RIVEN (1997), the sequel to iconic point-and-click puzzle-adventure MYST (1993), just got the VR treatment in its new remake. Unlike Myst, which felt a little too game-y and obtuse at times, Riven plays a lot more like a modern title, which thanks to Quest and SteamVR support, is true in every sense of the word now. Granted, you’ll need to look past some VR implementation issues which keep it from feeling like a ground-up VR native, although however you play, you’ll be exploring a fascinating world that’s both puzzle-dense and undeniably beautiful at every turn.

RIVEN Details:

Available On: Quest 2/3SteamVR
Reviewed On: Quest 3, Quest 3 via Link
Release Date: June 25th, 2024
Price: $35
Developer: Cyan Worlds

Gameplay

I know Riven pretty well by now, having shuffled my way around its five PlayStation 1 discs a number of times as a kid. This is the first time popping back in as an adult though, so I kind of get the chance to not only relive a bit of the past, but rediscover puzzles long forgotten, this time in the immersive first-person view of a VR headset.

While I really can’t stop nostalgia coloring some of my experience with the new 3D-rendered Riven, I’ve spent enough time in VR to know where things fit on the VR-port-continuum. Some games feel unnecessarily forced into working with VR, some are indistinguishable from VR-natives, and somewhere in the middle are great games that still feel like ports, but that’s okay because they bring enough to the table on their own. That’s where Riven sits—great game that works pretty ok in VR.

If you’re playing it for the first time, you’re in for a patently Cyan experience of deciphering codes, shuffling puzzle pieces around, and visiting (and possibly re-re-revisiting) places, doors, and enigmatic set pieces to figure out the world around you. That’s reason enough to play if you’ve never had the chance. Riven’s puzzle can be tough for the uninitiated, but ultimately more rewarding than Myst thanks to its heaps of environmental storytelling that feels less formulaic, and a lot more organic. More on that in the Immersion section.

Image captured by Road to VR

If you have played before though, many of the game’s puzzles and gadgets are slightly modified from the originals, likely due to the spatial nature of real-time 3D graphics as opposed to the single-frame point-and-click original, which was much more static in how its presented interactive elements. A 27-year-old walkthrough guide that works with the original may still be useful to help with the broad strokes, but you’ll definitely notice differences here and there, with some puzzle elements simplified, or complicated in new ways separate from the original.

One thing that hasn’t changed is there’s still a ton of walking and looping around to do, which is just a feature of the game due to its wide and varied puzzles. You’ll spend a good amount of time circumnavigating one of the game’s five islands for the umpteenth time turn on a thing, to return to a puzzle across the map to see what it did. Then again, that’s just the old school charm and hands-off approach Riven brings to the table.

Image captured by Road to VR

Not only that, but the old school approach to game design makes you rely upon your own spatial memory. There are no map markers, signs, or ‘helpful’ NPCs to guide your way—an aspect of the game that still makes it one of my favorite experiences.

And unlike Myst, you can go a pretty impressive distance through the game with only a few hard roadblocks to stop you, making progression feel very natural. Then again, Riven is beloved for being more organic in level design, and less formulaic than Myst overall, feeling much less like of a jumble of toys, and more like Cyan’s modern titles Obduction (2016) and Firmament (2023).

Image captured by Road to VR

Knowing Riven’s past, I shouldn’t really complain about loading times—they’re certainly faster than shuffling through a broken jewel case filled with PS1 discs—however on Quest you’ll be sitting there for a while waiting for levels to load, the longest of which is the initial startup screen which the game warns “could take a few minutes” to do (it does). From there, whether on Quest or SteamVR, vehicle transitions will constantly toss out 10-second loading screens, which doesn’t sound like much, but happen on both sides of transfers between islands.

Another niggle: there’s no practical way to write down notes so you can remember clues or sketch out solutions, which is precisely what you’ll need to do to decode stuff. You can take a screenshot with the game’s built-in camera system, and that’s about it. I just wish there was a spatial pencil so I could annotate found letters, or somehow keep myself from taking off the headset to write stuff down.

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Immersion

I had a chance to play both on Quest 3 natively and PC VR versions. Here’s the breakdown between the two, which most anyone can guess.

On the Quest version you’ll notice a ton of low-res textures and geometry that dynamically chunk-loads into place the closer you get to it. Once things are in place though, at times Riven can be one of the prettiest games on the Quest platform. That’s if there aren’t any NPCs around, which are bloated and a little too cartoony for the game’s lush, natural environment.

Image captured by Road to VR

It also seems Cyan is throwing the entire toolbox of Quest performance tricks at you at all times, including what feels like always-on asynchronous spacewarp and glaringly obvious fixed foveated rendering.

