Finish Myst too quickly? Try Riven

Don't make plans for a few days if you buy this sequel to Myst.

Jon Kaufthal

After creating the most popular computer game of all time, what do you do for an encore? Having worked for years on Riven, sequel to the blockbuster Myst, the game's creators can finally rest easy, knowing they've succeeded in producing a sequel worthy of its predecessor.

In case you're not one of the four million people who bought a copy of the earlier game, Myst introduced players to a world where "linking books" allowed one to travel to worlds limited only by the imagination. Sure, it sounds like a standard enough sci-fi premise. But the overall Myst experience was unique enough to revolutionize the PC game industry a give many a compelling reason to finally buy a CD-ROM drive. Years after its release, Myst can still be found among the top selling games each month.

Riven, like Myst, is a slow-paced game in which the player walks around and interacts simply by clicking on objects on screen. The game is not for the "thumb twitch" gamer but rather for the one who prefers thinking to shooting anything that moves(not that there's anything wrong with that). In fact, it's nearly impossible to "die" in Riven; the major obstacle in the way of winning is simply getting stuck. Patience, close attention to detail and creative thinking are vital to surviving Riven's fiendish challenges.

The storyline of Riven picks up right where Myst left off. Atrus, creator of the Myst world (who you discover at the end of Myst), explains his belief that his wife Catherine has been captured by his evil father Gehn in a world known as Riven. In the process, Gehn has stranded himself without any linking book allowing him (or anyone else) to leave Riven. Atrus implores you to travel to Riven in order to search for Catherine and attempt to trap Gehn in a special "prison book." You soon find yourself on Riven, with an entire world to explore.

And indeed, Riven does feel like another world. The game succeeds again in what was Myst's most impressive accomplishment: it transports you to a fictional place and truly makes you feel there. The games' creators, brothers Robyn and Rand Miller, have a gifted eye for detail that has made them titans in an already overcrowded industry.

The Miller brothers' fantasy land, Riven, is a beautiful world consisting of several islands linked by a bizarre system of roller coaster-like transports. In this world, entire rooms rotate, water has mysterious "holes" tunneling through its surface and one may encounter animals such as the Wahrk and the Sunner along with the more familiar frogs and fish. Riven's great accomplishment is that these mythical creatures seem no less real than their more mundane counterparts.

Strangely, much of what makes Riven great may be missed entirely on a conscious level. But the natural background sounds, the way water actually moves and the incredible texture of rocks and other surfaces are some of the important factors that help to make Riven feel real.

In creating convincing fiction, one advantage Riven has over Myst is inevitable: though Myst's graphics were stunning for their time, Riven's scenery simply blows them away. And while Myst featured postage stamp-sized video, Riven takes advantage of full screen video and dazzling graphics.

But Riven is not just eye candy: the game's intricate plot is compelling, and getting through its five discs requires a great deal of subtle problem solving. Ultimately, though, Riven's reward is the journey itself. Each new area is a dazzling world which is a pleasure to simple explore. Riven is decidedly slow-paced, but certainly not easy to put down.

Riven's slow pace is not the only reason why Myst veterans will feel right at home in this adventure. Riven also features a healthy assortment of valves, secret passageways, and lengthy diaries. As the game progresses, familiar areas are given new life as new secrets are discovered. In fact, Riven's final sequence occurs just steps away from where the game begins.

Some will enjoy Riven's puzzles most, while others are captivated simply by the ability to explore new worlds. Either way, Riven is not to be missed. So here's the plan: quickly, before the workload starts picking up, run out and get yourself a copy. Go home. Install. Turn out the lights and pump up the volume. Hold all your calls. Tell all your friends and relatives that you'll be out of the country for a few weeks. And then just click on that Riven icon and explore. Just remember to eat every now and then.