Myst remake impressions: Handsome island touch-ups, launch-week woes
This week, eight months after a touched-up version of 1993’s Myst landed exclusively on the Oculus Quest VR system, the same remake has been further touched up and made available on more devices—including non-VR options. This remade version of the puzzle classic, simply titled Myst, is included on Xbox Game Pass on both consoles and PC, and that subscription option may be easier for some longtime fans to swallow than another $30 retail purchase (on Xbox, Steam, or GOG).
This release goes beyond the touch-ups found in 2014’s realMyst Masterpiece Edition, but it’s equal parts refined and iffy. Cyan has so far been proactive on its Steam forums, suggesting that fans should expect fixes and responses to some of this release’s first-week woes in short order. In the meantime, certain returns to Myst Island are already easy to recommend. Others merit a wait-and-see approach.
Changes mild and major since realMyst
On the most basic level imaginable, this week’s Myst is the same as the CD-ROM Myst you know and (possibly) love. Should you have the original game’s puzzles and steps memorized, load the game in its default state, and you can either unravel every puzzle and story as you remember it or skip the hunt for clues and instantly expose every age attached to Myst Island.
But this journey isn’t identical to the original. For one, players can no longer expect the original game’s Hypercard-based point-and-click system. This is now a real-time, first-person game, modeled after the controls you’d find in a shooter on PC or consoles. There’s no menu toggle to revert to the original game’s slideshow style—nor the realMyst 2000 edition’s “node-by-node” smooth walks between the original game’s frozen moments. I’m honestly peeved that the latter has been removed for non-VR players. I always appreciated that option to split the difference between the old and the new.
A few of the game’s switches and machines have been touched up to account for either VR compatibility or the shift to modern controls, too. Instead of clicking in the center of a painting to activate a door, for example, you now have to aim at a mechanical switch next to the painting. Once touched, the mechanical switch animates with a chunky sound effect. In general, I prefer the new touch-ups, in part because I imagined an entirely unfamiliar player trying Myst for the first time and having more obvious, mechanical items to click and manipulate. Mercifully, players won’t have to rewind their brain to the unfamiliar universe of mid-’90s CD-ROMs, but the heart of each puzzle remains intact.
Meanwhile, the game’s original geometry has been overhauled—now for the third time, after two versions of realMyst and this time inside Unreal Engine 4. For the most part, the results are quite handsome, whether thanks to more bespoke foliage and trees, improved texture quality and object variety, or (most impressively) more realistic and grounded lighting that emulates material-based bounces, even without ray tracing enabled. When reviewing each version of the game side-by-side, you can see Cyan applying a different philosophy to how its dated 1994 CGI should be brought forward into a new computing generation. The results show the team’s willingness to reimagine various architectural touches or natural rock, forest, and water formations.
The crucial stuff looks identical or mighty familiar compared to the original game, and major island and underground arrangements are nearly identical in terms of physical walking distance. Plus, quite honestly, neither version of realMyst holds up particularly well in 2021, especially in terms of 3D translations of natural world elements. If you’re asking me to pick a favorite version of Myst, the grainy original is still my favorite, but I’d probably rather play this year’s model.
Solid defaults on both PC and console
Should you have an Xbox console (as low as the base Xbox One or as new as Xbox Series X) and Game Pass, I’d argue that’s the best way to dive back into the game in 2D, at least if you’re already paying for Game Pass. Performance and image quality are quite sharp on Series X/S, with most of the game’s PC effects toggles enabled and a frame rate that seems to stick to 60 fps. Both Xbox One versions drop to 30 fps, lower resolutions, and reduced graphics sliders. In particular, you’ll see less grass and foliage on a base Xbox One, with the results looking more like the wimpy Oculus Quest version. (The console version is currently Xbox exclusive. Sorry, PlayStation and Switch fans.)
On a features basis, at least in terms of flat-screen gaming, you’re getting practically the exact same experience. So if you can save $30 via Game Pass, you should do that.
Beyond the visuals, there’s the question of whether this is a better gaming option for anyone new to the meandering, puzzle-solving island pastiche. I’d say the answer is ultimately yes, whether because Myst‘s genre-defining foundation deserves to be so carefully preserved, or because a good gaming completionist should play CD-ROM fare meant for larger attention spans. You can’t get far in Myst without reading its texts, taking notes, and becoming absorbed in its plot, and that runs counter to the colder likes of The Talos Principle and The Witness. Sit with your kids and this version of Myst, and whatever purchase price is attached might soon melt away as you peel its mysteries away together.
Meanwhile, PC players can expect the usual slate of visual toggles, which Cyan thankfully exposes to players for easy tweaking. Since this is the original Myst we’re talking about—not updated with giant, walking robots or high-speed action sequences—you can arguably get away with an emphasis on visuals over high frame rates on older PCs. Should you want to peel back some frames, this version of Myst includes two upscaling options: Nvidia’s DLSS, which is exclusive to its RTX graphics cards, and AMD’s FSR, which works on a larger variety of both AMD and Nvidia GPUs.
I’ve tested both DLSS and FSR in games that support both, and my general conclusion has been a vote in favor of DLSS, which is admittedly an apples-versus-oranges showdown. DLSS can tap into dedicated GPU cores to do its work, while FSR can’t say the same, so it errs on the side of minimally invasive visual trickery. FSR is at its best when you’re fine running a lower base resolution anyway, but only DLSS really smartly builds a new pixel model on top of a lower base resolution. The same bears out in Myst 2021. It’s very tricky to prove this out in single screenshots, as some of each tech’s trickery is better represented with moving images, but you can see Nvidia ultimately win in comparisons, albeit in barely noticeable ways, in the above screenshot comparison gallery.