Innovative, fitting conclusion to the series
Installation is painless and the CDs do not need to be swapped during play.
The graphics are the main selling point of the Myst series and the final installment does not disappoint. The graphical style of Myst V is reminiscent of first person Uru with some additional bells and whistles tacked on, such as heavily used reflective and particle effects.
The first three ages (Tahgira, Todelmer, Noloben) feature some of the most impressive artwork in the series. The drab color scheme of Riven has been discarded in favor of lively hues and high-contrast shadows, much like Uru. Just look at the screenshots, fantastic!
With a modern graphics card the game will maintain high framerate even with all of the graphics settings turned up. A great achievement considering the visual density of any given scene in the game. Textures will still blur if you get too close however.
While using realtime 3D graphics in a game like this works as a double edged sword, the resulting freedom of movement certainly adds a lot to the game. My advice is to switch to "advanced" at the beginning of the game. The environment can be fully explored and you need not be frustrated that the "rail track" does not quite go or look where you want it to.
The mostly logical puzzles are not nearly as demanding or obscure as in Riven. There are times when you will want to write something down but for the most part you can use the handy save-game camera to take a screenshot of anything of interest. With minimal cheating, the game will take a Myst veteran around 12 hours to complete.
As you may know, the game introduces a tablet on which the player can draw symbols for the Bahro creatures to interpret as commands to run errands or perform some kind of magic (these guys can align planets!). The recognition accuracy is quite good although I did have to redraw a symbol or two. Drawing the symbols is fun and sets up the bread-and-butter puzzle structure wherein you must find the right symbol to move the game forward. (You can actually complete each of the ages by simply drawing the final symbol on the age's tablet!) Finding this symbol is of course not so easy and involves going through 3-4 "checkpoint" pedestals first. This kind of puzzle fits very naturally into Myst gameplay.
Finally, the plot offers what is probably the most satisfying ending in the series. It beats being chucked into a starry fissure in any case!
I've tried to write as much praise of the game as I can muster because overall the game is very enjoyable. However, it has its fair share of problems.
To start with, it's buggy -- buggy enough to break the game (do NOT ask the Bahro to start the heat when it is already running!!). Save regularly!
There are also visual glitches, many associated with the tablet. It will disappear when dropped in many locations. The Bahro animations are inconsistent -- they touch the tablet to link out even when they leave it behind. There are also occasions when model transparency is not stacked in the proper order -- parts of the ground rendered in front of steam for instance.
Although I stated that the framerate is usually high, there is one glaring exception. All of Laki'ahn lags terribly for no apparent reason and regardless of graphics settings. This Age in general seems very poorly designed, visually boring, and has numerous texture alignment glitches.
Free movement, while a good idea in general, is poorly implemented. Mouse sensitivity and movement feel unusually unresponsive -- even with full sensitivity and sprinting. You can reach a number of places you are clearly not supposed to be able to visit (try dropping down onto and running around on the pipes in Tahgira). Trying to manipulate puzzle objects from non-standard positions (i.e. not aligned with "classic" nodes) will offset the hitboxes for the levers/buttons and you will have to "feel around" to find where to grip them.
The human 3D characters, although modeled well, never really come across as fully human. The facial animations are ineffectually implemented as multiple textures with jerky transitions (see Half-Life 2 for convincing facial animations). They also fail to convincingly interact with each other or the environment -- often hovering above or intersecting inside surfaces they are supposed to touch.
Speaking of characters, the newly introduced Bahro come across as the Ewoks of Myst. They are apparently ugly relatives of the Krall from Unreal 1, and have about as many polygons. Just seeing one usually made me wish for a shotgun. While they are used directly to hold up the plot and in several puzzles, the tablet mechanic could have just as well been done without them.
The mythos of any series that has been running this long will undoubtedly become convoluted. Myst has the added burden of having to harmonize the plot between the Myst books and Uru. Conversations about Yeesha's family history and D'ni Restoration Council stamps only serve to confuse an already difficult to follow plot line.
Perhaps my biggest gripe with the game is the discarding or demotion of a number of conceptual pillars of the previous games. Whereas Riven was so effective at always keeping the player's view firmly planted where his or her eyeballs would be in the game world, in Myst V there are times when 3rd person perspective kicks in (blasphemy!) and the player's controls are frequently hijacked to move and orient the player toward an animation (remember how Myst IV allowed you to look around during animations?).
The idea of the linking book is used only incidentally in the game. Bahro and human characters link in and out from any place in the world, at will, by simply touching a glyph. Wasn't "the Art" about writing something in a book? Why did the Riven linking books require so much machinery to work when only a little glowing squiggly line was really necessary?
Lastly, there is almost no supporting material scattered throughout the game world. In Riven great effort was expended to make the world appear to have been created for a useful purpose. In Myst V however you will find no lengthy journals lying open on the table for your reading pleasure, no signs of previous inhabitants, and scant evidence that any of the worlds you explore are anything more than toy worlds created for the puzzle sequence.
The Bottom Line
Once you get past the game's foibles and accept that some things have changed in the Myst universe, Myst V has a lot to offer. The heart of the game is in the right place and there is much to explore. Ultimately, the biggest disappointment of Myst V is that there won't be another one like it.