Riven (2024) review — a masterpiece remastered

There are certain studios that define the earliest memories of gamers like me. Their collective imaginations helped lay the foundation for the cinematic masterpieces we experience today. Cyan Worlds is one of those studios. The Myst series, Obduction, Firmament, and Uru transported us to new worlds, telling wonderful stories through imaginative and challenging puzzles. These games also created entirely new ways to play, giving us gorgeous moving worlds that appeared to come alive and move long before 3D animation was a possibility. Now, 25 years later, the team is returning to arguably their very best – Riven. This modern remake revisits everything that made the original amazing and brings it to life in a fully realized 3D world. Whether you are playing on a pancake screen or in VR, it’s once again time to visit the strange world of Riven.

Let's Play The Riven Demo with Cyan's Harrison Pink and Claire Hummel

The best part about Riven is that you don’t need to know anything to start. You don’t have to play Myst (though I do highly recommend the remaster, also from Cyan Worlds – it’s available here), or the original Riven to get started here. You are as confused and lost as the protagonist, and that’s part of what brings this world to life – discovery. Without ruining that sense of wonder and mystery, the broad strokes are that a series of islands are being shaken apart by unseen forces. The ancient civilization that once inhabited them had discovered how to travel between worlds using books as a conduit. Naturally, with that much power, it’s rife for abuse, and your friend Catherine has been swept up in the middle of it all. Using one of these books, you set out to rescue her, but can you escape in time?

From the moment you arrive, trapped behind the rusty bars of a cage, you’ll see that Cyan Worlds has recreated those Hollywood-quality semi-animated stills that you could step into way back in 1997, but now fully realized in an explorable 3D world. The original operated off of a CD-ROM (well – five of them. It came out on DVD a year later, thankfully), one of the first games to do so, but you essentially traveled between flat panels with clever animations (over 4000 in all!) to bring the moments in between to life. On those panels you’d solve complex puzzles that would often give you some McGuffin to solve the next one. Now in this remake you are free to roam about, looking at all of these once 2D elements from all angles, thanks to a total conversion to Unreal Engine 4. If you ever wondered what the textures on the massive sword stabbed into the ground directly to the left of the cage you arrive in looks like, you are welcome to get up close and personal now.

First Look: Riven Gameplay Reveal | 4k

One of my favorite parts of Riven (and the Myst series for that matter) is that there is an extensive amount of lore to be discovered. Pulling the chain on a golden scarab beetle causes it to open its wings, revealing a small scope with a mural inside. Peering within reveals a pictograph that tells the story of the main antagonist and his rise to power. Similarly, your own journal entries carry a great deal of information, revealing much. The best mysteries are often right in front of you, and more than once you’ll say “Oh, of course!” after having stared at the solution for some time before realizing it was there all along. All of these puzzles are deeply rooted in logic, so don’t expect Monkey Island non-sequitur pulley chickens here. They are by no means easy, and arguably more difficult than its predecessor Myst (with more than a few new puzzles being added into this version), but they never feel unfair. Bring your thinking cap.

To help with your puzzle solving, you carry a notebook. You can take a screenshot at any time, and then go back into that screen and annotate it. This is incredibly useful, as you can quickly reference puzzle elements from another room, or refer back to symbols without having to write them in a book in the real world. This entire series is soaked to the core with mysteries you’ll uncover over time, so it’s great to be able to snap a picture of something you think might be useful to reference later.

New! Acting and Character Motion Capture in Riven [Excerpt]

As I mentioned, the original game used full motion video sliced into stills for backgrounds, but it also had a full crew of actors to bring the game to life. Not all of these actors are still with us, but they are amazingly brought to life in the game/ I can say no more without spoiling some incredible surprises, but suffice it to say if you played the original you’ll be blown away by what the Cyan team has accomplished here. I don’t know how else they could have done it, but it couldn’t have been either cheap or easy based on the incredible results. For the moments where I don’t have to be vague, you’ll find the occasional new face. These actors and actresses do a fantastic job bringing the game to life, and are a welcome addition to the world of Riven.

If you’ve got the gear for it, Riven also supports VR right out of the box. It’s a completely different experience, and now with the tactile elements of VR, it’s more immersive than ever. The puzzles are the same, but being able to reach out and touch them is something else. As a small non-spoiler example, when you are first learning about one of the major characters of Riven, you see five small golden beetles in a chamber. Pulling a string with a ring on it causes the beetles to unfurl their wings, revealing a small magnifying glass. Inside you can see a small pictograph that reveals some story elements. Clicking on the string is one thing, and the wings snap open fully when you do. Doing it in VR means slowly pulling them open gradually as you pull the string, unfurling the wings as fast as you pull them. Being able to do it in VR…just wow.

[First Look] The Wahrk Gallows | 4k

One of the things you might not be used to if you are new to the world of Myst and Riven is that these games are not traditionally linear. You can and probably will solve most puzzles when you stumble onto the answer or it finally dawns on you, but you are free to explore the world as you unlock various islands. You’ll be visiting them all frequently, so don’t expect the game to hold your hand and guide you from A to B. Explore, take in the worlds around you, and realize that the giant door you encountered early on probably won’t open until much, much later. This also means that you’ll need to get used to being able to see the monolithic structure you need to reach, but not quite figure out how to get there. It’s a different era of puzzles, and that will demand patience, for better or worse.

While the visual upgrades are the most obvious and likely the first thing you’ll notice, a great deal of attention was paid to the audio. It’s a major component of the world, and the team at Cyan Worlds clearly agrees. The actors and actresses sound fantastic, the ambient sound of the world thrums in the background, and the music (which is more brassy than Myst) has never sounded better. I’m not sure if there was a re-record, but it’s as warm and inviting as I remember, setting the tone for this game perfectly.

[First Look] Entering The Village on Jungle Island | 4k

So much of Riven is about standing on a cliff, looking into the distance, and wondering just how you reach an area. It’s about pulling levers, pushing buttons, studying symbols, and uncovering mysteries. Each puzzle tells you something about the overall story and the people in it, and in that discovery, the drive to keep going. Yes, it’s beautiful and sounds wonderful, but that’s not the part that’ll hook you. No, the mysterious place that Cyan Worlds has created will pull you in and hold you for the 15 to 20 hours it takes you to unravel everything it has to offer. Given just how much love and attention they’ve put into this masterpiece, it’s wonderful to experience all over again.

Executive Director and Editor-in-Chief | [email protected]

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming.

Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter.

Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 28 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes), and an Axolotl named Dagon!




Review Guidelines

When Riven was first released in 1997 it was heralded as a majestic piece of art. Now almost 30 years later, Cyan Worlds returns to that world, bringing it to modern standards using the tools of today. Once again, they’ve created a majestic piece of art, and a world worth exploring all over again. It’ll test your mind, it’s a feast for your eyes and ears, and if you enjoy deep puzzles, it’s a game you absolutely cannot miss.

Ron Burke

Unless otherwise stated, the product in this article was provided for review purposes.

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