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I had never played Riven before. Its VR remake blew me away

A puzzle in the remake of Riven.
Cyan Worlds

Ever since I was young, I’ve been fascinated with both Myst and Riven. I never actually played either, mind you; I was more of a console kid. But even then, I always felt an indescribable draw toward the PC classics. From an outside perspective, they seemed so strange and alluring. At some point, I almost didn’t want to play them. I was happy to leave them as an eternal mystery, puzzles that were better left unsolved.

I finally broke that mindset thanks to developer Cyan Worlds’ new remake of Riven. The ambitious project takes the 1997 puzzle adventure and gives it a modern makeover both on PC and VR. That last part was enough to make me bite the bullet. If I already felt so engrossed by the Myst series from afar, I wanted my first real dive into it to be as all-encompassing as possible. After loading it up on my Meta Quest 3, I’m simultaneously kicking myself for waiting so long to try Riven and glad I did. The VR version is an astonishing adventure that everyone should experience.

The original Riven is the sequel to 1993’s Myst. It’s a first-person point-and-click puzzle game where players traverse a mysterious set of islands in search of the imprisoned Catherine. Actually freeing her is a complicated task. It requires traversing the islands and solving sometimes obtuse puzzles strewn around them. Riven doesn’t explain much; it’s up to players to deduce its internal logic by clicking on everything they can. Those who have the brainpower to make it to the end will find that they’re able to piece together an entire number system through careful observation.

The observatory in the remake of Riven.
Cyan Worlds

Cyan Worlds’ remake keeps the original game fairly intact, pumping up its visuals and allowing players to freely move. It’s a faithful project — and that’s for the best. Playing Riven in 2024, I’m completely in awe of it. Even from its opening moments, it feels unlike anything I’ve ever played, Several games have tried to build on the ideas of the Myst series (this year’s fantastic Lorelei and the Laser Eyes comes to mind) but nothing quite captures its aura. I feel a visceral sense of isolation, like I’m truly trapped in some otherworldly universe I don’t understand. It’s positively sublime; I’m unnerved and awe-struck in the same breath.

That feeling is only expanded in VR where the remake truly shines. The Meta Quest 3 allowed me to truly lose myself in the world of Riven, blocking out the outside world entirely. I feel the claustrophobia when I’m walking through a narrow pipe or the sense of strange scale when I enter a jungle island and see what looks like an enormous pizza cutter lodged into a wall to my left. I feel like Alice after tumbling down the rabbit hole; everything is wonderfully unfamiliar.

I imagine a lot of players might struggle with Riven‘s actual puzzles. Even as a seasoned fan of the genre, I found myself scratching my head even when trying to deduce what I could interact with. Some of VR’s shortcomings rear their head here. Occasionally clumsy motion controls can make it tricky to spin wheels smoothly. It’s also the kind of game that you really want to take notes during, but that means constantly taking the headset on and off. A screenshot feature helps take out that friction, but it’s always clear that the underlying game was built for PC first.

A screenshot from the Riven remake
Cyan Worlds

What’s so incredible about this version of Riven, though, is that you don’t really need to play with the intention of beating it to get the experience. The bulk of my enjoyment came from simply wandering around the odd world and bumping into constant surprises. I jumped in my seat when I got to the bottom of a long staircase only to find two massive creatures that looked like a cross between a pelican and seal. VR emphasizes moments like that even more by giving players an overwhelming sense of scale; they’re enormous!

I didn’t care about freeing Catherine so much. I just wanted to touch every switch, piecing together how its metallic orbs and steam-powered devices worked. Tactile VR controls make that more satisfying than ever, bringing the classic point-and-click genre to its logical conclusion decades later. This is the kind of experience VR was built for.

Whether you’re a longtime fan of the Myst series or a total newcomer, I urge you to give Riven a try. It’s a bold, mystifying tone piece that still feels wholly unique decades later. That’s not nostalgia talking; that’s coming from a new convert who’s still not done wandering those islands like a wide-eyed tourist seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time.

Riven is available now on PC, and it is compatible with VR headsets.

Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
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