Ah, Myst. What memories. Before its plot became so overly convoluted that understanding it was a puzzle in itself, it was the pinnacle of PC gaming. The logic puzzles were difficult, but not unsolvable. The world was rich and detailed without forcing exposition on the player. It was a masterpiece. Earlier this year, a free independent game based in the universe entitled RoonSehv not only broke grounds on what a fan-made could be, but it also reminded me why I loved this franchise to begin with.
Originally conceived in 2004 by Denis Martin under the username of Prom361. The talented Frenchman worked on the project for several years until he became frustrated by the limited programs at his disposal. Things picked up again in 2013 when he discovered UDK and found it to be a far better prospect. The team grew to a core group of seven people going by the name of Babel Studios.
The story, much like the original, is uncovered by discovering the many texts found within the game. It tells the story of Atrus (played by Myst creator Rand Miller in the main series) and his family living in the secluded sanctuary of RoonSehv - a haven for artists and scholars of the peaceful and technologically advanced D'ni. For those not up to speed with the Myst lore, Atrus is the creator of many of the worlds or ages found within the books he has written - a power garnered from the mystical D'ni. His ungrateful sons, buoyed by their distracted and perhaps neglectful parents, would bring about the destruction of many of these worlds entrapping their father and themselves within these ages. And that's where Miller's 1993 masterpiece began. In an inventive piece of fan-fiction, Martin chose to set his side-story in the abandoned paradise where the boys grew up.
It is unclear when in the timeline your exploration of RoonSehv takes place, but ultimately it doesn't really matter. The story here is isolated having little effect on the main series. It does, however, further enrich an already vast and complex lore. The game begins in the midst of a raging sandstorm leaving you fighting to see through the dust. You'll soon come across a downed flying contraption as you stumble aimlessly. Right from the off you can see the care and attention put in. It's a commendable feat that you still get the feeling of being completely lost and directionless, despite the game subtly pointing you in the right direction.
The broken mechanism - perhaps your own - doubles as a brief tutorial of the controls as well as another subtle signpost to guide you. This tutorial is not really needed as the controls are simple and intuitive. From here you'll soon fall from a crumbling bridge into a cavern, knocking you out from the fall. As you come to, the storm has calmed and a bit of exploration uncovers a beautiful oasis of clear water and lush greenery. This is where the entrance to the abandoned underground home lies and your first puzzle - how to enter.
The puzzles are pleasingly obtuse. For the most part, they rely on keen observation and making seemingly random connections with your surroundings. The answers are all visible in the relatively small location, but you may not realise what those symbols refer to, or that they're part of a puzzle to begin with. One particular puzzle requires you to arbitrarily count the different coloured lights in each room and place representational orbs in size order. There are no clues provided to indicate that this is what you have to do which left me stumped for the longest time. In fact, this is the only puzzle that I eventually gave up on and looked up the answer. Sometimes if you do this, you'll slap yourself on the head and proclaim 'I should've thought of that', but this one left me crying 'really?'. It's the only puzzle of many that expose the amateur origins and for that very reason, it is entirely forgivable.
While there is a logic gap in some puzzles - the lights being the most obvious example - the majority are very well thought out. There's nothing like a feeling of accomplishment when all the clues finally click making you feel far more intelligent than you probably are. It's a sense of elation that very few of the many Myst clones can accomplish and RoonSehv wholeheartedly succeeds, despite the odd blip.
The clues may be hidden, but exploring the rather small area is such a fascinating joy. There is a lot of backtracking but I never felt bored by this, even if most of it was because I was stuck searching for clues I may have missed. The small area and excellently compact layout design is perfect to diminish any frustrations this may cause. The visuals are also of exceptionally high quality to keep you interested as you explore. There are a polish few commercial games of this size have. The sense of wonder as you discover each location is palpable. If there's anything negative here, it's in the understandable lack of interactive objects. Not all drawers and cupboards can be opened and those that can are often empty. Most shelves and desktops have had the effort taken to place interesting objects on them, but you can't take much of a closer look at them. It's a world that invites analysis of every minutia but rarely allows it outside of the context of the puzzles. Had the world not been so inviting, I doubt this minor niggle would be there.
I was completely captivated from beginning to end of this marvellous free game. It took me back to when I first played Myst in the mid-nineties. I even began to dream about the puzzles that stumped me - something I had not really done since that first venture into Cyan's world. In fact, I would say that it's the most absorbing game in the franchise since Ubisoft took over the reins. Mr. Martin and his team at Babel Studios should be incredibly proud of this amazing accomplishment.
To download the game follow the official link below. Further information can be found on Denis Martin's site here. Tested on Windows 7 and Windows 10.
RoonSehv is © Babel Studios
Myst is © Cyan Productions
Review and Cover Design created by me