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USK: for all ages
A review by slydos 15th December 2003
10 years ago the Cyan developers opened with the legendary "Myst" a new subgenre in the adventure field, a surrealistic puzzle game without the usual inventory, in which gamers could not die. They set the exploration of a strange, beautiful world against the development of a story, staging against plot. The solution of puzzles moved to the center of interest and the players became the protagonists themselves through ego-perspective, selfsufficiently without dialogues.
The extreme sales impact of "Myst" led to the sequels "Riven", "Exile" and finally "Uru - Ages Beyond Myst". With "Exile" the publishing rights went for years from Broderbund to UbiSoft, who laid the development for the 2001 published 3rd part into the hands of the likewise very successful Presto Studios. At the same time the inventors from Cyan went in for the development of "Uru", the fourth part and its extension with the on-line component "Uru Live", which should be started officially at the beginning of 2004, but was already accessible for free for the players of the single player version (annotation: a short time after the test phase "Uru Live" was cancelled).
While "Myst" and its both successors could recruit a large number of new adventurefans, they also split the adventure community into exclusive fans of the classic inventory- and plot-based games, the so-called "Myst haters", and in adventure gamers, who could make themselves friends with both.
With "Uru" UbiSoft planned to build a bridge between them and alsoappeal to those players, who didn't belong to the traditional Myst community. Therefore they made a lot of changes in Uru, which shouldn't disgust Mystfans too much and reconcile other players:
While we are transferred in the predecessor games without substantial helping escort - I mean explanation - into strange worlds and left there rather alone with our fantasy in unknown civilizations and connections, "Uru" from the very beginning supplies a story framework, not only introducing into the actual game but also answering some open questions of the predecessors. Haven't even started, you can find a leaflet, giving us not only information about the D'ni-civilisation but also about our role in this game:
The story of "Uru" begins in the southwest desert area of the USA. In the past years the DRC (D'ni restoration council), a group of scientists, has discovered the underground, abandoned D'ni-empire und has tried to re-establish the physical presence of the D'ni and to make the worlds accessible for visitors. Likewise interested in the re-establishment is Yeesha, a D'ni and daughter of the characters Atrus and Catherine introduced in previous games. Yeesha gives us information in shape of a holographic recording, how this can happen.
At this point I must tell you that "Uru" is to a large extent nonlinear. The worlds can be visited and puzzles can be solved in different order. But this freedom of choice had at least a snag in the sequence that I selected, i.e. that I was released directly, without Yeesha's important introducing words, into the four worlds, without a clue, what I should actually do there. I assume, this is an inadvertent bug, which transferred me from the unfinished prologue directly into the subterranean worlds. I missed important hints and after all I could only find 6 of the 7 possiblerags in the crevice world although I was able to finish the game anyhow. Therefore I can only recommend to play the desert world of the beginning to the end (thus wait to meet with Yeesha's hologram), since one otherwise you won't get any info on your actual task.
During the game one gets more background knowledge about the D'ni-civilisation through the recordings of the scientists than in the 3 previous games. Reading the long texts is not necessary however reasonable and aims both at the predecessor games and at possible successors. In addition Yeesha gives us many explanations about the past and future after each partial success. Thus one can recommend "Uru" particularly as starter game for the series.
- Gaming perspective
"Uru" breaks off with the lonely 1st-person-perspective of the series. This time we can look over the shoulder of our avatar, if and when we want to. Through this 3rd-person-perspective we get an idea of the dimensions of the gigantic scenes. Switching into ego-perspective with F1 is possible at any time and in some situations even necessary. One then gets the exact point of view through the Avatar's eyes. Switching is particularly helpful in unclear situations and when e.g. objects cover the avatar or important areas. There is also an automatic change of perspective whenever e.g. control panels must be shown in 1st-person-zoom or during animation sequences of the avatar. We can only specify the sex of our avatar at the beginning and cannot change it afterwards anymore. But we can always change his/her appearance in clothes, age, girth and hair-style with the return to our homeland world Relto. The styling reminds quite of the Barbie game series and actually only makes real sense if we send the avatar into the multiplayer on-line world of Uru Live. There's however one tip: one should select as bright clothes colours as possible to better recognize the avatar, since one must perambulate some dark and very dark areas.
