Original Release: 1993 (Original), 1999 (Masterpiece Edition). Platform: PC. Developer: Cyan. Available on GOG.com, Steam.
So let's get any pretense of this being a traditional product review out of the way: Myst: Masterpiece Edition, a copy of which GOG.com has generously provided for the purpose of this review, is a bit shit. It has not aged well. A physical copy would at least look nice on your shelf, but a digital download? No. A download you intend to play for entertainment in the year 2015? Christ, no. There's a core element of Myst that was, and still is, brilliant, but it plays like a PowerPoint presentation running on your gran's spyware-infested Dell. Bugger authenticity. You should play the 3D remake (also on GOG.com), it's a lot better.
So as an actual product, Myst (I'll be dropping the Masterpiece Edition monicker from here on out as there's very little difference between the two versions) doesn't hold up, but as an artifact - a kind of gaming transitional fossil, it's fascinating. There are some who would argue that the game actually has little in the way of a lasting legacy. Myst was a commercial juggernaut: The best-selling PC game of its era until The Sims galvanized the creepy serial stalker/murderer market, yet the surge of "graphic adventure" games many thought its success would inspire never happened, and the series itself has lain dormant since 2005. There's been a handful of Myst-likes in recent years - Ether One, The Room series on iOS and The Talos Principle are the most obvious examples, but for a game that sold six million copies, Myst has very few direct imitators.
But nuts to those people. In terms of actual influence, Myst is huge. You can see elements of its design in Resident Evil, System Shock 2, Tomb Raider, Dear Esther (plus every other walk-em-up you'd care to name) and Dragon Quest VII. No seriously, Dragon Quest VII was directly inspired by Myst. There's a direct line of influence from early text adventure stuff like Zork, to Sierra and Lucas Art's adventure games, to Myst, to pretty much every puzzler of the late 90's and early 2000's. Its influence is even more pronounced now that slower-paced, horror-adventures are finally coming back to the fore. Amnesia was obviously chugging that Myst juice. SOMA too.
So what was it about Myst that drove audiences nuts (in both senses of the word) back in 1993? Well like many games that see success outside of the traditional gamer market - what I suppose we now call the "casual" market - Myst takes a well established idea and strips it down to its simplest, most accessible form. It's an adventure game, technically, but one lacking in what were considered the mainstay features of the genre. There's no inventory, no real item puzzles and your interaction with objects is limited to either clicking on them to turn them on or clicking on them to turn them off. You click on a path to go forward, or on the sides of the screen to turn - a simplified version of the, "go north, go east, eat tree," navigation system of old-school text adventures. There's no monsters, no enemies in the traditional sense, no time limit and there's no fail state. "Accessible" is kind of a dirty word these days - one we tend to confuse with "shallow" - but Myst is meant to be a game without distractions. Its simplicity isn't a base appeal to a larger audience. No, the straight-forward mechanics are part of an effective focus on minimalism that deliberately downplays the importance of the player in order to let the environment take center stage. Art, yo.
You're so unimportant that you don't even get a name in Myst. There's no quest or character motivation driving your exploration. You're unceremoniously dumped onto the titular island and your only real function is to explore and maybe solve some puzzles. Like with many of the "walking simulators" it inspired, Myst is more about piecing together other peoples' stories than it is taking part in one. Eventually, once you've figured out most of the island's mysteries, you get a chance to get involved in the story yourself, and it's a satisfying moment, but there's a reason the game is called Myst and not Joe Douchebag: Lever Master. It's not about you. It's about a place.