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Lora's Adventure Game Reviews: Syberia 2

Syberia 2 (Game release date: 2004)
The second installment of a delicate, haunting tale set in an unusual impressionistic fantasy world.

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Highlights: Amazing cutscenes, affecting mood, poignant characters, lovely graphics Lowlights: Not interactive at all, not very challenging, rather short

This is the hardest game review I've ever written--not because there is anything especially problematic about this engrossing graphic adventure, but because Syberia 2 is exactly the same game as Syberia 1, so it's hard to think of anything to say about it that I didn't say in my original Syberia review. I don't mean to imply that it's a tired old retread, either, because it's not that--it just literally is the same game. This was originally intended to be one game, not two. Obviously the production ran over schedule and it was decided to ship the two halves separately. Other than the fact that the game consequently costs twice as much, there's no inherent problem with this--the visuals are as lovely in the second half, the plot as intelligent, the mechanical contraptions as intriguing, and the mood as poignantly wistful. The programmers took advantage of the production delay to fix a handful of interface problems for the second installment. Kate's annoying, badly acted boyfriend and best friend have faded out of the story. And, best of all, you finally get to go to Syberia and see those mammoths you were promised on the original game box. So it's all good... except for the fact that reviewing Syberia 2 separately from Syberia 1 is sort of akin to reviewing the second half of the movie Titanic. Um, Kate Winslet is still pretty, the evil fiance is still a two-dimensional villain, the sets are still impressive, the love story gets more touching and this time the boat really sinks. Syberia is a game that is worth paying for twice, which is a significant compliment, but I'm not at all sure it's worth reviewing twice.

If you've already played the original Syberia, and enjoyed that game, then by all means get Syberia 2. Conversations have been streamlined, the stupid cellphone subplots with Kate's family have been minimized (with one glaring exception), and you will never have to hear Kate declare "No need to down go there yet!" again. If you haven't played the original Syberia yet, you really should play that one first, because the sense of wonder that makes these games special is at its peak in the first few chapters, even as the plot knuckles down and gets more interesting in the later ones. In a nutshell, the Syberia games feel sort of like a cross between playing Myst and watching an Ingmar Bergman movie. If that idea piques your interest even a bit, don't miss this one; if it sounds dubiously like something that may bore you, stay away. Syberia's strengths are its gorgeous scenery, absorbing gameworld, lyrical story, and fantastic array of mechanical contraptions that convey an odd sense of industrial wistfulness, like wandering down by the abandoned steelworking plants in Pittsburgh. Syberia's weaknesses are its simplistic puzzles, rigidly linear plot, and lack of input into the main character's personality or anything that happens in the plot. As is unfortunately the case in most modern graphical adventures, there is no point at which you have to make a meaningful choice in these games. Playing Syberia feels a lot like watching a movie--a slow-paced, but astonishingly good movie--rather than playing a game, most of the time.

Style: Syberia 2 is a third-person puzzle-adventure game with a 3D point-and-click interface. You control a single character. The plot is an exploratory adventure and there are mystery and science fiction themes. The game is untimed and no manual dexterity is required. Combat and leveling are not elements.

Series: Syberia 2 is the second in a two-game series, following the widely acclaimed Syberia. The characters and plot of the sequel are dependent upon the original, and I would strongly recommend playing the two in the proper order--Syberia I would be a very dull game if you already knew all about the characters, plot and gameworld.

Finding Syberia: This game was very popular and can still be easily found at software stores or online. It is available not only for PCs but also for the XBox. As of this writing, it is actually less expensive to buy the PC version of Syberia II bundled together with the first Syberia than it is to buy it separately, like this twofer offer from Amazon.

Getting Syberia to Work: Syberia 2 is a stable game with no gameplay bugs that I encountered. Even Vista, which can't run much of anything released before 2007, can handle Syberia OK if you set it to XP compatability mode.

