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Jun 24, 2024

Riven Review

Lights Off
5 Incredible
Retails for: $34.99
We Recommend: $34.99
  • Developer: Cyan Worlds Inc
  • Publisher: Cyan Worlds Inc
  • Genre: Adventure, Casual, Indie
  • Released: Jun 25, 2024
  • Platform: Windows, Oculus Rift
  • Reviewed: Windows

Riven, a game first released in 1997 has finally been given the remake treatment from the original developers. Myst (the prequel game) has been remastered and remade several times since its 1993 introduction, but now it is time for its well-received sequel to shine in a new light. Riven (2024) manages to capture the same wonder and discovery of the original, and really requires no prior knowledge of Myst to enjoy, but is further enhanced by it if you have. The updates, changes, and reimagining towards some of its puzzles put into the Riven remake really make it special and just the hallmark of adventure puzzle games.

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There’s a lot of reasons why Cyan hasn’t remade this one, but it wasn’t until a group of fans banded together to take it upon themselves to remake Riven, calling it “The Starry Expanse Project” when things truly began. Those developers would eventually be folded into Cyan years later to work on a new Riven remake, in earnest. Cyan and the Myst series holds a special place in my heart, and this does not disappoint. From the opening moments of Riven (2024), I’m taken back to my early teens where I first played this on my old Packard Bell computer. Cyan brought back core members of the original crew who made Riven such as Robyn Miller (brother of Rand Miller) and Richard Vander Wende (RVW). Both would be involved in remixing puzzles in new ways, scoring new areas, and ultimately updating the experience. The developers who worked on The Starry Expanse Project also helped bring this to life, allowing them to complete their journey in seeing this PC adventure puzzle game remade.

The story picks up not long after the conclusion of Myst. Gehn, Atrus’ father has taken Atrus’ wife Catherine hostage on Riven, and while you are tasked to save her and reunite them, there are reasons why he cannot do it alone. Atrus is furiously writing to save Riven, for it is falling apart at the seams. The writing in the book that brought this world (Age) to life was poor, and only has a few days until it collapses. This sense of urgency is what drives the narrative and the player towards stopping Gehn, freeing Catherine, and escaping Riven. It’s a tall order, but is truly exciting throughout, and there are multiple endings depending on whether you do things correctly or not.

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Aside from the visuals, one of the first things I noticed was how some of the introductory puzzles are changed. The first island you arrive at on Riven is Temple Island. They’ve moved a key room that you would normally have access to early on, and altered how you navigated past an early door. Both work in the new environments and solutions, but for someone who’s played this game start to finish several times, it kind of broke my brain to have to relearn solutions I had memorized for so long. This trend doesn’t stop here, and only continues the more you play. Veterans will find that some puzzles have been made less complex, making it more enjoyable. Newcomers won’t notice these changes, but it does make for more cohesive puzzle design.

Everywhere from the starting island to the cut-down forests of Jungle Island to the desolate Boiler Island to the unique Survey Island all offer something distinct in its design, and help the player understand where they are at all times. Every location you visit is visualized in specific ways, and almost everything you do or see is some sort of clue that will come back later. You’ll visit many places, some of which I won’t spoil and let them be surprises, but they will absolutely take your breath away. Some of these places offer more to explore and see than what they did in 1997, and I’m so enthralled by what’s new here. There’s even a whole new area for navigating between islands and new puzzles to go along with it. At first, I didn’t care for them, but it serves as a great homage and something wholly necessary to have. This was already a big game compared to _Myst_, but now there’s so much more here to see and do.

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There’s lots of new tools and items at your disposal. From a gameplay perspective, you can scroll the mouse-wheel to zoom in on objects to see them in greater detail and look ahead in the distance to see what might be over there. You are given a satchel this time, which holds books, notes, and a new lens. This lens is helpful in solving puzzles throughout the islands. A carryover from the Myst remake is the fact that you can press ‘X’ to take a screenshot that adds things to a notebook. This is helpful when at certain puzzles, allowing you to access photos from your camera to help solve them. If you want to go old-school, a pen and paper will do just fine. There’s just something special about writing things down, making drawings, and reviewing your notes to solve an involved puzzle.

As with Myst, you will be solving puzzles. Along the way you’ll be collecting clues, in order to put them together to solve the puzzle. Sometimes the puzzle is a physical one, barring you from accessing the other side of the room. Other times it is about powering something up or simply a toy. Pay close attention, because there’s a classroom you’ll come across that helps teach you the number system that’s ultimately crucial to later puzzles. There’s a few “fun” things you can interact with or look at, but it’s always wanting you to learn something from that interaction.

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Robyn Miller’s soundtrack is haunting yet inviting, and the new tracks seamlessly blend in with the old. It is one of the few soundtracks I will listen to completely on its own for video games, purely for its ambience and mood setting.

If you couldn’t tell from the screenshots, this is an absolutely gorgeous game, running on Unreal Engine 5.3. The way this looks and feels, seeing the ocean waves moving helped make this feel like a real place. I could almost feel temperature changes of being inside and then going outside. It’s more believable around this world coming to end as you see things collapsing in the distance. I was able to achieve 160-180fps at all times, without the use of DLSS. Ultrawide monitors are supported, and playing the game this way only helped to immerse me further, far beyond the 4:3 ratio I’ve only known until this moment.

My PC Specs:

– Microsoft Windows 11 Pro
– Intel Core i9 13900K @ 5.8GHz
– ASUS ROG Strix GeForce RTX 4080 16GB GDDR6X
– WD_BLACK SN850X M.2 (4 TB)
– LG UltraGear 34GP950B-G (21:9 Ultrawide @ 3440×1440)

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Riven is for old and new players, offering new twists for players of the original while offering a deep and rewarding experience for newcomers. Riven has never looked better, and has finally received the remake treatment it has so rightly deserved after 27 agonizing years. Cyan has completed their arc of remaking their first two Myst games with incredible accuracy, care, and reverence, and I couldn’t be happier with the outcome. Riven is a perfect blend of nostalgia and modern realism to provide a bigger, more involved puzzle adventure for the ages.

A  Steam code was provided in advance by the publisher for review purposes