Since it was primarily developed for the flatscreen PC crowd, the PC VR version is a fair bit ahead of the Quest 3 native in terms of visuals. Even on ‘Epic’ settings though, you’re bound to notice some oddly applied shaders that make shadows dance about and move when they shouldn’t, and also discrepancies in how shaders work in both eyes, leading to some pretty visible mismatches in shadows and lighting. Still. chunk-loading of areas is mostly minimal and textures are fairly high, making it rightfully a more graphically intense version of the game.

Like Myst, Riven suffers from middling object interaction, which is a shame considering how many items are strewn about in the game. Oftentimes I’d find myself trying to interact with something, only to find out I wasn’t pressing it correctly, or it wasn’t interactive at all in the first place, making it more of a guessing game than it should be. Here’s me fruitlessly grasping at a weird banana-kiwi thing, then trying to grab a strangely unusable pencil on the same table. Again, I wish I could use that damn pencil.

There is a physical inventory though where you can keep the various books you collect throughout the game, although you can’t use it for anything else.

Whether you’re on Quest or SteamVR, something that never fails to impress is coming to a precipice or turning a bend to find a new, breathtaking scene in front of you. Riven is all about natural beauty, punctuated with megalithic structures that don’t feel nearly as abandoned and lonely as Myst did.

There’s wildlife, sprawling villages, shrines, and plenty of environmental storytelling here to dig into, putting exploration at the forefront. There’s even inhabitants in the world, albeit too skittish to interact with such an obvious outsider.

SEE ALSO
Classic Adventure Game 'RIVEN' to Launch on Quest & PC VR This Month

Comfort

Riven features the full gamut of comfort options in addition to some quality of life options that make things a little easier, but likely less immersive as a result. Traveling between islands is always done on some sort of vehicle, which can be a little jarring for some since it’s fast and a bit jerky.

You can turn vehicles transitions off entirely though, essentially letting you jump right to the next island’s rail station, or put in the option to make windows dirty, which helps ground you a little more in the vehicle’s cockpit. The game also offers similar options for instant traversal of stairs and ladders, which otherwise a manually climbable.

Check out the full comfort checklist below:

‘RIVEN’ Comfort Settings – June 25th, 2024

Turning
Artificial turning
Snap-turn
Quick-turn
Smooth-turn
Movement
Artificial movement
Teleport-move
Dash-move
Smooth-move
Blinders
Head-based
Controller-based
Swappable movement hand
Posture
Standing mode
Seated mode
Artificial crouch
Real crouch
Accessibility
Subtitles
Languages
English, French, Italian, German, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Spanish
Dialogue audio
Languages English
Adjustable difficulty
Two hands required
Real crouch required
Hearing required
Adjustable player height
REVIEW OVERVIEW
Overall
7.5
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Well before the first modern XR products hit the market, Scott recognized the potential of the technology and set out to understand and document its growth. He has been professionally reporting on the space for nearly a decade as Editor at Road to VR, authoring more than 4,000 articles on the topic. Scott brings that seasoned insight to his reporting from major industry events across the globe.
  • patfish

    don't play this mobile!!! …it looks like a mess! – open worlds are nothing for mobile chips!

    • ViRGiN

      How much gayben is paying you?

      • patfish

        I have only eyes in my head and don't want to hurt them :-) …do you have eyes as well?

        • ViRGiN

          I have self respect.
          I hope you and 6 other pcvr ab-users enjoy underfunded game on your overpowered pcs!

          • patfish

            thx I will enjoy the U5 visuals :) … I wish you a lot of fun with your loved mobile blockbusters Beat Saber, Rec Room, Job Simulator and Gorillatag :)

          • ViRGiN

            Thanks bro! See you during next steam hardware survey result reveal! PCVR isnt stagnant! It’s growing!

    • Mike

      Mobile can't handle full-quality Riven graphics. I'm amazed we're even to the point now where a high-powered desktop PC can replicate it.

      • ViRGiN

        Gorilla Tag still #2, after outdated Blade and Sorcery rose through the ranks by claiming it's "full game" now after years of development and years of taking money from customers.

        • kakek

          Yeah ? And ?
          I don't see the link with what patfish and Mike said.
          Gorilla tag is the most popular game, AND mobile chipsets can't really handle Riven. No incompatibility.

          • ViRGiN

            Yeah and?
            Riven literally runs on Quest.

  • Mike

    "there’s no practical way to write down notes so you can remember clues"
    Easy solution on SteamVR: Bring an in-game window with you, with whatever note-taking app you like. You don't even have to interrupt immersion – it's there with you in the world.

    • ViRGiN

      Wow! So practical!

  • ViRGiN

    hey @runesr2 , how's your years-long streak of shilling for valve index as the headset of the future?