Hints For Syberia: I don't have a Syberia 2 walkthrough ready yet. There is a good hints page at UHS which reveals only one hint at a time, so you won't accidentally learn the answers to future puzzles while scanning for the one you're stuck on.

Game Length: 15 hours including all the optional conversations. This is rather short for a graphic adventure game; Syberia and Syberia 2 together last about as long as other comparable games on the market, but each has as much graphical content as a full-length game, which may be why it was released in two installments in the first place.

Age-Appropriateness: This game is rated T (for 13 years old and up). It wouldn't be objectionable for younger kids, either (no nudity or sex and minimal violence and language), but there is an unavoidable NPC death in the course of this game, which may make it too upsetting for some children.

Lora's Syberia 2 Review: (Very Good)

Plot and Quests: The plot is generally compelling and thought-provoking. Like most graphical adventures, Syberia 2 suffers from its inflexibility. There is only one way to complete each quest; no alternate endings, no choices to be made. There is one subplot it is exceedingly hard to suspend your disbelief for.
Puzzles and Mental Challenges: Primarily inventory puzzles (of the "where can I find a key to fit this lock?" sort), also some visual and memory puzzles. Most of them are extremely easy.
Characters: You play a pre-assigned PC in Syberia 2, a lawyer named Kate Walker. She has a non-annoying but very muted personality and you cannot customize or develop her at all. You don't even have the choice of conversational options to help you feel ownership of her personality. Some of the NPC's, on the other hand, are interesting, even poignant, and add significantly to the feel of the game.
Gameworld: Syberia 2 is set in a just-barely-alternate version of Earth. I won't spoil any of the differences in this review, but they are wonderfully surrealistic. The industrial-fantasy elements are perfectly done and the attention to detail in this gameworld is the best of any game I've ever played.
Gameplay: Like most modern graphical adventures, Syberia 2 is really just your standard Infocom game with graphics and sound appended. That isn't inherently a bad thing--I loved those old Infocom games--but this genre really has not advanced much since the '80's where gameplay is concerned, and it only takes ten or twelve times walking Kate manually across the same eight location screens on her way to deposit yet another key into yet another keyhole before you start to realize: Hey, this was much less of a pain when you could just type "E,E,N,E,NW,U,W,use square key." :-o There is no way to die or lose this game. Puzzles can only be done in the same, linear order, and it's impossible to paint yourself into any corners.
Interface: The point-and-click interface is serviceable, but movement is very slow, conversation is tiresome, and navigation is extremely annoying, requiring lots of tedious backtracking.
Ambience (Graphics, Sound, etc.): The overall mood is excellent; the music is nicely melancholy, and the graphics are lovely and rich in detail (Kate's distorted reflection in a curved piece of metal, the delicate sparkle of snow). The cutscene movies are among the best I've ever seen in a computer game. The animation, however, is disconcertingly unrealistic. Kate walks like a long-legged Star Wars alien, and since you spend half the game doing nothing but watching her walk, it can really get under your skin after a while. She is also prone to distracting slides and turns at bizarre angles, and watching her climb stairs and ladders can be agonizing.

Lora's Recommendations: I definitely recommend Syberia II for anyone who played and enjoyed the original Syberia; it's just as beautiful, and it answers all the questions the first game left hanging. If you haven't played Syberia yet, though, I strongly recommend playing that game first--they're really the same game, frankly, and why would you want to start playing in the middle?

If You Loved Syberia 2: Then you'll probably also enjoy The Longest Journey, another evocative graphic adventure with compelling characters; The Longest Journey also allows you more input into its heroine's personality and actions, a welcome trend in adventure gaming. If you don't mind a darker, creepier theme, the horror adventure The Black Mirror is also beautifully drawn and paints a compelling mood. If what you loved most about the Syberia games was their magical mood and puzzle-solving, you may want to check out the immersive puzzle adventure Myst IV: Revelation, or even the original Myst Trilogy, from which Syberia clearly derived much of its inspiration.

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