I have to be honest, not very long after getting my first computer; I’d also received Myst, (actually as a Christmas gift the following year), and I very much enjoyed it, even at that time. Now, we’re gifted with this new incarnation of the series, in full fledged 3d, abandoning live actors, and free of the pre-rendered world that we’ve come to know and love. Is it any better? Is it any worse? I’ll be the judge of that...
Basically, you’ll begin the game first looking at the explorer creation interface, which is fairly standard as most RPGs go, but, of course, is something unheard of in the Myst series. Equally unheard of, as far as character creation goes, is the sheer amount of options offered by this system, frankly, it’s one of the best I’ve seen in a PC game, and it’s really a pity something like that hadn’t been considered for a MMORPG previously.
(Speaking of that, URU is in fact a MMORPG but sadly, I was unable to glimpse that particular aspect of the game yet, however, if it’s anything like the single player portion I’ve no doubt you’ll enjoy it.)
Shortly after creating your character, you’re dropped smack dab in the middle of the desert, in usually Myst fashion, obviously. Only by turning around and running to a half buried sign will you find any indication of where you are, specifically, New Mexico, and even more specifically, on private property. Another short run leads you to a trailer, presumably belonging to the owner, and this is where your game begins.
Being an average first person shooter fan I found the controls to be a bit strange, but not lain out poorly. Simply, you’ve to press the left mouse button to walk forward, and the right to look around, additionally, if you hold both down, your character will run in the specified direction. The game is also played in third person primarily, however, you can switch to a first person view if you find staring at your virtual butt to be unpleasant. (I know I did, really have to start watching what I eat) but by doing this you’ll be missing out on the games fluid and well done animation, which really can be quite interesting.
Aside from some minor control issues, you’ll also be faced immediately with some minor camera issues, especially in the first level where the large entrance cave provides for some very tight squeezes. Thankfully, in other ages, this is a bit less noticeable and far easier to deal with, and, again, thankfully, the aforementioned control issue and this are really the only two annoyances you’ll have to deal with here.
Ok, perhaps there is a third, but it’s all depending on what you’re expecting out of Uru you may or may not be disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, most of the puzzles within Uru are perfect, and most quite logically oriented, even more so than previous games of the series. But one sticks out in my mind as both illogical, and annoying. I’m speaking of course of the Journeys, little sheets of paper embossed with a handprint and thrown about in random spots throughout each of the ages, (aside from Relto, you’re home age) that’ll you’ll be forced to find before you can consider it truly completed.
The problem with these Journeys is, they simply cannot be ignored, as their finding is vital to the Uru storyline, and that leaves with an incredibly unfulfilling feeling after completing a particularly hard puzzle. I just figured out a complex system governing the sun’s rotation and supplying power to an entire island, and what am I rewarded with? The ability to travel up a lift and find yet another journey. Of course you’ll also be enjoying journals and books left behind by the previous occupants of that age, but always with the shadow of the “journey” at your backside.
However, the Uru single player line simply offers too much for me to attack it solely because I find the “journey” irritating, and try as I might, I simply cannot get more than a little annoyed at the game, mainly because there is something constantly making me go “wow” for every time I’ve said “damn it.” One of these things specifically, is a completely new introduction to the Myst series, a “home age” or a “base age” Relto, which is essentially an island floating in the clouds, housing a hut, which intern houses your linking books and some extra clothing. By traveling throughout the ages, you’ll find upgrades to Relto, and soon your hut will be a house, and your clothing cupboards filled with more than just a few choices of fashionable attire. Additionally, you can take Relto online for the MMORPG portion and continue to upgrade it through the upgrade pages you find in Uru Live.
Graphically, Uru is excellent, and needs little criticism aside from the obligatory, “you better have the system to run it,” comment. I found little trouble running it with full detail and 2 times anti-aliasing on my rig (2.4 Gig Pentium with a Radeon 9500 Pro) so I doubt most of the gamers at large will find much problem with Uru. However, most Myst fans aren’t part of the “gamers at large,” so it’s understandable some concern with the taxing of your system may arise, thankfully, Uru is fairly scaleable, and should do well on systems even two years old.
With all the effects on, however, Uru looks amazing, and this is further buttressed by the fact the age design, and the animation is quite perfect, in some cases even awe inspiring. Granted, it’s not up there with the next generation of games due out this year, but it’s good enough to provide a reasonable suspension of disbelief, and really make the user feel like the world he’s exploring is alive.
Further aiding that are the sound effects and musical score, which both are done quite professionally and are really one of the most important aspects of games in Uru’s genre. I’m particularly fond of the various mental clanks and clunks you’ll encounter within, as they very seldom repeat, and seem quite different from age to age or surface to surface. The voice acting, what little of it there is, is also quite good, and though it’s not superb quality, it’s enough for a game of this type, and certainly more than other PC games we’ve seen in the past.
What I’m sadly unable to comment on is the MMOG portion of Uru, dubbed “Uru Live” and which is supposed to be playable by thousands at a time, all exploring ages and solving puzzles in groups. It certainly sounds intriguing, and believe me, if I ever get the chance; I’ll certainly write a follow up review, although at the moment his service still hasn't been launched..
Overall, Uru is a very unique game, last of a dying breed of puzzle games, and certainly a strange twist for the Myst series. Diehards of the genre will comment that puzzles in this version have been “dumbed down” and are no longer as taxing as previous games, relying instead on simple mechanical or jumping solutions to get the job done. I’ll have to agree with this point, but I’ll defend my belief with the contention that it is not a change for the worse in a series, simple a metamorphoses from the archaic puzzle games of the past which relied simply on a 2d interface and the user’s brain for a solution. I’m sure the original Myst would have included non-linear solutions if it was possible at the time, what we see here is only a departure from normality in puzzle games, and not a bad departure either, as it’s something that if played all the way through, will ultimately leave the player satisfied with a feeling of accomplishment, accomplishment which was challenging enough to keep him entertained, whilst simultaneously preventing him from consulting a walkthrough. Uru broke new ground for Cyan, and hopefully we can see a refinement of its kind in the coming years.