Uru: Ages Beyond Myst Updated Impressions
We take an updated look at the single-player component of this upcoming online adventure game.
Some years ago, designers Robyn and Rand Miller created a graphical adventure game called Myst that went on to become one of the most popular and best-selling computer games ever made. It was an unconventional game as far as adventure games go--rather than placing you in a typical fantasy or futuristic setting with a text parser to interact with the world, Myst let you explore its world from a first-person view. And this world was a colorful but mostly empty world, whose history you'd piece together from old fragments of tomes and diaries to unlock the secrets of an ancient civilization known as D'ni. Myst has since been followed by two other games, Riven and Myst III, and later this year, these will be succeeded by the fourth Myst game, Uru: Ages Beyond Myst. This unusual adventure game will have a full-on single-player game, like its predecessors, but it will also have a massively multiplayer online component that will let you explore the ruins of D'ni with other players online. We recently had the opportunity to try out the single-player portion of the upcoming game.
Uru begins by letting you create an avatar--either male or female--and customize its appearance, though since Uru is a graphical adventure game (and not a number-crunching role-playing game), there is absolutely no functional difference between female and male characters and no attribute scores to keep track of. The game lets you explore its world from either a first-person or a third-person view, and you can customize how your character looks in the third-person view by choosing different facial features, hairstyles, clothing, gloves, shoes, and other accessories. You can even use a slider bar to create a character of advanced age, which adds a few wrinkles to your character's countenance.
Once your character is created, you begin your journey in a vast desert lined with shrubs and a small plateau surrounded by barbed wire. According to the game's story, you're a curious person whose prior research into the D'ni culture has mysteriously drawn you to the desert, where the portal to the ancient civilization is said to be hidden. Upon arriving, you come upon a trailer sitting in the middle of the desert, next to which a soft-spoken man seems to be taking a vacation. Though he appears to simply be waiting for his barbecue to finish roasting while he enjoys a good book and a bag of chips, approaching him causes him to quietly mention that the entrance you're seeking is nearby, though you must solve various puzzles before you can enter. Though we've seen very little of Uru's puzzles up until now, they seem substantial enough and won't be foreign to any adventure-game fans.
As we've indicated in previous coverage of the game, Uru has a minimalist interface that has absolutely no icons or buttons onscreen by default. The only thing you see in the game most of the time is the scenery and your character (though if you change to a first-person view, your character is no longer visible), though placing your mouse pointer at the bottom of the screen pulls up the game's menu options. You move using a first-person shooter style of control that lets you walk forward and backward, strafe to the sides, and turn; and you interact with parts of your environment by clicking on them. Movement and use of objects are both handled in a context-sensitive manner, so walking up to a ladder immediately causes your character to begin climbing it, while clicking on a capstan will automatically cause your character to take hold of the apparatus and begin pushing it to rotate the crank.
Uru seems to have high production values at this point. The game has huge outdoor environments as well as detailed indoor environments, and it seems to feature crisp texture work, especially for wooden surfaces, such as the barriers around the desert excavation. The game also features a dynamic soundtrack that changes based on the situation you're in, and it also makes use of 3D positional audio. While exploring the outskirts of the desert, you hear a subdued instrumental track, though as you near one side of the trailer, the ambient sound suddenly changes to the music playing on the mysterious man's radio. And when you explore the nearby cavern, all music gets drowned out by the howling wind.
Uru: Ages Beyond Myst is very far into development at this point, and its attractive graphics, 3D audio, and easy-to-use interface should hopefully prove very inviting for adventure-game veterans and beginners alike. The game is scheduled for release later this year.
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