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Syberia Review

publisher: The Adventure Company
developer: Microids
genre: Adventure

PII 350, 64MB RAM, 16MB Video Card, 400MB HD
ESRB rating: T

release date: Sep 01, 02
» All About Syberia on ActionTrip

Classic point and click adventures have become like mountain gorillas - beautiful, but rare and hard to find. You need to spend months in the jungle just to make the initial contact. OK, the latter analogy is not quite right, but the fact remains that point and click adventures are all but extinct in this day and age. They've taken all kinds of shapes and forms, mostly transforming into 3D action adventures, but every now and then, an old-school game surfaces, just to remind us of this once very popular PC genre. And usually, it comes courtesy of Euro publishers, in this case the French publishing house Microids.

Such is the story of B. Sokal's (creator of Amerzone) Syberia. Our heroine is attorney, Kate Walker, Kate has been entrusted by the Universal Toy Company to negotiate the takeover of an old style toy and automaton factory. Over the centuries, this factory, called Valadilene, has been developing clockwork devices, specializing in perpetual mechanical movement. The factory's ambitions, however, are ill-suited to the contemporary economic climate, and the elderly Anna Voralberg, who has been at the helm of this factory for more than half a century, has decided to sell. But, as these things usually go in adventure games, a simple chore which should've been taken care of in a matter of hours, turns into a bona fide nightmare. You will be forced to put voice cylinders on musical boxes, draw pictures of mammoths and basically do all kinds of the crazy shit that we're used to doing in point and click adventures.

Upon arriving to Valadilene, Kate finds out that Anna Voralberg has died and it all goes downhill from there. The U.S. Company and her law firm believe that Anna had no heirs; so naturally, their first instinct is to finalize the take-over with a notary. Alas, it turns out that Anna had a kid brother Hans, who is in fact behind the wonderful automatons (don't call 'em robots!). And as it turns out, most of them are manufactured according to his designs. But there is a snag you see; Hans has disappeared, and according to the latest reports he's living somewhere in Siberia!

So, Kate's adventures take her from the picturesque town of Valadilene, to Barrockstadt, and then to Komkolzgrad, and Aralbad. Each of these locations is very unique, both in its history and the way they have been brought to life in the game. For example, Komkolzgrad was intended to be the perfect reconstruction of Communist ideology and is now just the somber side of an unrealized dream turned nightmare. Approaching it, one sees a dark cloud hanging over the city and several protruding buildings. The city is built around its mine and factory. Its sole inhabitant is its half-crazed director Sergue´ Borodine. He is a fanatical music lover and has converted the factory's chimney stacks into one giant organ (heh, don't ask me which organ that is :)

You might say that Syberia has a very distinct European feel to it. Not only does it belong to the prehistoric point and click genre, its story, characters and locations will appear highly atypical to US gamers, and their atmosphere and even the dialogue will have a very distinct European flavor to them. I don't know how to explain this, except to point to the obvious, and that is that the game was made in France! As you might recall, this is hardly the first classic adventure to be taking place in small Euro cities, as Jane Jensen's Gabriel Knight 2, and 3 were set in picturesque towns in Bavaria and France. And even though on the surface Kate seems every bit as American as Mr. Knight, you just get this feeling that Kate is like this simply to make the game more palatable for U.S. gamers. That, and perhaps to get them interested in Syberia in the first place. Certainly, the developers were not trying to generate that whole American in Paris feeling that Jane Jensen was going for. This may be a blatant generalization of things, but French have a very unique way of telling stories which doesn't go over all too well with the Hollywood feel of today's U.S. games; and I'm not just talking about Luc Besson's work here.

Anyway, the puzzles themselves and the story are certainly weird and interesting enough to keep most of you interested, but I must admit that I found the puzzles much too easy. I had access to a walkthrough, and I used it only on those occasions when I missed an important location by simply overlooking it. Come to think of it, this happens quite a lot in this game. The puzzles themselves are fairly easy, but because of the fact that this game uses pre-rendered backgrounds and 3D models, (hence you cannot rotate the camera to get a better angle) some of the locations will be damn-near invisible. Naturally, this spells out some rather frustrating moments that any classic adventure gamer is used to, but the problem is that usually you get pissed over the puzzles (coughMystcough) and your inability to solve them. The fact that you overlooked an entire location in the game hardly ever comes up. Furthermore, Syberia doesn't follow the unwritten law of having the important objects in the game kind of stick out from the pre-rendered backgrounds. No sir! They all look the same! So you can imagine how easy it is to get stuck by not seeing an important object which just blends into the environment. These rather technical drawbacks are actually very important, given the nature of this game, and therefore cannot be considered minor glitches.

On the other hand, the environments in Syberia look very pretty, and the sounds are top-notch. The musical soundtrack is very good and it accurately follows the events on-screen. Oh, and did I mention that the main character Kate Walker is hella hot? That always helps.

Classic adventure fans will most certainly be pleased with the storyline (that is if you don't mind some of that French weirdness), as it holds plenty of nice surprises for those who are prepared to go all the way. It all seems a bit confusing in the beginning but it all works out nicely in the end. The art design is highly commendable, and the interface is easy and very intuitive.

But, as I said the biggest gripe I had with this game are the rather easy puzzles and the fact that some important technical (gameplay) issues were not resolved properly. Also, the game seems to lack more interactivity with the surroundings, as I often felt I was simply being guided to another location and the inevitable cut-scene. I remember that every classic adventure used to include a few objects and locations that were just there to throw you off, and you actually had to use your brains to determine the right course of actions. This is unfortunately not the case with Syberia. Here, you'll be usually thrown off by technicalities, like not seeing the pointer light up when you go over a part of the background which leads to a new location...


6.3   Above Average 

An intriguing storyline, very good sounds and visuals, Kate Walker looks good;

Some poorly executed gameplay technicalities that might disrupt the game's flow. The puzzles are too easy. Might prove a bit too "European" (in its oddity) for some US gamers.



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