The change of the perspective and also the introduction of jump&run elements brings about an addition to the previous exclusive point&click control. Nothing new for the players of "The Watchmaker", where both protagonists could be controlled by mouse and where you could switch between 1st and 3rd-person-perspective, but surely something unusual and rather annoying for the sworn in Myst community. For the first time in the Myst series one can advance in a 3D-environment into any corner and examine everything from all sides. The camera point of view is always selected automatically (in GK3 e.g. also a change of the camera position would have been possible) and as suitably as possible for the avatar in 3rd-person-perspective, so that the standard perspective from the rear over the shoulders of the avatar is changed when reaching certain paths and moves with courageous pan-shots to diagonally above or into the full shot, whereby the control always remains relative to the character. Just this sometimes surprising pans considerably contribute to the atmosphere of the game and give in many cases (when watching exactly) hints on otherwise possibly ignored hotspots. Very positive for the gamers is the freedom of selecting the appropriate kind of control.
You can position your Avatar more exact with the arrow keys, if you want to take over a good point of jump. More comfortable, because one-handed, is the control by mouse, particularly if you want to cover longer distances fast or accomplish a run-jump (with both mouse buttons), because with the keyboard you need both hands. The Uru makers did not solve that ingeniously but still very much pleasing. Approximately at the end of the first chapter (if one finishes it immediately - contrary to me), you should be familiar with the handling of your avatar and you should be able to climb, jump and interact with hotspots. Later one you will learn, that climbing and jumping can serve not only puzzle solving, but also the better overview.
Positive that our character becomes transparent when touched with the mouse. So areas covered by the avatar get clickable. Our character quite often covers points of interaction, so we must always approach very close, in order to recognize a hotspot as such by change of the cursor.
When discovering hotspots the keyboard is insufficient and uncomfortable, since we need the mouse anyway for it. Who runs around exclusively in ego-perspective, will miss a quantity of important information.
A weak point of the control is it that one activates the backward step function again and again, when driving the mouse too far into the lower screen area.
- Game Over andSave
One cannot to die in "Uru", but one can have an accident (by incautious movements or during jumps) in such a manner, that one is removed from the current game situation and must restart the game in the respective world completely from the beginning or from one of the fixed save-points - the so-called travel bookmarks in the shape ofrugs. There are 7 pieces of rugs for each world. They are partly well hidden and only accessible after the solution of certain puzzles. So it can happen that you drudged for hours on a particularly tricky puzzle or a particularly complicated jump and then either by own incautiousness or by bug (sometimes one falls suddenly through solid underground into the depth) are catapulted back from the respective world to Relto (your homeland world) and can repeat everything. If that is not a Game Over! But it's not called that way in "Uru". You can only save your game by clicking on one of the rugs, so that all solved puzzles or made changes so far are still present also with next start of the game. Frustrating and boring the sometimes infinite seeming repetitions of interactions and running after such a throw-out from the current world, especially because of the long loading times. A part of the quite long game of around 40+ hours resulting from that. Was this artificial game extension the reason that a save function was omitted?
- Playing football and movement puzzles
Like the other Myst games there is no inventory, with which one can transport objects. This is a natural limit to puzzle design. So only buttons can be pressed or levers be pulled and - that's new with "Uru" - objects can be transported with the avatar's body over longer distances by pushing. There is even an object, which we can transport from one world into another - more will however not be betrayed. This results in new and interesting puzzle solutions.
Likewise new are puzzles, which deal with movements and are also solved through movements. This includes jump&run elements where one must jump off in the correct moment from the correct point, or one must catch a moving target correctly. There is also a shooting sequence and time limits. Overall an enrichment beyond the otherwise always recurring mechanical and code puzzles. However a number of the dexterity elements are to be mastered quite lengthily and frustrate by the missing save function and long loading times.
Further on there is hardly any interaction with other characters with 2 small exceptions. Dialogues and interaction are however intended for Uru Live.
- Instead inventory an own library
The only objects (with the exception of the above specified), which the players can take up, are books or book pages, which are then added automatically to the library of the Relto world. If one wants to reach the library, one simply uses the Relto book symbol at the bottom of the screen. From there one can open the existing books either at the beginning or the last travel bookmark to enter a world. You will also find book pages to Relto, with which one can add new attributes to this small island world, e.g. a waterfall. This looks nice, has however no other game influence.
