Syberia

Review

posted 12/2/2002 by Tyler Sager
other articles by Tyler Sager
There just aren’t that many good adventure games coming our way these days. Maybe game designers think that we have all moved beyond the relatively slow-paced, “stroll through a story” kind of games that I remember fondly. Nowadays it seems that a game is pushed aside if it doesn’t have the latest killer graphics engine coupled with twitch-factor pacing that a hyper-caffeinated squirrel would have trouble managing. Thankfully, however, good adventure games do come along once in a while, and Syberia fits the bill nicely.

Story and puzzle quality are the most important part of any adventure game, and Syberia delivers on both counts. Syberia begins as Our Hero, Kate Walker, arrives in the quaint little French town of Valadilene. Kate is an American lawyer representing a toy company interested in buying the local clockwork automaton factory. Things are suddenly complicated upon the death of the company’s owner, and her deathbed revelation of a living heir to the company. Now Kate must begin a journey to find the new owner and convince him to relinquish the company. I won’t give away anything more of the story, except to say that it’s very well done. Unlike many adventure games, the story is very low-key. Kate isn’t going to save the world, she’s not going to fight the Forces of Darkness. She is just an ordinary person trying to do a job that takes her through an unusual series of places and events. It’s kind of refreshing to find a game that can go back to the simple stories and still succeed.

The pacing of the story is also quite well done. The story opens up with Kate heading to her hotel. Very little opening cutscene, no three-page biography to read. The player is just dropped into the beginning of the story. But, through her dialogue and the use of cell-phone calls from friends and family back in the States, we see her character develop and grow. However, while the story is very well done, the dialogue sometimes trips over the language barrier. I don’t recall anything being wrong, but occasionally the dialogue was just…off. This never really detracted from the game, however, and after a while the small idiosyncrasies just became part of the atmosphere.

The puzzles are also well done. They are by no means difficult, however, so those looking for a challenge probably won’t find it here. Most puzzles are “use a specific item here”, mixed in with the occasional “push the buttons in the correct order” variety. There’s nothing new or outstanding here, but neither are the puzzles frustrating or off-the-wall. There are the standard oddities of adventure game heroes—Kate won’t cross a 2-foot stream or touch a muddy piece of wood, and she seems to have an aversion to small birds. The biggest problem I had in solving the puzzles was simply missing an object on screen somewhere—there is a bit of the pixel hunting and looking for cursor hotspots that is inevitable with adventure games. Miss a spot while exploring and you’ll find yourself wandering around for some time.

The game looks good in addition to having a solid story. The graphics aren’t flashy, but they’re very well done, and do a very good job of giving the feeling of a journey through a slightly fantastic world that has been living just inside of the world we know. The automaton theme that is applied throughout the game is very cool, both in appearance and overall atmosphere. This being said, there was a glaring graphical bug that popped up toward the end of the game, leaving huge parts of the screen rendered in white blocks. This didn’t make the game unplayable, but it certainly detracted from the immersion that I had in the rest of the time. I believe there is a patch to correct this, but the patch failed to work on my system (or I failed to work the patch).

Completing our immersion into the story, the sound is quite good. Music is wonderful, and ambient sounds are excellent. Voice acting was a mixed bag—Kate was quite good, as were some of the supporting cast. However, some of the other characters were just plain bad. Thankfully not too much time was spent talking to them. The choice of accents was interesting…on a journey through Europe we see quite an eclectic mix of accents, most of which are definitely not European. Not necessarily a bad thing, and certainly quite amusing.

The game is quite short—I finished in well under 10 hours. It was time enough to tell the story, but it did feel a bit on the brief side. The game would probably have gone much more quickly had they implemented a “quick move” feature. There are lots and lots of screens to adventure through in Syberia, many of which are visited several times. This all makes for a lot of time watching Kate wander around. While I’m thankful for the “run” command, I would have been much more happy with a way to move from screen to screen more quickly rather than see Kate stop at every door and staircase exit, square herself up, and slowly walk to the next area. Lack of a quick move function is my only real quibble with the game, however.

Syberia is a good game, one of the better adventure games to come out for some time. It certainly doesn’t have much in the way of longevity, and those who aren’t thrilled by adventure games should give this a pass. But there’s an appealing game here for those old-school adventure gamers like me.





B-
A short little adventure game that harkens back to the glory days of the genre. A good game for those who miss the old days of adventure games and for those wondering what we old-schoolers keep talking about.