made up of obscure, half-real mechanisms, where generations of artisanal explorers and inventor vie to reclaim lost knowledge while prosecuting grudges and giving into their megalomaniacal tendencies.

You are a nameless Stranger, asked by Myst’s benevolent patriarch Atrus to rescue his wife, Catherine, from an Age created by his wayward father. Play is about exploring the archipelago and poking at exquisite, weather-worn brass instruments to open doors and reach different islands. It’s a mesmerising place, but a frustrating one to unravel: one of the first things you discover is a broken lever.

The other reason the Riven demo feels odds is that something in me rebels against the translation of the original’s static environment art into real-time 3D. The remake is beautiful, and moreover, true to the ethereal pristine dessication of the 1997 game’s Softimage-produced and Hypercard-mounted landscapes, but – perhaps because I used to dabble with making games in Hypercard myself – I felt a bizarre anxiety about failing to match my perspective to the old frozen vistas. Exploring the demo landscape felt like trying to align a pick with the innards of a lock. Probably that’s specific to me, and probably it’s a feeling I’ve amplified into a Take for want of thinking time. This isn’t the first Myst game to undergo such cosmetic surgery – Myst V: End Of Ages and Uru were also given the real-time 3D treatment.

A view from an island showing a monorail to another island in the Riven remake

An eerie dark chamber with a huge stained glass star window at the end in the Riven remake

Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Cyan Worlds Inc

If it’s extended analysis of the Myst series you’re after, I will refer you initially to John Walker (RPS in peace), who in 2020 declared that the original Myst is one of the worst games ever. Below that article there’s a comment from Doomsayer who anxiously urges John to play Riven, because he will hate it even more.

“Here’s the secret: There’s only one real puzzle in Riven,” Doomsayer explains. “You’ll know it when you see it. (And you will despair.) It’s a puzzle that you’ll need to gather clues for over the entire game; one that will send you going back and forth over and over again across the entire world. Even diehard fans hate it. It’s brilliant: The entire game all for the one puzzle. There’s no game on this Earth quite like it.” This is the kind of empathic audience participation you only ever get on Rock Paper Shotgun. We don’t have the headcount to review the new Riven at the minute, but I might circle back to it at the end of the year.

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