Syberia

Review by Jen
July 2002

Benoit Sokal is a French graphic novelist renowned for his series of Inspector Canardo comics about a hard-drinking, fast-living duck P.I. His earlier game, L'Amerzone, grew out of one of these Inspector Canardo comics, entitled, strangely enough, L'Amerzone, although the game itself bears little resemblance to the graphic novel, stylistically speaking anyway.

In turn, Syberia grew out of the game Amerzone, although really it is completely different both in appearance and in gameplay. Originally conceived as Amerzone 2, Syberia instead developed into a story of madness and genius, mechanical marvels, and increasing self-awareness on the part of the heroine. Amerzone (the place, not the game) is referenced several times in passing in one of Syberia's locales, but that's the extent of the ties between the two games.

Whereas Amerzone was a lonely first-person game, Syberia is played in the third person and contains considerable interaction with other characters. Many a writer has drawn parallels between Syberia and The Longest Journey, and not without good reason. Both games feature women protagonists who explore both their external environments and their innermost selves, both games are a joy to behold, visually speaking, and both have that certain ever-so-rare magical quality that carries the player body and soul into their worlds.

There are some differences as well. The Longest Journey relies heavily on magical and fantastical elements, and Syberia takes place completely in the modern world where all of the magic is manmade and (almost) believable. The story of The Longest Journey was written by a man and Syberia was written by a woman; thus, to my mind anyway, Syberia's Kate Walker is a slightly better-realized and more plausible young woman than TLJ's April Ryan. Only slightly ...

In Syberia, you play as Kate Walker, a pretty, intelligent but rather vacuous young New York lawyer. You are sent to a small village in France that is home to an aged windup toy manufacturing company, your job being to finalize a deal for your client to purchase this factory. Upon your arrival, however, you find the aged factory owner has just passed on, leaving only a letter indicating the presence of a mysterious brother and heir who had disappeared a great many years ago and was thought to have died as a lad. Your boss instructs you to hurry up and find the heir and finish the deal, so you set out to find clues to the whereabouts of this Hans Voralberg, who is rumored to be in Siberia, in order to obtain his signature on the contract.

Your journey carries you eastward across Europe, following in Hans' 60-year-old footsteps, using various interesting modes of transportation. Wherever you travel you encounter sumptuous decay, sad remains of mechanical wonders wrought by Hans, all needing attention to one or two small particulars to return to working order but never quite realizing their former splendor. All the while your boss is hounding you and your personal life is spiraling out of control and yet you are too far from home to exercise any manner of control over these events.

There was one portion of the game where I felt a big fat moral compunction about what I was required to do, and if it were real life I would never have done this thing. Exactly what I feared was going to happen happened ... but it all turned out right in the end. Sometimes I wish these game designers would script in an alternative in these areas so we players wouldn't be forced to do these stupid things. But that's really beside the point—this is only a game after all, merely a collection of microscopic holes on a plastic disk. Amazing, isn't it, how such can seem so real ...

Syberia's graphics are vibrantly detailed, incredibly vital. A flight of birds cavorts overhead, the water of a nearby stream ripples and effervesces along its path, a bubbling fountain gives you a moment of cheer ... And yet the air is always still. Leaves don't move, hair doesn't lift in the breeze. I don't know whether this was intentional on the part of the artists or merely a technological limitation, but it rang a somehow discordant and unsettling note that lent itself well to the atmosphere of the game.

Syberia is a pure point-and-click adventure with no timed sequences, no action whatsoever, and no mazes. Gameplay occurs over four discrete areas; in most instances once you've finished one locale and moved on, you cannot go back again. Puzzles are all straightforward with abundant clues. There is never a need to refer to a walkthrough but the game is not so easy that you don't feel a sense of accomplishment for successfully completing a task. To my way of thinking, this is the perfect level of difficulty for an adventure game—it is appropriate for novices and experienced adventurers alike.

The music is incredibly good, particularly one sequence where ... never mind, I don't want to ruin the discovery for you. For the most part it is rather sparse, with swelling crescendos from time to time when necessary. In the sound department the game relies largely on realistic effects—for example, your character's footfalls echo on tile floors, crunch on dried grass, and so on. The high quality of the voice acting also was a treat for this player, whose previous two game choices were The Watchmaker and Jazz and Faust, both of which scrape deep gouges in the bottom of the barrel in that regard. Syberia's characters are given voice either by professional actors or talented amateurs who actually lend a bit of personality to their roles instead of merely reading the script aloud.

From madness to mechanics, war machines to windup toys, head wounds to heart wounds, Syberia's epic tale covers more than half a century in game time and allows you to spend about 15 to 20 of your real hours playing it, or rather almost living it. It is really hard for a run-of-the-mill writer like me to do justice to Syberia in describing it. Ultimately all I can tell you is this: Play it yourself! It is not likely you will be disappointed. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Microids
Publisher: Microids
Release Date: June 2002

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Windows 95/98/ME/2000/XP
PII 350 MHz (PIII 500 MHz recommended)
64 MB RAM (128 MB recommended)
16X CD-ROM drive (24X recommended)
400 MB free hard drive space (1100+ MB required for full install)
16 MB compatible Direct3D video card (32 MB recommended)
DirectX 7 compatible sound card

 
   
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