Review: Riven for iOS

It’s hard to look at a game like Riven without the fog of nostalgia clouding my vision.

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I remember spending hours playing the game, and its predecessor Myst, on my family’s old PC, taking down detailed notes and calling my dad in to help me with some of the harder puzzles.

I remember being completely absorbed with the world’s detailed environments, rendered in a more stunning way than any game I’d seen on my home consoles.

When I saw that developer Cyan Worlds had released an iOS version of the game as part of Myst‘s 20th anniversary, I was more than curious to see how a game I was so enamoured with as a kid held up after all these years.

At its core, Riven is a point-and-click adventure game. The gameplay primarily consists of exploring the world of Riven and solving various puzzles which result in gaining access to other parts of the world, and learning more about the game’s convoluted plot. That gameplay remains virtually unchanged for iOS.

This release doesn’t feature any new puzzles, so people who have played the game before have the advantage of being able to solve them more quickly if they remember how.

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The basic point-and-click mechanics of Riven work well on a touch screen though I found myself squinting at some of the game’s smaller details even on my full size iPad.

Cyan also added a nifty hint system for this version of the game, which highlights interactive objects in bright green when you shake your device. While this feature is somewhat helpful, you are still pretty much left on your own to figure out just how the various buttons and levers you fiddle with affect the game’s environments.

The solutions to these puzzles are far from obvious, and even the most patient gamers will be tempted to jump online for tips and walkthroughs to make the puzzles easier. The original Riven came with a blank journal to take notes in, and if you’re serious about trying to beat it without a walkthrough, you are going to need a notebook.

And patience. Lots of patience.

While the puzzles still remain an entertaining challenge, Riven‘s visuals show the game’s age.

What I remembered most about Riven was its graphics. When it came out in 1997, the game looked spectacular. From sandy beaches and craggy cliffs to gleaming golden domes and Jules Vern-inspired technology, each still frame immersed you in the world Cyan spent four years creating.

Nearly 16 years later, those same visuals look severely dated. Unlike Cyan’s realMyst, which rendered the game’ environments in real time, Riven‘s environs are presented as static, still-life landscapes which you traverse in a slide show fashion. Each screen fades in and out as you move around the world, creating a jarring, stilted sense movement.

The game’s options do allow you to adjust the speed of the transitions, but the feature did little to ease my frustration with the lack of freedom of movement.Even The animated sequences interspersed throughout the game come off as grainy and jerky.

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While Cyan spent nearly two years porting Riven to iOS, the graphics weren’t updated, and gamers used to the current generation consoles and PCs will easily see the seams, cracks and overall age of the game’s modelling and textures. Despite doing their best to fit what was originally a five-CD game into Apple’s 2GB limit, the graphical quality of Riven is so dated it’s distracting.

But while the look of the game hasn’t held up, the sound certainly has. Exploring Riven with a decent pair headphones will yield a lush pallet of sound, from the roar of wind to the cry of birds to the creak and squeal of the various levers, cogs and machinery, the sound is one of the game’s elements that’s still somewhat impressive.

Simply put, Riven‘s age keeps it from being the immersive experience I remember. Without the knowledge and history of the the series’ background and place in gaming history as a frame of reference, Riven becomes simplistic, outdated and clunky.

In the end, Riven for iOS is a fun flashback for fans of the Myst franchise, and a nice glimpse at PC gaming’s past for new players. This is a case where, perhaps, it’s best to view a game though the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia.

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