- Higher hardware requirements
Real time 3D needs more capable computers and graphic cards. While for "Exile" still a Pentium II with 233 MHz, 64 MB was sufficient one already needs for "Uru" minimum a P III with 800 MHz, 256 MB RAM and an efficient 3D-graphic card. Even with my P IV a smooth gameplay result was only viable with rudimentary graphics quality. (The graphic settings could be newly selected with every game start to decide how much delay one wants to tolerate.) Likewise you should get for yourself a new sound card (EAX), if you want to know the promise of high-realistic realtime-sound. But also without this the sound effects are impressing. Not as impressing however the few music titles, like Peter Gabriel's Song at the beginning or the rather thrifty New Age Sounds in the process of the game. Speech can only be found at the beginning and end of the game and after successful finishing one of the 4 main worlds. It is expressionful and professional.
Contrary to the prerendered predecessors ("Exile" needed 4 CDROMs and was sold in a solid box) comes "Uru" on 1 CD with a scarce manual of 13 pages plus quick-guide in a more economical DVD box. (A real time game saves the manufacturer render work and disk space on the transport medium, but requires from the players a well-prepared computer.)
During installation one must place 2 GB on hard disk. All in all, you should take 20 minutes into consideration, including the menu-driven download of patches and the configuration of the pre-settings plus system restart. And before you can let go you still have to create your character.
There were some smaller ingame bugs however no game crash. To be able to play the game fluently even with recommended hardware equipment, one must unfortunately scale down the graphics quality and effects, anti-aliasing or texture quality.
The worlds of "Uru" are an eye-candy like always in the Myst-series. Not completely brilliant as a prerendered game, but still top in the 3D-realtime-area with very many details and animations, not only including mushroom spores or falling leaves, but also animals in the water, on the ground and in the air. Weather and day/night effects, moving sun and shades are only some examples. The 3rd-person-perspective and 3D-graphics make changes of the perspective and camera moves possible, which get the vast proportions out of the very different landscapes. Unfortunately some scenes are simply too dark, so that one can easily overlook important spots. It was very often necessary to readjust the brightness/contrast during the game and that is incomprehensible, since at the beginning a contrast adjustment was already required. Actually one should assume one is spared with it during the game.
"Uru" the best game of the Myst-series for me. Graphically brilliant like always, there is for the first time the whiff of a plot with the chance of possible interaction with NPCs not only in "Uru Live" but also in possible successors. ("Uru" signifies in D'ni as much as "big crowd of people".) More dynamics in puzzles, perspective and control bring changes into the still rather lonely-autistic designed game. Myst lovers will buy it anyway. For all those who like a jump&run sequence from time to time and complicated puzzles and who don't mind to repeat long game passages with these puzzles or dexterity tasks often and can endure long waiting periods while loading, it can be recommended as an introductory game into this classic series, because here one can find out the most facts about the history of the D'ni without reading special D'ni-literature. A better save function would have resulted in a higher rating.
Total rating: 82%
Adventure-Archiv rating system:
- 80% - 100% excellent game, very recommendable
- 70% - 79% good game, recommendable
- 60% - 69% satisfactory, restricted recommendable
- 50% - 59% sufficient (not very recommendable)
- 40% - 49% rather deficient (not to be recommended - for hardcore-adventure-freaks and collectors only)
- 0% - 39% worst (don't put your fingers on it)
Minimal system requirements:
- Windows XP/ME/2000/98SE
- 800 MHz Pentium III or AMD Athlon
- 256 MB RAM
- 4x CDROM-drive
- Graphic card: NVidia GeForce or ATI Radeon 7000 or higher
- DirectX 8.1 compatible sound card
- 2 GB hard disk space
- 800 x 600 16 bit resolution
- Mouse and keyboard
- Windows XP
- P IV 1,6 GHz
- 512 MB RAM
- 16x DVD-ROM (Artec WRA-A40)
- nVidia GeForce 2MX400 64 MB graphic card
- Sound card DirectX-compatible
You can adjust the graphics settings during the start
We begin in the New-Mexican desert
Th magnify click on the screenshots