From Cyan and Broderbund. Review first written for Windowatch
The game begins with a brief introduction sequence in which you are told why you need to be sent to Riven. After a brief, puzzling encounter with a native, you begin to explore Riven and all the mysteries therein. You need to find many items, and solve how to get to many places to finish this game.
This game has simply splendid graphics, some pleasant background music and some truly wonderful 3-d sound effects. To get the full effect of this game, you should have very good speakers or a decent pair of headphones. You also need a powerful computer, my poor little 486 at home just could not handle the game. Then again, I didn't really think it would, given the system requirements on the box. It is always interesting to try and see if the game will play.
The islands of Riven are richer and more complex than those of Myst. The water ripples across the pond. Bugs fly about, along with bigger and odder creatures. There are a lot of paths, some of which intersect in odd ways and you need to be careful to explore each to the end. There are people on this world, though they will mostly avoid your presence at first. The animations and quicktime movies used really do bring the world to life.
The most critical point is to explore everywhere. Touch anything you can. Press all buttons and flip all switches. Look around carefully and sometimes you may need to close doors behind you. Much like Myst, the interface is obvious and pretty easy to adjust to.
This game is big enough that you should be prepared to take notes. You'll need to note shapes, sounds, and symbols. This knowledge will come in useful at different times. There are certain animals critical to the world, that you should get acquainted with, both how they sound and symbols that may represent them. There is also a number system that you'll need to learn, fortunately, there is a helpful system in a school room to teach you the first few numbers.
Also be ready submerse yourself into the game for a couple of hours at a time. It is not very good for short sessions of 1/2 hour or so, you should be willing to spend a couple of hours on it at a time.
Too much of the game is based on press every button and flip every switch. You will get to the point of doing so automatically, it is rare that you won't need to do so eventually, and even more rare that once you do it, you will regret doing it.
This is another game where you may spend a long time running in circles trying to work out what you should be doing. It can get frustrating because you can see walkways and paths that lead to somewhere new. But you can't find how to get to those paths, most of them require entry from a different place on the island.
The game may have a goal that you need to accomplish, but it doesn't have much of a plot. I generally prefer games that you can feel that you are advancing the plot as you solve pieces of the puzzle. Even Myst, each page returned to a brother gave you a sense of having really done something (and another reason not to trust that brother!) This game doesn't give you that feeling of accomplishment for many of the things that you do, nor does it leave you thinking that time taken at any point may be critical.
Recommended for fans of Myst, or for anyone who wants a big beautiful world to explore. If you are after something different, well, this isn't really different. It is bigger than Myst, in many ways it is better than Myst, but it isn't really innovative which Myst was in its time.
It is not recommended for people who really enjoy adventure games which depend on using items to solve puzzles. This is certainly a more "immerse yourself into the world" and not really a puzzle solving game. There are puzzles, a few of which are quite tricky, but the key to playing and solving this game is the thorough exploration of the world. This game is not about working out that if you combine the string and the stick, you can make a noose and therefore snag an otherwise out-of-reach item.
My biggest gripe about Myst was that it was a small game, and no interaction beteen the places that you travelled. This is certainly not true of Riven, the islands are much more complex, and actions in one place can effect another.
Unlike Myst the end of Riven is satisfying to finally get to. Myst was definitely a "That's it?" This one you know when you've hit the end of the game. You can also tell if you haven't correctly finished the game.
The review copy of the game came with an Official Hint and Solutions Book. The book, published by Brady Games, does seem to be a very good guide to how to solve the game, separating the sections into hints, more specific hints and a walkthrough. First time I ever had a solution book come with a game, but it did prove useful.