Riven (2024) Review

Reviewing something like Riven is a bit of a challenge. This series of immersive, esoteric puzzlers was a labor of love from Cyan Worlds, and they were to 90s PC gamers what crack is to a crack addict. All of this is to say that these games really deserve time and patience to be properly appreciated, something that is at a premium when you’re reviewing the game to a tight deadline. Nevertheless, we push forward.

DISCLAIMER: While Riven (2024) has been remade with VR support this time (and I can just imagine what those sorts of features will do to people), I’ve reviewed the non-VR version because I don’t currently own a VR headset that will work on PC games.

 

What Is Riven?

Riven screenshot showing a rail come from a nearby wall that seems like it carries some sort of vehicle away across the sea
Looking out over that misty sea with great voids slashed across the surface for the first time really took me back.

 

If you’re not already familiar, Riven is a PC puzzle game from 1997 that is also a sequel to Myst, one of the most insanely popular PC puzzlers of the 90s. It tells the story of Atrus and his family, some of the last surviving members of a race of people who have mastered ‘the art’, a way of traveling to new worlds by writing special books.

Riven follows on from Myst directly, with you and Atrus plotting to save his wife, Catherine, and trap his father, Gehn, after foiling the machinations of Atrus’ own sons in the first game. Atrus hands you a trap book to capture Gehn and then sends you to the titular Riven without a linking book to get back home with afterwards, to prevent Gehn from escaping.

 

Raving in Riven (The Age, Not the Game)

Riven screenshot showing a view of the sea through a roughly hawn stone window
I probably shouldn’t have spent so long looking out this window, but I sort of couldn’t help myself.

 

Much like Myst (2020), Riven has you wandering an alien world, known as an age, and attempting to solve various puzzles by exploring, gathering information, and intuiting the function of various machines. Unlike Myst, however, the majority of the gameplay and puzzles in Riven take place in a single ‘age’, which you can freely explore at your will, rather than being broken up into individual ages you need to find and retrieve something from.

Riven has a strikingly different visual design when compared to Myst. While the first island of Myst was a lush, green paradise seemingly devoid of humanoid life, your first journey into Riven shows it to be a dusty, dry place. Oh, and the first thing you see is two very humanoid lifeforms trying to bunk each other off, so it’s a vastly different experience in many ways.

 

Puzzles Time

Riven screenshot showing an angry looking fish bathed in red light
Something tells me that my interactions with this fella did not make me a friend.

 

If you’ve never played a Cyan Worlds puzzle game, they’re mostly logic puzzles, with the most common form being strange machines that you have to operate by interacting with them and seeing what results are produced by different inputs. You’re also often required to gather information by exploring the map and keeping hold of it until you can actually use or make sense of it.

Mostly, this is going to require you to keep a physical notebook or something handy to jot stuff down. You can sort of use a phone, but as you’ll be required to draw puzzles involving relatively abstract shapes, you might find a physical medium easier. You can also freely take screenshots and review them in your in-game notebook, which came in insanely handy with the huge amount of traipsing around you’re otherwise required to do by a lot of these puzzles.

 

Changes

Riven screenshot showing a mysterious figure looking down at the viewer through a rectangle in space
“Uh-oh”

 

In many ways, Riven is a very similar game to the original from the 90s. The atmosphere is still fantastic, even without the pre-rendered graphics that added a quirky charm to the proceedings. You’ll also have to do without the FMV, which was a big aspect of the series back in the day, though you might find this less of a problem than I did. It’s not all bad changes though; some of the puzzles have been changed to keep things fresh for returning players, as well as for….other reasons.

In particular, the infamous fire marble puzzle from the original game is missing, and good bloody riddance. In its place is a much more refined version that actually makes sense while preserving the original nature of the puzzle. It’s pretty easy to tell that all of the puzzles in this remake were crafted with due love and deference for those of the original series, despite the willingness to make necessary changes.