    • ViRGiN

      he claimed to be immnue to downvotes, he actually got triggered and blocked me. "valve do something, come on sadlybradley, leak some dickhard"

  • Runesr2

    Thank you for testing the high-end PCVR version, I have no interest at all in the Quest standalone version. I'll be picking up the PCVR version tomorrow.
    Btw, as a professional reviewer, always describe which rig you used – PCVR with a GTX 1060 is night and day different compared to using an RTX 4080 ;-) Also do mention if the game supports OpenXR drivers or only native SteamVR drivers.

    • ViRGiN

      PCVR with a GTX 1060 is night and day different compared to using an RTX 4080

      What? PCVR is PCVR. As a professional Valve Index Chief Shill you should know that any PC hardware is much better than mobile phone processor.

      "
      Seems I'm being downvoted by the Meta fanboys, but I'm immune to downvotes, lol. I just provided the source to the results, where you can see Index being 35-40% faster than Quest 3 with Link in SteamVR apps not supporting OpenXR. "

      Keep being crazy, "people" like you make PCVR topics always interesting and lots of laughter!

      • kakek

        You're getting downvoted because you're saying uninterresting things.
        Fine, we get it, the PCVR market is small and the most played games are not even using it's GPU anyway.
        And that still doesn't change the fact that Riven is a practical exemple of what the Quest can't do, and how graphics DO matter sometime.

        • ViRGiN

          Yeah and?
          Graphics do matter, when graphics are actually worked on instead of being an asset flip like 99% of PCVR releases.
          Here PC graphics are superior because it was designed for flatscreen first.
          They didn’t even fix shadow rendering in one eye only issue LMAO. That’s how much they care about PCVR.
          And yet, it already lost 70% of players from it’s launch day. Such an awesome game.

    • ViRGiN

      Runesr2 – 2 days ago

      If you want the very best and easiest to use for SteamVR, get the Index. Index has great fov, 144 Hz (and yes, does feel noticeable better than 120 fps/hz), best tracking precision and tracking volume, awesome sound, can be used in a totally dark room (no one can see you making strange moves in VR, lol), no compression artifacts (Index connects directly to your video card) and Index has great IPD adjustment options (not locked like BigScreen Beyond). Index has lower res than Quest 3 for the panels, but using res 200+ % Index looks amazing. Index has full finger tracking support in many games – like Blade & Sorcery (full version) recently released.

      In native SteamVR games (with no support for OpenXR), Index is about 35-40% faster than Quest 3 using (Air-)Link, and about 25% faster than Quest 3 using VD. Tested in the OpenVR Benchmark with the same rig using same software res for both hmds. See the results in the last post in this thread:

      For me, the awesome Index performance due to native/direct Steam driver support is a primary reason to use the Index – users of WMR, Meta, Pimax and more hmds needing 2 layers of drivers all suffer significant performance reductions in games only supporting native SteamVR drivers, and many of my SteamVR games do not support OpenXR.

      The Index just works – if you have Steam installed, just plug in the Index – no drivers needed (are already included in Steam). Pure plug'n play. No need for VD, or other programs to finetune anything.

  • Christian Schildwaechter

    I know Riven pretty well by now, having shuffled my way around its five PlayStation 1 discs a number of times as a kid.

    I wonder how many of the numerous teenage Quest users won't understand this. They are still familiar with games on discs used on current consoles, but why on earth would you want to shuffle them?

    Those with a VR HMD, but lacking internet access, can still buy X-Plane 12 on 9 DVDs with a 60 pages manual on paper (!), but that's an exception. The once seemingly infinite CDROM becoming too small to hold a full game has passed into legend. I've seen enough "Kids react" videos to expect irritation from weird anachronisms in technology. My favorite is still a kid trying a Walkman, not realizing it could turn over the tape, but reimplementing the missing shuffle function on the fly by pressing fast forward/backward for a random amount of time.

    Give it another decade, and a new VR generation will assume that long cords attached to old HMDs were for theft protection, or try to remove the protective front cover apparently blocking passthrough. And be puzzled how anyone could use a HMD not allowing to simply grab the weird banana-kiwi thing with your hands, which has to be taken off just to take a sip, use a phone or talk to someone else. They'll still enjoy playing Riven, just like kids still enjoy Super Mario Bros today. Once they have figured out they have to insert the giant plastic thing into the ancient beige NES box after blowing on the contacts to make it work.

  • JB1968

    “however on Quest you’ll be sitting there for a while waiting for levels to load, the longest of which is the initial startup screen which the game warns “could take a few minutes” to do (it does)”

    LOL!

    Knowing the previous games performance from these devs the Quest version must be total crap. It looks like they focused on classic “Quest cash grab” strategy while ignoring possible much more performant PSVR2 port which would also look more like thebetter Steam version.

    But as I said, these devs are not much experienced in terms of optimisation(well, their initial games were more like quicktime pre rendered movies, so…)so get it at least running on the mobile Quest toy is surely big achevement for their programming level.

