Myst V : End of Ages   (PC Game)    55/100

Rating :   55/100

Aaaargh, and not in the kind of way that you expect to experience at some point with the puzzle based Myst series of games, that began with the seminal Myst in 1993, but rather aaaargh in the sense that this installment, despite being released a decade ago in 2005, has a game destroying bug in it that all but ruins what otherwise would have been a pretty strong addition to the canon.

This was the last of the official series, and was only followed by the online multiplayer game (currently titled ‘Uru Live Again‘ and free to play). I finished, and loved, the first three games but missed the fourth – happily there is a sort of recap with this one via collecting various journal entries (everyone in the Myst universe has inherited patriarch Atrus’s less than desirable calligraphy skills) and it looks like part four essentially involved you arriving to save the day as usual.

The premise of all the games is that you are in a mysterious land that you know nothing about and you must solve, via a point-and-click style of interface (basically you can see the mouse pointer in first person, like in the header pic above, and the only button you have to worry about is the click on the mouse as you hover the cursor over objects), various puzzles to work out what’s going on. For example, you’ll encounter a machine that lacks power and then have to find a way to start it up, then work out how to operate it, and then work out how to use it to decent purpose – all with an overarching storyline involving a family that have the power to create these lands, or ages, by writing them into books, but it’s a lost art relating to a lost civilisation, the D’ni, and the power can corrupt – leading to some pretty serious familial disputes which you land slap bang in the middle of.

A major plus for the series was the atmosphere of each game, with lots of natural diegetic sound and lustrous graphic visuals giving each age a very distinct feel – and indeed making each a joy to wander around as you continually push and pull levers this way and that hoping the fucking things will finally do something. Here, there is a new concept – a race of beings, the Bahro, who are somehow enslaved by magical tablets, tablets you must take and write on in order to have the Bahro perform physical and mystical duties to help you solve the puzzles in four main ages. It’s not a bad core dynamic, but alas it is here that the flaw lies – in the first place the intrepid among you will immediately begin trying to guess the symbols you are supposed to find through effort, and you’ll likely have some success, and secondly the game can get into a state where it won’t recognise the correct symbol, leaving you with an insurmountable problem.

The first issue isn’t so bad, it is after all player choice and doesn’t necessarily break the concept nor prevent a replay to do all the puzzles, indeed I’m all for trying to break games in a fair way – here I think there is a very common way to guess one symbol to skip an entire age and in the fourth I managed to skip to the second last point. To be fair, my guesses didn’t really look that similar to what they were imitating, but after the second correct guess I was thinking to myself ‘Ha! In your face Myst!’ as I casually opened the door beside me and stepped into a dark passageway, humming to myself victoriously until, to my horror, I watched as the door clanked shut behind me and wouldn’t open again, and then I realised not only was I trapped inside having walked backwards into some kind of puzzle, but it was also a COLOUR BASED LABYRINTH – eliciting a shrewd observation of ‘Fuck. Fuck! FUCK NO! NO Nooooooooooooooo…….!

Yes, I became one of the characters I make fun of all the time in films. Of course, I could have reloaded to another save point but I was suitably amused by my own stupidity and so I decided, using my favourite catchphrase at the moment, to ‘science the shit out of it’, and it was entertaining enough in the end, if somewhat unnecessarily protracted. However, not being able to correctly input what I was sure must be the final symbol was not in the least bit fun, as of course you waste several hours trying different things and reloads before eventually having to check your hypothesis on the web. Restarting the game several times and going through various save points I managed to get the thing to work – but then there were problems with one of the symbols that previously had worked fine, thankfully it eventually succeeded but you really get the feeling you could get stuck at any point with them and not have the apparent good fortune for it to work properly – and given this was a download in 2015 and the problem was flagged by people a decade ago it really should have been debugged by now.

There may of course be suitable patches available online, and if you can find and are willing to trust them and give the game a go then probably two or three lengthy casual sittings will see you through the game – minus the bug I could see it as being satisfying, and would probably have rated it at around seventy percent. It hasn’t put me off giving the spin-off instalment, ‘Uru, the Complete Chronicles’, a try at some point in the future …

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