 

I Will Walk 1,000 Miles

Riven screenshot showing the controls of some sort of railed vehicle shooting over the sea
Complaints about the travel times aside, riding these things was fun even without VR to help.

 

So, if the gameplay is just Riven but improved, is this a perfect title? Well, to nostalgia-blinded fools like me and Ian, yes. However, it is easy to see where some aspects of the gameplay could be off-putting for players who are new to the genre or franchise. Firstly, there’s an insane amount of wandering around, and it can be a challenge to actually remember the various winding paths that take you all over the archipelago that you’re supposed to be exploring.

The major issue is that you can often figure out where you need to be to gain a certain piece of information after you’ve discovered where that information is needed. This can often result in needing to walk your way across the entire map through 5 or so vehicle transitions and then walk your way back. It’s not a challenge to see why this could be annoying to some. That said, if you go in with the right mindset and act liberally with your notebook and screenshots, then it’s much less of a problem.

Either way, the environments are still beautiful enough to keep you entertained as you walk around Riven, especially if you’re lucky enough to be enjoying it in VR…then again, VR might not be a good idea until the game has had a little work done.

 

Bugs, Bugs, Gallons of the Guff

Riven screenshot showing someone seemingly stuck inside a wall and a water bubble at the same time
This wasn’t too bad on a tiny handheld screen, but in VR, it might have caused my endolymph to boil.

 

Unfortunately, there were more than a few bugs in my time playing the game, though they were mostly harmless. Often, they manifested as animation muck-ups that left me half stuck inside a piece of the map, which was quickly fixed by closing out of the game, though I can’t imagine it would have been a great experience had I been in VR mode. It’ can’t feel right to be half in water, a wall, and a massive gout of steam at the same time without feeling anything at all.

The only other bug was when the game locked up while I was opening my satchel/inventory, but this was, again, easily fixed by a restart. It’s honestly not a huge mark against the game, potential VR sickness aside, and is also likely to be removed by the time this review even goes live with a Day 1 patch. Despite breaking immersion, it doesn’t ruin the experience.

 

A Feast of Sight and Sound

Riven screenshot showing a giant head seeingly floating inside a spherical cage
Oh sure, this makes you seem less intimidating and more believable.

 

One of the things that has sold people on this franchise, other than the amazing and sometimes frustrating puzzles, are the beautiful visuals. Originally, these were afforded by the use of pre-rendering to make the kind of places that it wasn’t possible to render live on hardware at the time. These days, we can render it live, and honestly, it’s surprising how well the design of these worlds has held up.

Even without graphics that are at the cutting edge of hardware, Riven has never looked better. Sure, the old graphics still hold a lot of charm, and those older games are not going anywhere, but being able to fully step into that world and look around it makes it feel even more real than it did back in ‘97. The atmospheric soundtrack and music are also excellent and will probably have me playing the soundtrack on repeat for weeks if I can get my hands on it.

 

Summary

Riven screenshot showing a room made up of catwalks suspended over a pool of water
The echo in here must be incredible.

 

Riven and Myst were both classics, and Riven (2024) is just as much of a classic. While the pre-rendered graphics and FMV have been swapped out for real-time rendering of both worlds and characters, the beautiful, immersive puzzler still shines through. Despite a few bugs, it’s easy to get lost in the world of the game, and as long as you remember to make diligent use of the tools the game provides, you won’t find it to be a chore. Just don’t get lost staring into the marble polisher for too long.

Developer: Cyan Worlds Inc.

Publisher: Cyan Worlds Inc.

Platform: PC, Meta Quest

Release Date: 25th June 2024

Related posts

New Secret Lair x Brain Dead Drop, and Could Bloomburrow Be Magic’s Biggest Set?

Will Worrall

RPM: Road Punk Mayhem Review

Peter Keen

Deliver Us the Moon for Nintendo Switch Review

Kyle Moffat

Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree DLC Review

Ryan Jones

Bouncy Chicken Review

Peter Keen

CRKD Nitro Deck+ Review

Will Worrall