Review by MTLH
"A decent point and click adventure game, nothing more and nothing less."
Syberia saw release in 2002 and was developed by Microïds, a French studio that in recent years has probably become best known for their adventure games such as Post Mortem and it's sequels. Syberia itself was mainly conceived by Belgian comic book artist Benoît Sokal and shares it's universe with an earlier game of his, Amerzone.
Syberia was well received at the time of release. In the last decade however, the point and click adventure genre has been declared dead on more than one occasion. In such a climate of pesimism and drought it is tempting to overvalue any new worthwhile release. Has this happened with Syberia?
The visuals are very good, especially the environments. The different locations are simply beautiful. They are imaginative, varied, carefully crafted and a joy to behold. While being static screens, the locations also feature a lot of animated elements like flying birds for example or flowing streams. That the moving parts tend to stick out a little is not all that big a problem.
The characters that inhibit this world look more than decent although the quality fluctuates a lot. Main character Kate Walker has a good level of animation and detailing. There are a few others that share this standard but the majority simply don't. They look quite rough with a lot of jagged edges and at times strange animations.
Animation in general could have been smoother. It is just a bit too elaborate at times, with characters often using wide and slow moving gestures to do even the littlest of things. Walking and running also aren't as fluid as they should have been. Kate will run to a flight of stairs for example, with the intention of walking up them. When she gets there, Walker will stand still and turn on the spot, take a step backwards or forwards to realign herself with the steps before ascending them. This procedure is repeated every time she, or any other character for that matter, wants to interact with something. It isn't disastrous but does slow the game's pace down quiet a lot.
The soundtrack is certainly majestic, featuring tunes that regularly swell to epic proportions. Although it sounds very good, it can also occasionally be a bit too much with the music becoming pretty bombastic while Kate is simply fulfilling yet another mundane task. Voice acting is generally good but there are some issues. Kate Walker is voiced well but there are just a few too many times, especially at the beginning of the game, where she sounds a bit off and not entirely in keeping with the situation she finds herself in. Her tone of voice can be too cheerful for a certain situation for example or too harsh. The other characters too often display inappropriate or just plain weird accents which can break the suspension of disbelief somewhat. Would it really have been all that difficult to strife for a little bit of coherency?
Syberia revolves around Kate Walker, a lawyer who has been sent by her firm to the small Alpine village of Valadilene to finalize the take-over of the Voralberg factory. The Voralbergs where famous for their automatons, sophisticated machines based on clockwork mechanisms. Unfortunately by the time Walker arrives, the factory's elderly owner has passed away. To complicate matters further, she appears to have a long lost younger brother who has been away for many years in search of mammoths. The only way Kate is going to find him is to travel aboard a clockwork train without any idea whereto it will lead her.
The setting is certainly interesting. Seeing that Kate travels ever eastwards, the locations she visits have a slight Eastern European tint to them coupled with a hint of decay and desolation. Adding to this mood is that Kate doesn't meet all that many people, instead traversing a lot empty locations. Because of the above, Syberia also emits a dreamlike mood which is strengthened by the prevalence of clockwork machinery. The plot doesn't do anything new but is told well. It is nice to see that Walker isn't a complete caricature and actually evolves during the course of the game. Giving her a mobile phone was a masterstroke even if the few plotlines concerning her friends and family can be a little melodramatic at times. It does screw up the game's sense of time however. From the conversations Kate has it seems as if her journey is taking a long time while the impression the player gets from actually playing Syberia is that her whole quest only lasts a few days at most. The other quibbles with the plot are that it ends quite abruptly and that the ending doesn't really tie anything up. It is good to see though, that despite this lack of a conclusion there is still a sense of closure of sorts.
Syberia is a traditional point and click adventure game. Kate Walker must explore her surroundings, collect everything she can and converse with everyone she encounters in order to solve the game's puzzles. As such, Syberia doesn't do anything particularly new. The interface is also fairly traditional. It utilizes a cursor that changes when the situation demands it. To indicate when an object can be used for example or to show the route to the next area.
The puzzles are mainly inventory based with a few conversational ones thrown in for good measure. For a game which revolves around automatons it is a little surprising that the emphasis isn't put on conundrums that are based on understanding and operating machinery. Syberia may contain a few but most of them involve combing machines with inventory items. Be that as it may, the overall internal logic is quite sound. Syberia's puzzles are generally fine and fun to solve but not particularly original or inventive. Kate's mobile phone is put to good use a few times and the sequence where she must trick some people into revealing a secret is relatively inspired. The majority however are pretty straightforward.
Rarely has a main character been so aptly named as Kate Walker. Syberia can be divided into three parts, each of which is more than decently sized. The problem is that all these locations are somewhat empty in the sense that they look very pretty but don't contain much hotspots. Kate must frequently run through several areas before she encounters something or someone she can interact with. Considering that Kate also doesn't run all that fast and the game routinely sends her trudging from one end of an location to the other, solving the puzzles can occasionally become something of a bore.
As mentioned previously, the puzzles are predominantly straightforward. Kate never has all that many items in her inventory and due to the small number of challenges, solving them never becomes too taxing or confusing. Some of the machine based puzzles can be annoying though thanks to a slight amount of vagueness making figuring them out harder than it rightfully should be. Expect to finish the game in about seven hours, perhaps even a little bit more. That Syberia still lasts as long as it does is mainly due to the large amount of travelling Kate has to do.
The presentation is generally quite good but there are some problems. These range from minor ones such as the music becoming too pompous at the wrong moments to more significant issues such as the game's need to painstakingly aligning characters with objects or persons before allowing an interaction. These are not game breaking flaws but can still be a bit annoying.
While Syberia's plot may not do anything really new, the setting is great. The game's version of Eastern Europe with it's desolation and decay is strangely compelling as is the inclusion of automaton gadgetry, giving Syberia a dreamlike mood. This is also perhaps the game's greatest asset seeing that the point and click gameplay itself isn't all that special. It's above all decent. The puzzles are relatively fair, varied and are backed up by a solid sense of logic. Even so, there are a couple that can seem a bit vague and there are simply too few puzzles altogether. The game contains too many areas that exist solely for Kate to run through causing Syberia to feel quite empty at times.
Syberia is a decent point and click adventure with an interesting setting, nothing more and nothing less. As I mentioned in the introduction, Syberia received a lot of praise in it's day. I can't shake the feeling that if this game had been released during the genre's golden age, alongside classics such as Day of the Tentacle, Grim Fandango or any of the earlier Monkey Islands, it wouldn't have garnered nearly as much attention or critical acclaim. It's still a nice game though.
OVERALL: a 7,4.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 12/08/10
Game Release: Syberia (EU, 08/09/02)
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