    • ViRGiN

      If it does takes few minutes to load, then it's probably shader related, which they could have precompiled.

      but to say it's a cash grab? Pcvr is a cash grab with it's unlimited power. There is a reason why gorilla tag has been #1 pcvr game for well over a year.

      • patfish

        I think especially Quest Gamer play day and night Gorilla tag, Beat Saber and Rec Room <3 …the 5 most played mobile games are Titles like that :) … But you can't compare AAA Blockbuster like HL:A with casual mini-games like Beat Saber. HL is not made to play 10 times !

        • ViRGiN

          I played half life more than 10 times. Many people did. But nobody plays pcvr games.

          • patfish

            So you don't understand the difference between story-based single-player shooters and PvP/multiplayer shooters or arcade high-score games. Nice! :D

          • ViRGiN

            Half life 2 didn’t even have multiplayer

          • patfish

            To keep you in the picture. Story based singleplayer shooter are those game with guns a story and a END after 15-20h :D …You can play them twice but it will be nearly the same :/ …a big difference to PvP or HighScores Games :)

          • ViRGiN

            why are you talking about PvP when we are talking about half-life?

          • patfish

            Maybe you thought it's a PVP game? :D …I love HL1/2 – they are both one of the best story based single player shooter I can remember, but I played them only twice in flat and a 1/2 time in VR.

          • ViRGiN

            Then you are not a true gaymer.
            But the truth is, people still play original Half-Life 1 & 2 in masses, while nobody talks about Alyx, and even fewers are actually playing it.
            It’s a game for redditors to msturbate that its on steam sale now.

          • patfish

            Absolutely right! I am not a "Gaymer"! :D
            For me Alyx is only the one and only real, and native AAA VR Game ever made . I have played it also twice and came every time back to remember how good VR Games already was looking in the past. Every time I do that I'm really shocked how bad mobile VR really is.

          • ViRGiN

            What? 300k? But there are millions of pcvr gaymers!

          • patfish

            You are right! I had 4 year old numbers in my head. 2,7 – 3,5 million gamers have played HL:A.
            There are 80K reviews on steam with a score of 98,3% …it's a really bad game! :D

            Are you so angry about this game because you can't play it? :D

            Back to the topic:
            Riven VR in beauuuutyful U5 graphics rocks. This is exactly what you are missing on your gifted Quest :D …and the reason why VR Gaming will never get the masses without working VR Cloudrendering and modern AAA Games. I totally understand that you love Meta – they are a bit like Santa Clause who brings candy's without making money :D – Not a bad word about such people! -even if their sweets taste like sh.. :D

          • ViRGiN

            Why you sweating buckets?

          • kakek

            It absolutely did. Including PvP.

          • ViRGiN

            No it did not. You are so gayben. Half Life 2 Deathmatch is a separate purchase, even today. There is no multiplayer in vanilla HL2.

      • kakek

        Challenge : participate on one topic about PCVR without reminding us that Gorilla tag is the most popular game on steam. Wich is unrelated to the argument most of the time anyway.

    • Runesr2

      Fully agree, even the PS5/PSVR2 does not have much of a chance getting this game to fly, eye tracked foveated rendering or not. My RTX 3090 can barely manage 40 fps with high-end settings.

      • kakek

        You don't need to have exverything maxed out you know. The game in medium high is perfectly fine. And my 3060ti can play it.

    • kakek

      Nah, you're wrong.

      The first loading is specially long because there must be shader compilation going on. successive launch are much faster. And there isn't that much loading durung gameplay.

      The Quest version is pretty decent. In fact, it probably among the most beautifull game on the device, although to the cost of some performance drops. It's not the top of the top in terms of optimisation, but it's more than decent.

      Though that doesn't change that the quest can't really handle that kind of games. Riven is about immersing yourself in a beautifull, strange, and slightly alien world. Graphics DO matter for that immersion. And even with a very decent port, the mobile chip that is the XR2 can't really do it justice.

  • Runesr2

    This may be the understatement of the week:

    "Since it was primarily developed for the flatscreen PC crowd, the PC VR version is a fair bit ahead of the Quest 3 native in terms of visuals."

    The difference is utterly gigantic, like night vs. day, some users on Steam are already crying about too many polygons and too advanced graphics causing their video cards to overheat, lol.

  • Interesting review, thanks for writing it!

  • patfish

    For me it's one of the best VR things of the last years! It only needs a pencil for the notes in VR –> patch!

  • chuckles

    Just got a Quest 3, my first VR headset, so am a complete noob. Got this game on Steam and I have no idea where to find all of these "comfort" settings. I can see the game in a window on the headset, but I was expecting to be immersedinthe game. Is this not the case? Please point me in the right direction on both points.