When you think of adventure games, you probably think of games that actually make you feel adventurous, games that let you charge through exotic environments, sword or gun in hand, as ready to blast or hack at an enemy as to solve some puzzles. In the world of PC gaming, "adventure game" usually has a very different connotation, thanks in good part to the Myst series. PC adventure games have long tended to be slow-paced, cerebral affairs with little action or even interaction. When Myst was released in 1993, it brought the adventure game experience to a near standstill. Through a simple interface, you navigated a surrealistic island composed of beautiful but static prerendered scenes. Playing Myst was like wandering into an enchanted art gallery--or a tedious slide show, depending on your disposition. You couldn't die in the game, and there was no combat of any kind. Myst and its sequel, Riven, went on to become the all-time best-selling PC game series, and they were only recently dethroned by The Sims. The latest entry in the Myst saga, Myst III: Exile, was released last year on the PC to good reviews, and now it makes its way to the PS2. The technical limitations of the PS2 don't do the game full justice, but if you can look past those and other faults, you'll find a rewarding experience.
Myst III is a port of a well-received adventure game for the PC.
Myst III: Exile builds on the mythology of Myst and Riven. Central to the stories of those earlier games are the D'ni, a race with the ability to write magical books that create links to the worlds, or "ages," described in them. In Myst, you learned that Atrus, a part-D'ni scribe, imprisoned his malevolent sons, Sirrus and Achenar, in distant ages and then destroyed the books linking to those worlds, trapping the sons there forever.
These very sons give rise to the story behind Myst III. One of their misdeeds resulted in the destruction of the homeworld of Saavedro, who has since given his life over to bitterness and the pursuit of revenge against Atrus and his family. It's your job to uncover Saavedro's plots and thwart his plans. It's not a particularly deep story, but it serves its purpose as a framework that lets you visit wildly different-looking "ages" while you and Saavedro play a game of cat and mouse across time and space.
While the Myst games are most closely associated with the PC, their interfaces have always been more reminiscent of console-game interfaces in their streamlined simplicity. That's certainly true of Myst III: Exile. From a first-person view, you examine and interact with discrete areas composed of largely static backdrops. You can pan the camera fluidly in any direction with the left stick, the D pad, or a USB mouse, which creates a reasonable simulation of exploring a living 3D world. To move to a new area, you simply align the cursor with the area and press the X button to "jump" there.
The pause when you move between areas in the PS2 version is longer than it is in the Xbox and PC versions, and the screen also blurs as the new area is loading. The loading message that sometimes appears also breaks the illusion of being in another world. Together, these faults underscore one of the chief weaknesses of Myst III: It's a very slow game.
The PS2 version suffers from some technical shortcomings.
Myst III's gameplay revolves solely around exploration and puzzle solving as you try to catch the ever-elusive Saavedro by figuring out how to manipulate the strange devices found in the game's various ages. The exploration and puzzle solving can be very satisfying in their own right, but taken together they can be a bit dull at times. Some puzzles will require you to manipulate multiple objects in different locations, so even if you figure out how they should be operated, you might still need to traipse back and forth to get the job done. Seeing a colorful locale the first or second time can be a real treat, but having to walk through it repeatedly just to solve puzzles that let you proceed to a locked area gets tedious in a hurry. There's a "zip" feature that lets you quickly move between places you've already visited, but it's available only a fraction of the time.
Movement through the world of Myst III poses some other problems. You often don't know for sure whether you can move to a new area or whether it's just part of the noninteractive scenery until you actually press the X button. Sometimes, the difference is pretty clear--on a narrow bridge, you know you can move in one direction or the other, and that's it. But when you're on the rocky island of J'Nanin, for example, with its winding rock steps, sand dunes, and hills, it can be difficult to discern at first where you're allowed to walk. Things are even less clear on the confusingly twisty paths in the age of Edanna.
Along with wandering about Myst's strange worlds, you'll be solving the aforementioned puzzles. These sometimes reveal parts of the plot or are at least tangentially related to it. At the same time, the puzzles' existence can seem pretty arbitrary or artificial. It can feel as if the designers just came up with a list of strange puzzles and then figured out how they could build a game around them, instead of the other way around.
You'll have to think hard to figure out many of Myst III's puzzles.