I remember when a good solid adventure meant a couple of lines of really well-written descriptive text the good old days of Zork and its extended family of text based adventures. Only the truly bohemian actually had graphics some purists even thought that these detracted from the 'art' of the game scary, scary people Then came what is probably best termed the 'Monkey Island' years little mouse pointers and a wodge of text or pictorial commands for talking, grabbing, giving and in one case even smelling things. Witty repartee and comic escapades abounded, as did often illogical puzzles and trial and error situations. Ahhh nostalgia! And then came Myst and no-one quite knew what to make of it.

I made a Frisbee of mine

Ok, maybe that's a little harsh. I was, after all, a latecomer to the Myst phenomenon, by which time its flick-screened transitions and slightly clunky animated sequences had been superseded by the great-great-grandson of the aforementioned Zork games, with much-touted 360 degree viewing. I must admit, though it took me a while to get used to its quirky charms, I eventually enjoyed the original Myst immensely, and passed many happy hours getting lost all to literally - in the surreal landscapes of the many lands (called 'Ages' for non-Myst aficionados). The problem was that flickering viewpoint. It was so hard to tell just how far you had turned in a single click of the mouse 90 degrees? 180 degrees? Sometimes it was next to impossible to tell, leading to my getting hopelessly mislaid. Pretty graphics are very nice, but you wouldn't want to wander around and around the same screens desperately trying to find your way out the same way you got in and gnnnnnn! there's that falming tree again! It all was very vexing when all you wanted to do was find the next puzzle.

I never actually played Myst 2 (AKA Riven), but having seen how Myst 3 Exile deals with this, the most fundamental problem of its granddaddy, I might be persuaded to go back and give it a look. It seems that the boffins at Myst HQ have taken a leaf out of Zork Nemesis' book (a subtle pun there for fans of the series) and plumped for the 360-degree viewpoint and then some! Even I was impressed when I scanned to the left and right, enjoying every single degree of render-quality graphics to the full. And then I looked up and down Yes, you can look up and down as well as simply rotating on the spot, a fact that is vital to many of the puzzles you might face on your travels. I still can't work out how they've done it. You are still however rooted to the spot, and travel from one gorgeous location to the next is done by clicking an exit on-screen, whereupon you instantly appear at the next location along. Locations are pretty close together though, and you will not get lost half as easily as in the first game in the series. Ethereal music and spot-on audio effects all add to a stunning experience.

For those who have never experienced a Myst game, be prepared for a big dose of surrealism. The plot follows on neatly from the first game in the series, and people who have played Myst will enjoy the many references to the happenings of that game. The game takes place in a variety of bizarre places with strange names (Voltaic sounds like a toilet cleaner doesn't it?) all created by a man called Atrus and his magical writing abilites. You move from one land to the next by 'linking books'. I remember an old teacher of mine once telling me that books could transport you to magical lands hmm pity it doesn't work with copies of Playboy huh? The villain of the piece has stolen such a book from Atrus, and you, being the nice computer-game playing person that you are, are going to get it back for him. I won't spoil the plot by going any further, but suffice to say that the acting is superb. No shaky voice acting and bad scripting here ("Take this Jill, it's a Lockpick!") this is movie-quality stuff!

When you first begin playing, Myst 3 : Exile is as relaxing as modern adventure games come. You can't get killed, and you are fully at liberty to explore the beautifully created landscapes at will. It almost falls afoul of this open gameplay style, as it is not always clear where you should be going, what you should be doing and so on. Most of the challenge is not so much the puzzles, as working out what you are supposed to be doing! Many puzzles take the form of primitive machinery, none of it with instructions or obvious purposes, and you are left to discover its function by trial and error. Fortunately, every single one of them has been meticulously designed to act just like a real machine, so once you know what a button does, it is often possible to derive the function of even the most bizarre contraption by careful study.

Myst 3 Exile is one of those games that is very hard to put down. So long as you stay alert, there are few times when you will be utterly stumped. Myst is a real thinker's game arcade fanatics need not apply and if you ever stop wondering about what a particular device is for, then you're not going to get very far. The graphics, as previously mentioned, are stunning, and every completed puzzle is lavishly rewarded with a stunning rendered sequence (my personal favourite is the one at the end of the island with all the glass ball puzzles you'll know what I mean when you see it!) The sense of achievement this generates, not forgetting the elation caused by finding the puzzle, working out what completing the puzzle actually does, and the correct order to do the puzzles in, makes it a very rewarding game for people who are willing to persevere.

On the other hand, the less intellectual gamers amongst us will be utterly confused by the near total lack of direct, easy-to-spot clues, and will end up wandering round in circles desperately searching for the next puzzle. Know the sort of person I mean? They're the ones who, if ever called upon to take part in 'The Crystal Maze', would blunder around each puzzle shouting "Where's the Crystal???" for 30 seconds before actually DOING anything. Not that I am one to talk I still get lost in this game, although for different reasons. Before, I couldn't tell which way I was facing. Now, I can't tell which parts of the scenery can be walked to. A 'you can walk here' cursor would have been very useful. Places like this are thankfully rare.

So there you have it. Not a puzzle game for the faint-hearted, but if you take the trouble to dig around a little for the clues, play detective for a while, and don't expect to be thrust directly into each puzzle without a good search first, you will (as I did) love Myst 3 Exile to pieces. If all you want to do is grab a smoking laser-pistol and fill some poor defenceless killer alien full of radioactive snot, then steer well clear! Myst fans will go into fits of rapture, trust me. If all this sounds like your cup of tea, then you could try printing out this page, making it into a book and plonking your grubby mitts on the page in the hope you'll be magically transported to a nearby games store to buy a copy.