Syberia Review

Since my last post, I haven’t made much progress on the article. At all. Between my 21st birthday and playing Syberia, I’ve been kept from doing any serious writing. Luckily, both were a lot of fun.

Syberia is a graphical adventure game of the old-fashioned thirdperson point-and-click ilk, and was produced last year by Microids and the apparently famous illustrator Benoit Sokal. It tells the story of a young American lawyer named Kate Walker who’s been dispatched by her firm to the remote French Alps village of Valadilene to complete the takeover of the Voralberg automaton toy factory by the Universal Toy Company. Of course, it gets much more complicated than that because the owner of the firm, Anna Voralberg, has just died and left behind a mysterious heir who now must be located.

I won’t describe the story any further because I more or less completely spoiled it for myself, and I think this really detracted from my enjoyment. It’s enough to say that it’s very unusual, and very compelling.

I used the term ‘tell the story’ because Syberia has very few puzzles, and even those are fairly easily to solve, providing that you have all of the information available. You certainly won’t be spending your time scratching your head over incomprehensible sets of buttons, levers and switches (well, not too much time, anyway). Personally, I find this refreshing; while a lot of people buy adventure games for the puzzles just as much as for the story, I really don’t have the patience for abstract or abstruse puzzles. Maybe it’s because I’m not good at solving them, or that (to me) they bear absolutely no resemblance to any puzzle you might encounter in the real world. Either way, less silly puzzles = good news.

Instead of creating puzzles, Microids concentrated on creating beautifully and realistically imagined settings. The artwork in Syberia is absolutely excellent, as is the animation. Some of the 3D cutscenes, while not quite first class in terms of technical quality, still manage to evoke a great deal of emotion.

My only criticism of the graphics is that the scenes could have done with a little more motion. With the exception of ripples on the water and some birds flapping through the sky, most of the scenes are utterly still; the leaves on trees and blades of grass resolutely fail to sway. This may seem like nitpicking, but firstly the technology exists to animate this, and secondly I only mention it because this is the only thing holding the graphics back from being perfect.

The interesting thing about Syberia’s gameplay is that you really feel like you are taking part in a story – a predetermined story. This doesn’t bother me because I’ve long believed that trying to create a complex, fulfilling and interactive story is a recipe for disaster. In fact, I prefer it because it means that the story can be so much better. Everything that occurs within the story seems pretty reasonable and your next course of action is usually obvious.

A common complaint about the game in reviews is that you spend an awful lot of time walking around. This is true. However, I wonder if this was done on purpose – the scenes of the game are constructed so that when you’re walking around a town or university, you completely control your characters movements at every stage. This generates a sense of living within the story, something lacking from other titles. At one point, you spend a few minutes watching a lecture, which I found particularly novel and in fact quite brave on the part of the developers.

The voice acting was variable; some of the characters had bizarre accents and in several cases, the hokey dialogue didn’t help. I’m not entirely sure if the game was originally created in French but if it was, it’d explain a few things. Another problem with Syberia was frustrating nature of locked doors; you couldn’t tell whether a door was open or locked until Kate went over and tried it – a failed attempt at realism, perhaps.

Syberia is a short game. It’s not quite as short as 90 minutes, as one review claimed, but I did finish it within two days, and only consulted a walkthrough a couple of times. On both occasions, I did this because I’d missed a door somewhere or didn’t pick up a hidden object. I’d say that you can expect to complete the game in two longish sessions.

Someone described Syberia as less of an adventure game and more of a point-and-click graphic novel. Both he and I agree that this isn’t a bad thing; it’s merely different to other graphical adventure games. Considering that Syberia now only costs �17 for the PC, it’s well worth a try. Be warned though: a sequel is coming out later this year.

Syberia is often compared to the 1999 graphical adventure game classic The Longest Journey which I’ve just ordered via Amazon Marketplace for �7.50. Budget games, don’tcha love ’em?

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