I spent the weekend with a controversial, long-awaited, surprising game that embraced the nostalgia for computing’s early days, but with a modern, cybernetically enhanced twist. Cyberpunk 2077? No, I’m talking about Myst’s VR remake for the Oculus Quest. This take on Myst is weird and wonderful, and the immersive virtual reality only heightens the experience. The game has rough corners, and the Quest may not provide the most stunning graphics experience, but it’s enticing and challenging—the perfect sensory escape from 2020’s chaos.
Your Quest Begins
You can buy Myst from the Oculus Quest store for $29.99. I reviewed a pre-release version of the game provided by developer Cyan. The company states that a post-launch patch will bring a journaling system to the game, which I presume enables in-game screenshots, at the very least. That’s handy, because VR headsets don’t lend themselves well to note-taking.
I tested Myst on the Oculus Quest 2 system. Looking at the screenshots provided by Cyan for the Quest and Steam store versions, it’s clear that the former has less complex graphical features than the latter. For example, Myst island’s grass is a flat texture on the Quest page, but fully 3D on the Steam page. Myst launches on Quest devices first, followed by PC with 2D and VR support. Cyan says that more platforms are coming down the pipe.
Enter the Linking Book
Myst hit the market in 1993, and went on to become a hugely successful bestseller that dominated PC gaming for years. Although that first game was a series of static images assembled together in what amounted to an extremely complex PowerPoint presentation, it didn’t stop Myst from becoming a cultural moment. When PCMag reviewed the original game in 1994, on page 481 of Volume 13, Number 11, we wrote:
“This lack of animated continuity is definitely a mood-breaker, transforming the beautifully rendered 3-D buildings into a series of static images. It becomes less conspicuous, however, as you become captured by the visual and aural spell of Myst.”
The game would go on to spawn four sequels, an MMO, numerous updated ports, three novels, and more recently, a paper-and-pencil RPG.
27 years later, and now in VR, Myst’s basics are still the same. You begin on the titular island of Myst, a strange place with odd structures and buildings dotting the landscape. As you explore, you’re introduced to murderous family intrigue, and magical linking books that take you to other fantastical worlds called Ages. As you make your way through this strange land, your progress is halted by puzzles in the form of overly elaborate contraptions that must be solved.
It is an “adventure” less in the sense of action and danger; it’s more a fantastical journey. You cannot die in Myst, and there is no arbitrary time limit (although some puzzles do use time as an element). Myst gives you space to breathe, and expects you to use that space for puzzle experimentation and careful investigation of its many nooks and crannies. Those puzzles can be frustratingly hard, sometimes requiring mind-bending leaps of thought that make me either shout with joyous satisfaction or make my eyes roll out of my skull.
Myst has always been an atmospheric game, which is part of why its transition to VR is so successful. Early on in the game, I swung my head around looking for a familiar landmark. That simple experience of turning around and still being in the game felt magical and gave me a chill.
For VR, Myst received a major graphical upgrade over even the Nintendo Switch port from earlier this year. Clouds reel across a blue, sunset-streaked sky over Myst Island. The buildings are more realistically weathered, but still entirely familiar. There are a few structural changes here and there, but almost always to support VR interaction. One great improvement is you can now carry multiple pages—the MacGuffins you must collect—saving you the trouble of backtracking to snag them all. There’s still no inventory though; retrieved pages simply appear when needed. Dials and switches have been added, so you have something to grab, but the puzzles are exactly the same.
Unless you don’t want them to be exactly the same. This version of Myst has optional puzzle randomization. As a result, clues, such as numbers or dates, are different, requiring experienced players to go through most of the steps for finding each clue and solving each puzzle. In practice, this doesn’t change the game much or make the puzzles harder, but walkthroughs and past experience won’t help you as much.
That’s actually one thing that VR Myst is missing: integrated hints. The Room games do this expertly, and Myst’s Switch port features an engaging and amusing help menu, too. Considering you have to pull a screen off your face to get help solving a puzzle in VR, it would be a welcome addition.
Myst superfans may notice more subtle changes that weren’t in previous versions. The gravestone from the game’s later versions has been remodeled, and realMyst’s additional Age of Rime isn’t here. That short adventure will likely be missed by only the most ardent of fans.
Exploring Myst VR
My previous experiences with modern VR have been entrancing, but also physically nauseating, and I was concerned how that would affect my overall Myst experience. I spent a few weeks with the Quest preparing for this review, watching VR videos and playing The Room VR: A Dark Matter—something of a cosmic horror successor to Myst. It was enormously valuable to learn my physical limitations and understand Quest VR concepts, such as the Guardian system that kept me from plowing into walls. I highly recommend that anyone making their first forays into VR to do the same.
Myst itself has several “comfort” options, letting people prone to motion sickness (like me) enjoy the game. By default, the game is in Teleport mode. To move around, you tilt either analog stick forward to place a cursor on the ground. Move the cursor to where you want to go, release, and you’re instantly whisked to that spot. You can also roll the analog stick while holding it forward to change which direction you’ll face when you arrive. It’s actually less jarring than it sounds, and meant that I could play Myst without having to worry about any ill effects. You can toggle between Teleport and free movement mode from the Settings menu or by clicking the analog stick.
