Review by Sanjuro2
"The Three B's Define This Journey: Beautiful, Brilliant, and Brave"
Benoit Sokal is now among the great adventure game designers, his name reigning alongside those of Jane Jensen, Tim Schafer, and Roberta Williams. Based solely on his first three games (Amerzone, Syberia, and Syberia II) I believe he deserves this distinction. His games evoke a real sense of wonder and take the player to a new world. In a way, I find his games to be similar to the Myst series. The way his puzzles are always so tied into the very fabric of the game's story and characterization, particularly in Syberia, and the way that the locations themselves reveal pieces of a certain character's personality or interests. In the Myst games it's Atrus or his sons; in Syberia it is Hans Voralberg. Still, Sokal's games are more direct than the Myst games. They find a perfect balance in their gameplay and storytelling somewhere between ambiance and more pointed, sometimes confrontational, development. Think Myst by way of The Longest Journey (only far less talky than the "never shuts up" TLJ), and you'll have a good idea of what to expect.
In Syberia you play Kate Walker, a young woman who works for a law firm in New York. She's been dispatched to a small city in Europe called Valadilene with a single purpose: get the signature of Anna Voralberg to complete the Universal Toy Company buyout of Voralberg Manufacturing. The latter company has specialized for centuries in the building of automatons, which are like robots that completely function on clockwork mechanisms. Much loved for so long, Voralberg Manufacturing and the town of Valadilene itself (which for so long flourished from the tourism that the automatons inspired) have fallen into a state of antiquity. The belief is, no one wants automatons anymore. At any rate, Anna Voralberg had already given her word to sign for the takeover, but the moment Kate Walker arrives to Valadilene she witnesses a funeral procession populated by automatons. Anna Voralberg has died. While this shouldn't be a problem for the Universal Toy Company, it turns out that there's an heir. Anna Voralberg's younger brother Hans. Kate's journey to track down Hans becomes one of both self discovery, and sacrifice.
The presentation of this game is just gorgeous. The pre-rendered backdrops feature animations that breathe life into the game, as opposed to appearing static and boring like those of say, the Final Fantasy games (VII, VIII, and IX). The art design is incredible. Every place you travel to in the game is like a world of its own, and the imagination on display is fascinating. The same tender loving care is infused in the character designs (who doesn't love Oscar?), and just about everywhere else. Even the music is beautiful, touching, and perfect in the context. Truly, this is a game where the makers really tried their best to create a world both real and fantastic. They succeeded admirably.
The gameplay itself is similar to other adventure games. In this one you have a single cursor and you don't have to worry about combining inventory items. In fact, you don't have to ever worry about having much of an inventory at all. The game seems designed to never bog down the player with too much crap, so to speak. It's as if Sokal wants us to have a great time exploring, discovering, and solving; he doesn't want us to stop and torture our brains to the point of losing sight of what the experience is all about. The puzzles feel very natural, they are very much a part of the world, and more specifically, very much a part of Hans Voralberg. As you explore, you learn more and more about Hans and his creations and his dreams. Kate may be the character you play, and she gets plenty of development via cel phone conversations with people back home (her boss, her mother, her boyfriend, and her best friend), but in the end this game is the story of Hans. It is the story of Anna as well. The story of automatons. The story of a dream to see something that may not even exist. It is a story of faith. It is a story of love. One can't help but be swept away by the magic of this creation.
My final words on this marvelous game must simply be: play it if you like adventure games at all. I can promise you an experience unlike any other in the genre. It's very, very close to being a 10. I struggled with this decision.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 06/26/04
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