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Game: Syberia
Developer: Microids
Publisher: The Adventure Company
Year: 2002
Reviewed: 2007
Platform: PC
Genre: Adventure
Reviewer: ValkyrDeath

Syberia is a traditional point and click adventure in gameplay terms, but with a unique setting and style. Released at a time when good adventure games were very scarce, Syberia stood out as one of the few worthwhile games in the underappreciated genre.

Syberia Oar
Because of this, Kate refuses to pick it up, and you have to go and make a young boy carry it for her. This is why female lawyers generally aren’t used as the lead character in games. Your standard male hero would have no problems with picking up a dirty oar. (Sexism in games? Surely not!)

The whole thing starts with Kate Walker, a female lawyer, visiting a small French village called Valadilène in order to sort out a takeover of an automaton factory. Automatons dominate the town, being a sort of alternate world where clockwork models have been advanced to extremely high levels of complexity. The takeover doesn’t go quite as planned, since if it did, the game would be very short and quite pointless. And so Kate has to set off on a journey to find Hans Voralberg, the previously unknown heir to the factory, in order to get him to sign the required documents. It might not sound like the most interesting premise for a game, but the whole thing has an incredible atmosphere that is entirely it’s own, thanks to the spectacular graphics and Benoît Sokal’s story.

Once Kate Walker gets started on her journey, the game mostly consists of getting onboard the clockwork train, heading onto the next station, where the train will stop to be rewound. Then you’ll have to guide her to get the train going again, while learning some more about Hans Voralberg from a variety of eccentric characters. Along the way she’ll stop at a university run by three men who seem like they’ve escaped from a Lewis Carroll novel, a run down Russian industrial complex and a luxury hotel that no longer receives many guests. Most of the people you meet are surprised to see a clockwork train, despite there being a mechanism specifically built to wind the train up at every station. Other aspects of the plot are revealed along the way by documents (which she apparently reads by placing them inside her coat; maybe she has a birth defect that caused a second pair of eyes on her chest or something.)

Syberia Station
A giant automaton wielding a sickle and a hammer, towering over the train track. Must be King’s Cross.

The train is driven by an advanced clockwork automaton called Oscar, whose main purpose appears to be to irritate you by finding excuses to avoid helping you in any way with anything you need to do. He’s still one of the most interesting characters in the game though. Certainly more interesting than the people you can talk to on the mobile phone during your journey. These are all people who she left behind in America to come and deal with this case, and given how irritating they all seem to be, it’s no surprise that she doesn’t seem too concerned about staying away for longer. As the game progresses, she seems to become more and more distant to her friends as she gets more and more involved in tracking down Hans Voralberg. It works reasonably well as character development, but since it’s hard to really care about the people on the phones, it doesn’t have as big an impact as it could.

Graphically the game really is stunning, and it achieves this despite a resolution of 800 X 600. Games like CSI no longer have an excuse for grainy low quality graphics, especially as this was released earlier. The resolution will never occur to you as you explore the beautiful scenery in much of the game. The graphics go a long way towards creating the melancholic atmosphere of most of the game. Whether exploring the quiet village of Valadilène or the Russian industrial complex of Komkolzgrad, it always feels unique. The soundtrack helps too, never being too noticeable, just complementing the mood of the game perfectly.

Syberia Oar
The game often does look very nice, even at low resolution.

The interface has been stripped to the bare minimum required for an adventure game. Your cursor changes when you move it over something that can be selected, which means you can either use it, or use something from your inventory on it. Given that your inventory is never particularly big, this simplification means that there’s never too much of a challenge with the puzzles. On the other hand, what puzzles there are actually fit into the game well, and actually help to show the character of the man you’re trying to find. Most of them involve working out how to operate various mechanical devices created by Hans. The fact that you will rarely, if ever, become stuck, means that the story can keep moving, and in a game like this, that’s a good thing. There is a certain amount of running backwards and forwards when you’re solving them though, which can become tedious, however nice the scenery is.

So, let’s talk about voice acting. Or write about it anyway. Some of it is alright, but nothing special. But then there’s the accents, in particular the leader of the previously mentioned industrial complex. He’s supposedly Russian, and he even has an accent that could possibly be interpreted as Russian. The trouble is, the accent only last for about three or four words out of every few sentences before converting into what is presumably the actors normal voice, or some strange alternative accent that seems to have no resemblence to anything around. Mostly, it’s not too big a problem, but it can be a bit annoying at times.

Ultimately, Syberia isn’t without problems, but it does create a magical atmosphere that is hard to find in most other games, and this makes it well worth playing. If you play adventure games for the challenge of the puzzles, then it might not be the game for you, but if you like a good story, Syberia is one of the best offerings from the past few years.

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Arbitrary Final Score: 3.5 stars

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