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Review by: Jordan Thomas
Published: January 18, 1998
You’re sitting alone there, staring at the screen in solitary concentration. Your surroundings seem pretty unremarkable, but everything is as normal, right? This planet is vast, and its diverse levels of life, construction, and form twist gently out from your location in concentric rings. Outside of your dwelling, there are others. Beyond those, the city limits delineate your community. Further than even those boundaries lie those of your district, or county. And as your mind’s eye continues to expand, you can observe states, countries, and continents reach forever outward, all centered on your singular perception; your world view.
Keep reading, but shut your mind off to your surroundings. Sever your perceptual ties to the pallid lights and encircling walls. Close your mind’s eye for just a moment, and discard what you know.
And now, re-open your psyche, and prepare for Riven. From the virtual wizards at Cyan, the long-awaited sequel to Myst will now become your world. The incredible level of detail, coupled with absolutely astounding visuals, will draw you in for the adventure of your life.
The 3D artists on the Riven team are nothing short of brilliant. You are given the opportunity to walk through an artificial world which is rendered, textured, and animated with such vibrant intensity that it appears even sharper than reality. You will navigate perilous mountain paths between the sunken rock-chambers which mark the holy temples of the land you now explore. You will traverse deep into a network of underground caverns, both frozen and molten. And you will rip from island to island in high-velocity transport railway trolleys, mining carts, and even a guided diving bell. Each and every thing you see is so gorgeous and crisp that it appears touchable. And frequently, you will be able to manipulate these objects of digital beauty to serve your exploratory purposes. When you pull a lever, open a door, or play with the elements of a puzzle, it animates right out of the background scenery. You move through the game screens with either rotational or dissolve-style transitions between still images. These screens are a treat to the eye, and are spiced with just enough animation to keep you believing.
All the motion is fluid, and while the video suffers a little from compression pixelation, that cannot alter the fact that each movement is smooth and completely realistic. This serves to bring you even deeper into the vast virtual environment that is Riven. Occasionally, you will encounter a digitized inhabitant of the world. These FMV elements are integrated seamlessly into the rendered scenery. Most of the time, you are utterly alone, almost eerily so. But Riven is very much alive, and you will wander though the dwellings of an entire civilization, while learning of its nuances and culture.
This game is somewhere between a simulated world and a novelesque study of culture and legend. A full-featured mythology was researched and developed for this title, and it allows you to carve away your own perceptual position. All the inhabitants of the planet have their own religion, based ironically on the creator of their story, the holders of the book that Riven‘s fate is written upon. While this may sound as if the game designers have a bit of a superiority problem, rest assured. The creator I’m referring to is a godlike being who somehow crafted the entire world of Riven into an enchanted tome. The whole society that you must explore is based upon books of such incredible magic and power that they may serve as gateways to separate dimensions, inter-spatial prisons, and more. You will need to decipher these and many more elements of their paradigm to progress.
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