If you’ve enjoyed having your brain teased by a video game in the last 20 years, or enjoyed the layered mechanical riddles of an IRL escape room, you have Myst to thank. Wildly popular when it launched in 1993, the narrative adventure was a pivotal moment for puzzle-solving in games. Now, 27 years later, the classic is reborn in virtual reality–rebuilt, but almost completely unchanged. Myst is and will always be a treasure. Even after all these years, its puzzles will still test, and maybe even stump, you. For returning fans, seeing it in VR for the first time is a powerful nostalgia trip. Being inside a world you’ve only seen through a screen before feels like diving into your own memory. When you get over that initial sense of wonder–or if you don’t have the nostalgia that conjures it–Myst can’t hide its age, and its VR makeover exacerbates its blemishes.
Myst is a small uninhabited island dotted with odd buildings and unintuitive, free-standing switches. When you arrive, you have no idea why you’re there or what you should be doing. As you poke around–opening every door, pressing all the switches, reading the books and notes you find–your situation starts to take shape. Trapped on Myst, you will need to unravel its puzzles to uncover its secrets and escape.
The content of Myst’s places and puzzles do not follow any kind of unifying aesthetic–they are united in service of creating perplexing challenges that require you to be mindful of your surroundings and think creatively. At a glance, each puzzle seems completely obtuse, a hodge-podge of interactive puzzle pieces that don’t easily fit together. More often than not, you’ll need to take a good long look at your surroundings and figure out how the puzzle works before you can solve it.
The first puzzle, explained in a note you find when you first arrive, sets the tone for the whole game: The note tells you to count the number of switches on the island, and enter that number into a machine to view a secret message. However, the switches have been placed adjacent to points of interest on the island, so they look as if they should be connected to other puzzles. Plus, switches are normally meant to be pulled. You would never figure out how to use them if not for the note. They unlock something, but they don’t do what you’d expect or work intuitively.
As far as I can tell, all the original puzzles remain intact, so returning players who remember what to do can fly through the game. If you want the game to keep you honest, though, there is a puzzle randomizer, which changes the symbol- and number-based answers. The randomizer doesn’t change how the puzzles are solved, but it forces you to go through all the steps without cutting corners.
Myst’s story is also a puzzle. Told in bits and pieces, learning the island’s history leads you to learn more about how you might escape. Like the puzzles, the information you’ll need doesn’t make itself obvious, so you have to pay close attention and keep information in mind as you go. In the 1990s, this was a game where you would need to write things down on a piece of paper. On the Quest, I found myself taking lots of screenshots, which takes a little longer but ultimately worked just as well.
Taking notes is just one aspect of Myst that feels archaic. Compared to modern puzzle and adventure games, Myst is an incredibly inconvenient game. Many of the puzzles require you to walk to one area to flip a switch, then go somewhere to check whether doing so led to the intended result. And, even with a scratchpad, there are a few puzzles that rely on your being a thorough investigator with a very good memory. Even as a fan of the original, inclined to forgive its faults, I recognize that it can become tedious checking your work and tinkering with puzzles, especially when you get stuck–doubly so when using VR-style “teleport” movement.
I played Myst on my Mac when I was a kid, but hadn’t touched it for many years. Even after decades away, though, when I found myself on the dock in the game’s opening moments, I recognized where I was. Though the game looks very different; the original’s pre-rendered visuals feel more vibrant and alive in 3D. Standing on the dock in VR, as opposed to simply seeing it on a screen, felt like a lucid dream. It felt like I was reliving a memory from my childhood. It had been long enough that I didn’t remember much about actually solving the puzzles, but I still recognized many of the spaces.
I knew them well enough to see that the environments are more realistic and detailed. If you look at the original ’90s versions, many of the environments had a craggy, geometric quality. In VR, the environments look smoother and more well-proportioned. In many places, the world is more detailed. You can see wood grain, rivets in pipes, and other small details. Though enhanced, the world hasn’t changed. This is just a more complete rendering of it.
Even without that emotional context, Myst is a simple game, with mechanics that translate well to a VR experience. Exploring every nook and cranny of the world is infinitely more captivating when you’re in it, as opposed to simply looking at it. Turning the knobs, pulling the levers, and flipping the switches feels more engaging than merely pointing and clicking. Like many VR games, you can switch between two movement controls: using the analog to move and “teleport” movement, where you hold and release the left analog stick to resituate yourself. You can also walk around your immediate surroundings if you have the free space to set up room-scale tracking. Room-scale can’t replace the other methods, but using room-scale in puzzle rooms really enhances the sensation that you’re in the space.
At the same time, VR, and the Oculus Quest specifically, impose some technical limitations. While the new art successfully realizes a more detailed version of Myst, the visual fidelity of the new version leaves something to be desired. Many objects have ragged, pixelated edges. Text, particularly when it’s supposed to be hand-written, is blurry and hard to read, though I never encountered anything I couldn’t read outright.
In general, the Quest version of Myst is also technically shaky at launch. In just over six hours, I encountered multiple bugs that killed my save without crashing the game. In one instance, when I teleported into a wall, the impact was obvious. In another, where a puzzle didn’t reset properly, I moved on and completed whole sections of the game before realizing there was a problem. The auto-save feature tracks you down to the second, so saving manually is important. Some things never change, I guess.
If you’re like me and have some reverence for Myst from a bygone age, you can forgive the technical flaws. Getting to not only return to the game, but see it in VR, was a surreal, heartwarming experience. And it was heartening to find that, even years later, it still has teeth. Newcomers may find it a tough hang between its unforgiving old-school adventure game tendencies and some technical issues, but it’s still an impressive brain-teaser and a neat cultural artifact.