Written by  :  Tal Cohen (33)
Written on  :  Dec 24, 2008
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.83 Stars4.83 Stars4.83 Stars4.83 Stars4.83 Stars

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Ahhh Riven. How I long to re-visit thy beautiful cyan sky

The Good

Riven is the sequel to one of the best selling adventure games in history - Myst. There's much talk in the industry (and in entertainment in general) of the 'bane of the sequels', especially in the case of successors to very successful titles.

So after I relinquished my Myst virginity and fell in love (and even wrote a review of it here on MG to amend a gross injustice), it was inevitable that I should play Riven.

Not only did Riven deliver what it promised, it actually transcends its prequel - the seminal Myst.

The story is an immediate continuation of Myst, in which we were given many clues and portents of what was to come. We learn of an age called Riven, a beautiful, pastoral world that is gradually decaying due to catastrophic events that transpired many years earlier. You will learn more of the story through the game itself, just like how it was done in Myst - through the various journals and diaries scattered about, but also from the actual, diverse locations and surroundings. Suffice it to say the story involves many interesting elements, intriguing developments and shocking revelations: There's a tyrant who controls the population with an iron fist, a subversive rebellion fighting him with stealth and espionage, a prominent native of the land held captive by said tyrant and a void-like, starry expanse waiting to consume the whole place.

All of the above come together to create a suspenseful atmosphere, a feeling of imminent doom and hence a sense of haste and dread (don't worry though - Riven is NOT a timed game by any means - you have all the time in the world to complete it). That's a commendable achievement - through so little dialogue and written text, the game conveys so much in terms of ambiance and emotions, it's remarkable. That is also accomplished via the stunning visuals and sounds.

And indeed, the art here is truly breathtaking. You get to wander through picturesque landscapes, filled with placid cyan waters and serene beaches and banks. Even more so than Myst, Riven is laden with natural life combined with the harsh mechanical constructions. There's animal and plant life galore, and even some signs of humans, though the latter are very elusive to keep with the game's forlorn approach.

I mentioned the mechanical structures and devices in the game. There's a very important point I'd like to address here: Riven is not a gallery of nameless and detached contraptions with no background to them. In truth, every such object has a story behind it: the person who built it and the purpose for which it was built in the first place. They're all interwoven within the narrative of the game. It was important for me to emphasise this fact, because it's one of the biggest misconceptions about Myst.

This leads me to the puzzles. They consist of a deeper comprehension of the game's world but also of the people who stand behind its creation. Yes, you actually have to think like certain characters in the game, which is a wonderful and original concept in and of itself. Once again, you have to analyse your environment and apply its logic in order to manipulate it to your advantage. Every small sound, visual, written text etc... can combine to a greater understanding and thus to the ultimate solution. There are at least two major puzzles, each representing a different aspect of Riven - one the natural, the other the artificial. It makes for a very interesting mixture, and contributes to the overall enjoyment. Needless to say, the puzzles are as integral to the game's world and story as they can possibly get.

One last thing - they say god is in the details. If you follow this proverb and want to convert someone to believe in god - let them play Riven. Every little feature in the game - a doodle carved on a classroom desk, a primitive mural, even seemingly useless knick-knacks scattered on a study desk - has some significance one way or the other. Even the number of CDs (in the original CD version of course) reflects an important recurring theme in the game. The designers and developers of the game must be lauded for this careful attention to detail - it shows great care and love devoted to their own creation, which in turn is transferred to us, the players who get to experience this fantastic creation.

*I also liked the actors portraying the characters. Rand Miller (who also designed the game with his brother Robyn) as Atrus gives such a warm and candid portrayal of the character, that you simply can't imagine anyone else in the role. Then there's John Keston as Ghen, who's phenomenal in conveying the stark-cold nature of his character, very professional indeed.

The Bad

Not even Riven is innocent of drawbacks, minor and mild as they may be:

While I completely get the minimalistic approach of the designers, stripping any redundant interface icons and features, I wasn't very thrilled with the fact the mouse cursor didn't indicate interactivity, or hotspots. It made some parts a point n' click fest, and, dare I say, pixel-hunting?

I wish Riven was less family oriented. The game has great potential as an exclusively adult intellectual entertainment. I'm not saying a game should have ample sex and gore in order to be enjoyable, oh no. But maybe if it was marketed towards a more adult demographic, more people would give it a chance. But the game is just as perfect as it is, so don't quote me on this. :P I'm not even going to make a point of the absent subtitles, just be aware of this.

Catherine and Ghen could take a few lessons from Atrus on writing more legibly. Their journals were quite painful to read. [=

The Bottom Line

Riven is further proof that games can be an art form, albeit a developing one, that unfortunately gets masked by bombardments of mindless, purely commercial products as of late.

Hopefully the days when games were made with love and care will make a return, until then we have a few modern gems and the many classics such as Riven to lean on.