Other controls let you skip moving vehicles (which in Myst means elevators) and ladders. I found the elevator experience to be completely tolerable, although the first few times up and down a ladder, moving in a wobbly hand-over-hand motion, was a bit nauseating. Still, this kind of pantomiming in VR is giddily fun.
Accessibility features include dialog subtitles, as well as context subtitles that give you a clue to important sounds in the game. Both are welcome improvements, especially since so many of Myst’s puzzles involve sound.
I went through the vast majority of Myst using the Quest’s stationary boundary option, which is geared towards playing while sitting. This worked great for my stomach, but meant that some interactive elements ended up in the middle of my lap or at an awkward distance outside my safe zone. Anytime you cross the Guardian boundary with the Quest, an illuminated grid appears around you as a warning. It’s absolutely necessary for safety, but also pulled me out of the immersion. You’ll get through the game just fine sitting down, but it’s clearly not the ideal experience.
For the last Age of Myst I explored, I set a roomscale Guardian boundary, moved some furniture so I could stand in the middle of my living room, and steeled myself for what I feared would be a stomach-churning hell ride.
To my surprise, standing up with ample space changed everything. It was the most fun I had with the game. I started slowly, rarely going faster than an easy walking pace. Instead of using the controls to change direction, I pointed my head or moved my body where I wanted to go. It was easier and more natural to interact with the knobs and buttons that comprised most of the puzzles, and I found myself entirely enthralled with my surroundings. It’s telling that I took more screenshots of this Age than any of others.
Missed Myst Moments
My time with Myst was not without trouble though. At one point, a pen decided to move independently of my hand. I also discovered that jumping back into the Quest menu to take screenshots reliably froze character animations, but didn’t break the game. In the Mechanical Age, I managed to get the elevator stuck above me, revealing graphical glitches in the process. I was unable to bring the elevator down, and had to restart from a save. Myst autosaves fairly frequently (and especially at critical end-game moments), but after this run-in with the elevator I made sure to manually save a few times just to be sure. These weren’t major issues, but it was annoying.
There were other graphical headscratchers. At the tops of Channelwood’s soaring trees, branches stuck through trunks that looked like strange, stretched cones. The submersible roller coaster puzzle was, curiously, set in an inky black void instead of the familiar underwater setting I remember. Back on Myst Island, water sparkled and lapped the shores beautifully, but anything that emerged from the depths did so with underwhelming smoothness and a spray of flat blue dots on a grid. Much of this is, I assume, a function of the Quest’s limitations. People looking for an eye-bending Myst experience may be better off with the game’s PC VR version.
This Myst is extremely faithful to the original version, but the developers made the unusual choice of replacing the classic, full-motion video (FMV) sequences with CG human models. FMV is something of a joke for gamers today, but I was disappointed these weren’t included. While I admit that I warmed to the CG simulacra by the end of the game, the FMVs were a bold artistic choice in 1993, and carried an earnestness and energy that—while dated, to be sure—I missed in VR. That said, Myst’s original audio returns in this VR version.
Can Your Machine Run Myst VR?
The game is available in the Oculus Quest built-in app store, and is a hefty 9.48GB download. Just click, download, and begin.
Developer Cyan says that a 2D version and support for other VR systems will be available at a later date. The game already has pages on both GOG.com and Steam. The minimum system specs include a Windows 10 PC with an Intel i3-6100 or AMD Radeon RX 470 CPU, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti or AMD Radeon RX 470 GPU, 8GB of RAM, 20GB of storage, and DirectX 11 support.
Note that this game is listed simply as Myst. Myst: Masterpiece Edition and realMyst: Masterpiece Edition are updated versions of the original Myst, with the former being a point-and-click affair and the latter being a fully 3D, free-roaming experience. There are also mobile versions of Myst and realMyst, and a Nintendo Switch port of realMyst: Masterpiece Edition.
Travel the Ages of Myst
It’s easy to criticize Myst. Its puzzles are sometimes obtuse, requiring leaps of logic to solve. It has a barebones story, and its graphics aren’t a cutting-edge tour de force. This is the difficulty in reviewing Myst; it is not, fundamentally, a modern game. It’s a game from the 1990s, updated for modern platforms. Myst is a nearly three-decade old idea that is largely unchanged.
That’s as much a strength as it is a weakness. Myst was, and still is, experimental and whimsical in ways that later games—even later Myst games—are not. It’s a first draft of ideas we now take for granted, but with an earnest naivete that is undeniably exhilarating.
Myst still has the power to befuddle and excite today as it did in 1993. With VR, it’s more immersive, and holds up well against the physical discomfort the VR platform can produce. Featuring a price in the impulse-buy territory, Myst is easy to recommend. It’s a fresh, but familiar, retelling for long-time fans, and accessible for new players.