Artsy Walking Simulator Reviews: realMyst Masterpiece Edition, MirrorMoon EP, NaissancE
Sometimes you just have to stop and smell the roses. Or click on the roses until they’re added to your inventory so you can go to the furnace and drop the roses in, letting off steam to lift the door with seven symbols you’ll need to record for later. You know, relaxing. In the spirit of these artsy-fartsy walking simulator games, I’m going to review them when I feel like it. Which is today. I’ve chosen 3 of my own personal favorite genre, the “Walking Simulator”: games focused on exploration and discovery.
realMyst: Masterpiece Edition
Platform(s): Windows, Mac
UPDATE: I complained a lot about the terrible optimization in this, which I stand by. Cyan has since released an optimization update literally the day after I posted this review. This greatly improves the game, but I don’t retroactively change review scores.
The original Walking Simulator. Back in 1994, I played Myst for the first time. It was a strange and bewildering experience, taking you as the player completely out of your comfort zone in terms of tutorials and level design. I remember the game most fondly in a period in my life where I was discovering new games in new genres, like the FPS and the RPG. Myst came with an empty journal, something practical and thematically tied to the game itself. I filled about ten pages of it, in my chicken scrawl handwriting, and put it away as a fond gaming memento until a week ago when I tried realMyst: Masterpiece Edition. I was almost overjoyed to find out my notes from almost 20 years ago were still good. I even started my own new version, and was overjoyed again when I realized I was taking the exact same type of notes again.
Cyan has faithfully recreated the game I thought I had played back in 1994. The titular island is almost identical, and the puzzle solutions still the same intuitive and engaging solutions. This is a game powered solely by nostalgia, and I had a powerful sense of recognition with one of gaming’s most recognizable universes. It’s a crime they didn’t do it justice with this clumsy port of the iOS version. The gimmick here is that the game offers full 360* movement, interactive environments, a day and night cycle (for some worlds), bringing the charm and mystery of the worlds of Myst into our 2014 expectations. But at some points, the game chugs to a grinding halt framerate-wise. realMyst: Masterpiece Edition‘s much touted realtime movement is so poorly optimized that at some points, you can get as low as 5-15 FPS for no reason. There were moments where you’re practically playing the point and click version. It’s realMyst: PowerPoint Edition.
These technical failures make the game’s original appeal almost impossible to appreciate. You could turn it off, and return to the classic point and click version of Myst, but then then you lose your main reason to buy the game. When I’m entering the rocket and trying to decipher the organ puzzle, I should be working on figuring out how the device works, not fighting the abysmal framerate. Changing graphics options doesn’t help. Changing resolutions doesn’t help. Compatibility Mode doesn’t help. It’s unavoidable and it’s borderline tragic. Also, Cyan has decided to excise several features from the iOS version, like a day/night cycle for every age, and some nice weather effects. realMyst: Masterpiece Edition, I wanted to like you. I wanted you to the best possible version of a game I once truly admired.
Verdict: “Book” another voyage.
Score: 2/5 (and it makes me sad)
Developer: Santa Ragione
Platform(s): Windows, Mac, Linux, Ouya
Think Abstract with a capital “A”. MirrorMoon EP is one of those games that throws you in the deep end with no life preserver, hands you a gigantic ship console, and then leaves you quietly in the dark. Part of the appeal of MirrorMoon EP is that its mechanics or lack thereof serve its purpose: exploration in every direction. You’re not just exploring the strange pink surface of the your starter moon, you’re exploring the game. You click on stuff. You observe the results. Like some digital gaming scientist, you keep trying and experimenting until you get a result. That is, until you press the button that shuts the game down.
Nothing is labeled in MirrorMoon EP. There’s no tutorial or only basic direction. You’re left up to your own devices to travel or not to travel. It’s one of the rare games that forces you to make choices if you want to proceed. The game is not going to hold your hand and tell you everything is okay. In fact, it’s not going to tell you anything at all. I’m actually surprised the game menu even has text. MirrorMoon EP‘s art is lurid neon and jagged, like something you saw in your dentist’s office as a kid. It’s an art class perspective project come to life. Its lush, gorgeous soundtrack sucked me in.
As I explored the various moon and objects of MirrorMoon EP, after a few hours, I felt I began to believe I had seen everything there was to see in the game. The “infinite space” gets lost sometimes in simple reiteration. Find geometric shape, place geometric shape on thing, click buttons, rinse and repeat. But I didn’t feel bored, just that I had reached this plateau of non-discovery. Then I would discover something new and my interest would be peaked again. Thankfully, MirrorMoon EP has an ever expanding universe of user-generated content, since other individuals can upload their discovered worlds. MirrorMoon EP is one of those games that challenge your patience in the best possible way.
Verdict: Click on stuff, explore, feel smart!
Developer: Limasse Five
When people see things in black and white, we normally consider them to be myopic or at least naive. When a game is in black and white, you normally think your GPU has died or you’re about to Red Ring of Death. NaissancE, meaning the beginning of something, a monochromatic, abstract exploration game is at its best moments an epic trek through a place that resembles an abandoned city/spaceship/desert/HVAC duct, and at its worst, a confusing, directionless art mod that forgot to turn on textures. But forget its goofy, pretentious title and aspirations and just go with the flow. You’ll have more fun the less questions you asked.
The sprawling yet directed pace of NaissancE performs a delicate balancing act: how to feel enormous in scale but not get your player lost. And for the most part, it succeeds wonderfully. Chapter 2, which starts with the cryptic instruction “Go Down”, made me gasp. The game clicked for me. Yet there’s an excellent reason why first person games rarely do platforming sections. You lack the same visual awareness that a third-person perspective has. In NaissancE, you’re a mute woman with no arms or legs or body to speak of, a disembodied head. There’s moments in the game where you have precisely navigate moving platforms, spinning fanblades, and sprinting parkour sections that feel strangely out of place in a game banking on strangeness. My least favorite moment in the game is a section called “Black & White” where you have to navigate a totally black or totally white area erratically lit by moving beams of light or dark. It’s hard to describe, but rarely has a non-VR game made me so physically uncomfortable I had to shut it off.
A word of advice to developers: if you’re going to have first person precision platforming, you need to fully implement controller support. Or at least less punishing checkpoints. There’s a strange breathing mechanic where you have to press a button to breathe in during a sprint. I guess this is to make the long running and platforming sections more dynamic, but considering you’re sprinting through most of the enormous levels, it wears thin in short order. Running and platforming in the game feel like addons to make the exploration more exciting. The best example is the last level with a “boss” character that’s a long sprinting section that felt satisfying to beat but totally out of place.
NaissancE is an oddity, and expensive at that, maybe not worth $20 for what you get out of it. It’s two halves of an experience, a meandering exploration game smashed together with an action platformer with some basic puzzles sprinkled in. If there’s a mystery to solve here, I don’t know what it is. A player when dropped into an abstract yet recognizable world is naturally going to start investigating. There’s empty rooms of chairs and tables, but at the end, I never felt like I learned anything. I just experienced it.
It sounds like I’m complaining too much. I’m not. I like this game. I like it. I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s enormous, beautiful to look at, somewhat flawed but still immensely interesting. Check it out on a Steam sale.