Myst Oculus Quest review – the past and future of video game puzzle-solving

The original creators of Myst remake the game in VR, creating a fascinating new way to enjoy one of the most important PC games ever made.

The bugs and performance problems of Cyberpunk 2077 have been dominating the headlines so much during the last few weeks that the fact it’s become the fastest-selling PC game of all-time has gone almost without notice. That does make it interesting though, when the very next game to arrive in for review is a VR remake of what was for a long time the best-selling PC game ever. As such, it’s fascinating to see the vast difference between what passes for a top selling game now and back in 1993.

Although it’s debatable whether the concept of a killer app still exists (if there was one for the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 it was probably Game Pass and the DualSense, rather than a specific game) Myst was what convinced millions of people to buy a CD-ROM drive for their PC back in the early 90s. Before that it was all floppy disks and grainy video clips, until CD-ROMs ushered in a, thankfully brief, era of full motion video and interactive movies.

Myst used the technology in a more imaginative way than just shoving hours of badly acted cut scenes onto the screen, creating what at the time was considered to be one of the most realistic interactive environments ever created. The technology is laughable today but Myst’s sedate pace and lack of action makes it perfect for transformation into a VR game, a process which also helps to reclaim some of the awe and wonder felt by playing the original.

Turning Myst into a VR game is the sort of no-brainer that the video games industry always seems desperate to avoid, so it’s great not only to see it happen but to have original developers Cyan onboard to oversee it. As Myst’s popularity slowly declined over the years the company almost went under but it has continued to put out interesting titles, finishing up the series with the underappreciated Myst 5: End Of Ages and creating spiritual sequel Obduction.

This VR release is a straight remake though, not a brand-new game, and so what once were static, postcard-like screens, that you flicked between to give the impression of movement, are now fully realised 3D environments that you can gawp at in virtual reality. The modest graphical abilities of the Oculus Quest means that Cyan can’t go overboard with the visuals even if they wanted to and so the game retains a very similar look to the original, with the same cold, lonely atmosphere.

What the remake also retains is the same puzzles, so if you somehow remember all the solutions this will be a walk in the park – sometimes literally. Although, cleverly, there is the option to randomise things like dates and clues so you can’t solve anything purely by memory, even if the underlying puzzle is still the same.

With the VR environment raising up the visuals to something closer to modern standards it’s the gameplay which now feels like the most retro element of the game. That’s not because of any failure on its part but because the idea of purposefully difficult puzzles is not something any modern, mass-market video game would base itself around. The memory tests and trial and error solutions of some puzzles are especially trying but the majority are strictly logical and simply require a little experimentation and reading up on the in-game lore (something the higher resolution of the Oculus Quest 2 makes agreeably easy).

The Witness – which was clearly heavily influenced by the original Myst – would be one of the closest modern comparisons, in that both games offer almost no help or context for solving their puzzles and expect you to simply experiment and work things out for yourself. That’s fine up until you realise that the only reason you couldn’t solve a puzzle is that you didn’t notice a hidden note or some other tiny background detail, which the game absolutely refuses to give you a hint about.

Myst’s storytelling is equally opaque, although not as much as The Witness and later entries in the series. The concept is actually fairly straightforward, as you find yourself trapped on a mysterious island that you’re teleported to via a magic book. There you find two untrustworthy sons of the island’s caretaker, who are trapped within separate books that you must find the pages for in order to properly understand their story and judge whether they deserve saving.

Old school puzzle games and graphic adventures are now very much a thing of the past and while we doubt a VR version of Myst is going to reverse that trend it does make them more palatable than at any other time in recent history. Although the effect is heightened if you remember the original, looking around in VR at the buildings and locations, as clouds drift quietly through the sky, is a wonderfully calming and ethereal experience that helps alleviate the frustration of not solving the puzzles.

There are no major changes to the gameplay but there are tweaks here and there, such as being able to hold more than one book page at once – which decreases the need for backtracking. Some machinery has more tactile switches and dials to fiddle with too, although weirdly your virtual hand turns into an orange globe whenever you interact with something, which does spoil the sense of immersion.

As you’d imagine the game uses a teleport movement system by default, which makes perfect sense given the original, but there are also snap-turn and free movement options if your VR legs can handle them.

One fairly significant problem though is that because of the complexity of the puzzles many players took physical notes while playing the original and that’s essentially impossible in VR. A journal option is apparently being added post launch (along with a patch to improve the graphics on the Oculus Quest 2), which sounds like it will attempt to address the issue, but it’s clearly never going to be as simple as just jotting down notes on a piece of paper.

Myst is a product of its time and all but the most rabid fans are going to end up frustrated at the slow pace and abstruse design at least once or twice during the course of the story. But Myst is a historically important video game, not just in terms of its own success but as the quintessential example of a style of logic-based puzzle game that just doesn’t exist today – or at least not in a form that would make it the best-selling game of its era.

We admire Cyan’s unwillingness to change the formula and not dumb-down the gameplay, and while some kind of help system might have been wise (especially given other modern ports have included one) the fact that you’re left alone in the game world, to quietly explore the island’s clockwork like attractions, recreates the feeling of playing the original perfectly – and that’s the highest praise you could give to any remake.

Myst Oculus Quest review summary

In Short: Arguably the definitive edition of one of the most important video games ever released, whose quiet puzzle-solving and slow exploration works perfectly in VR.

Pros: A perfect homage to the original game, that manages to keep the old puzzles and layouts intact but reinvigorate them via VR. Randomise option is very welcome and the sound design is great.

Cons: The inability to keep notes at launch is a serious flaw and the lack of a help system seems a little extreme given previous ports did have one. Mediocre visuals, from a technical standpoint.

Score: 7/10

Formats: Oculus Quest (reviewed) and PC
Price: £22.99
Publisher: Cyan Worlds
Developer: Cyan Worlds
Release Date: 10th December 2020
Age Rating: 7

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