Riven

Review

The original Riven was one of those games that I loved and hated back in the day, because even though I was completely immersed in its world, the puzzles were too difficult for a kid like me (or maybe I was just too stupid, who knows). I gave up on finishing the game at the time, but the whole experience was memorable and even a little surreal due to the live-action clips and the real actors talking and looking at the camera. For those who are too young to know, Riven is the direct sequel to Myst, two ‘90s games that are considered some of the most important puzzle games of all time. The latter has already had a successful remake in 2021, so now it’s time for its sequel to shine with a complete overhaul.

Playing Myst is obviously recommended for many reasons, but you can prepare for Riven simply with a quick story recap. In short and without major spoilers, you play as a nameless stranger who is tasked by a man called Atrus to rescue his wife, Catherine, from his dangerous father, Gehn. Atrus is a descendant of the D’ni civilization, capable of writing worlds and traveling between them using some sort of magical books. Riven is one of these worlds (which are actually called “Ages”) and the place where Catherine and Gehn are imprisoned. Your objective is to free the woman and capture the evil father following Atrus’ plan, but nothing goes as planned in videogames and you will have to rely on your brain cells to make sense of everything. The story also includes multiple endings, so there is definitely some replayability if you feel like speed running through all the puzzles again.



While there aren't any major changes from a story perspective compared to the original, there are certainly many visible differences in the gameplay and graphics. The game has been entirely rebuilt with the Unreal Engine 5 and looks simply fabulous. I had to watch a video comparison with the old one not only to see the insane graphical leap, but also the faithfulness of the developers in recreating the same feeling and atmosphere, which was perhaps the most difficult thing to achieve. Each location is gorgeous, and the level design is intricate and well-connected through puzzles. The old technical limitations have been removed (you had to move through different static images in the original game) and now you can move freely through the beautiful 3D environments. This really enhances exploration, offering a greater level of immersion and expanding the ways you can solve puzzles. The characters that were once played by real actors have now been replaced by 3D models that aren’t as expressive, but the voice acting and performance capture are still quite convincing.

A few minutes into the game and I remembered why I didn’t finish Riven before. The game doesn’t hold your hand, it doesn’t tell you where to go or what to do. It’s your job to understand everything and you must figure out how to solve puzzles on your own. Instead of common puzzle mechanics (explore a location, solve the puzzle to remove the obstacle, proceed to the next location and repeat), Riven offers an open world structure where each puzzle is multi-layered and interconnected. Think of it as something more like The Witness (which obviously took its inspiration from Cyan). Some puzzles will require you to learn different languages and number systems, while others will remain unsolvable until much later when you gain more knowledge or new items. I won’t give you any spoilers because this is the central part of the gameplay, but know that sometimes you will have to test your luck by randomly interacting with objects hoping to figure out how to progress. Between puzzles, you will explore, read, learn and be fascinated by the deep universe that Cyan Worlds has created. I’m not gonna lie, I smashed my head during the first hour trying to solve puzzles, but then something clicked in me as I was fully immersed in the world of Riven and I started to think with the game’s logic. Solving puzzles became more intuitive, still very challenging, but also rewarding because there is nothing better than feeling smart (or powerful). Some puzzles can be very difficult even for veterans of the genre and I won’t hide the fact that being unable to solve them and progress (without using external guides) will likely cause players to feel confused, frustrated or bored (perhaps all three at the same time). Riven is not a game for the average casual player who just wants to walk through beautiful, peaceful locations, but you know what? I love it! Even though it’s a remake, you finally get a real puzzle game that makes no compromises and doesn’t align with the general idea that all games should be easy and accessible to all players. I recently read a quote from the director of Helldivers 2 saying “a game for everyone is a game for no one” and I was thinking “wow, this applies perfectly to Riven”.

While the original Riven will always retain its charm, this is probably the best version to date and the one that most people should play, including those who own a VR headset. It is a spectacular remake, incredibly faithful but also enhanced in many aspects, starting with the transition from static backgrounds to 3D environments and free exploration. I think that even in modern days there still isn’t a puzzle game as difficult and complex as Riven, maybe because it wouldn’t be mainstream or maybe because players have been used to a certain level of ease and guidance in videogames that prevents them from enjoying games that test their intelligence rather than their manual skills.

Review written by Sonic Punk for Zeepond.com

Riven Steam Store Page 


Positives

+ A faithful remake that enhances the original
+ Complex and rewarding puzzles
+ Fascinating story with multiple endings
+ Intricate level design and immersive exploration
+ Visually stunning
+ Can also be played with a VR headset

Negatives

- Some puzzles can be incredibly hard
- It’s easy to feel confused at times

Review Summary

An incredible remake of a timeless masterpiece, Riven is a must-play for all puzzle-game lovers out there.

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Zeepond Rating: 8/10

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