I think we're all finally past the hoary old "Myst is dull, it's an interactive photo album" cliché, yeah? I mean, biggest-selling PC game of all time, ten-year legacy, fans all over the world, east and west. Just because you don't carry a gun or shoot aliens in the neck and have to try thinking for once, it doesn't make it a bad game. In fact, it makes it a very, very good game, and Myst V is one of the best yet.
Of course, the word 'Myst' is itself enough to turn off entire chunks of the gaming populace, so if you're still reading this I can only assume you're either a) one of the Presley Protectors (as my burgeoning fan club is known - join today, badges, posters and everything), hooked on my every word, or b) someone who appreciates the finer things in life. Like games that stretch the muscles in your brain rather than the muscles in your trigger finger.
With that as a given, you're probably somewhat familiar with the Myst series, meaning I can dispense with the lengthy back story and just say that End Of Ages is exactly what it says on the tin, the last of the series, the end of the line, the last stop, el destinatõ del finalé. Seems Cyan Worlds has had enough and wants to explore pastures new (probably a shooter), and has decided to tie up the loose ends and bring everyone's story to a close.
END OF THE WORLD
And that story is? Remember the little girl from Myst IV, Yeesha? Now she's all grown up and lamenting her family's long-running burden. The 'ages' (worlds) of the long-dead D'ni tribe are dying, there's a rival vying for ultimate power to enslave the peaceful Bahro creatures, and you have to travel to each of the four worlds, retrieve four powerful 'slates' and decide the fate of all and sundry. Except is everything as it seems? Can you really trust Yeesha? Is the rival really all that bad? Can you believe it's not butter?
OK, yes, it's yet another variation on the age-old 'collect the magical stones and save the world' plot that's been around since time began, but it's handled so well that you hardly notice. Immersion into this world of fantastical architecture and landscapes is Myst V's biggest hook. The moment you first step forward and realise the slideshow worlds of past Mysts have been replaced with true first-person 3D, you're sold. The old-style control method is still there for purists, but really, why would you want to go back? Myst has, pardon the pun, come of age and who are we to deny its growth?
So the story holds up and is told extremely well considering it's really just a broken-up narrative interspersed with your progression through each Age. The complete history of past titles is told through fragments of Yeesha's journal that you discover as you go, filling in the blanks for newcomers, triggering fond memories for old hands who struggled with the lateralthinking tasks of old. Those same veterans may also notice the much darker tone to events this time round, fitting perhaps, as Myst prepares for the final lights out.
Then there's the puzzles. Where Myst has always had the edge over most other esoteric 'em-ups is that the puzzles have always made logical sense within each game world, and never feel tacked on in order to make a game. Same here. Myst V is a world of working out how to control strange machines, how to decipher ancient languages and how to manipulate the entire environment to make progress. Each of the four worlds feel like single, giant puzzles in themselves. Other games will give you a pretty-looking world and make you play a game of 3D chess just to open a door.