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Lora's Adventure Game Reviews: Syberia

Syberia (Game release date: 2002)
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

Syberia feels sort of like a cross between playing Myst and watching an Ingmar Bergman movie. If that idea sounds even slightly intriguing to you, you want to play this game starting tomorrow. The gameworld is absorbing, the story is lyrical and moving, the scenery is beautiful, and the mechanical contraptions that make up the game's puzzles are original and convey an odd sense of industrial wistfulness, like wandering down by the abandoned steelworking plants in Pittsburgh. If you prefer to be challenged by a game, though, you may find yourself a little let down by Syberia. The puzzles are exceedingly simple, most of them consisting merely of finding and using the proper key for each mechanical device. The plot is fascinating but linear and inflexible. As with many modern graphical adventures, you simply have no input into what happens in the game; I don't believe there is any point at which you have to make a single choice. Syberia often felt more like watching a movie--a slow-paced but astonishingly good movie--than playing a game.

Still, Syberia achieved the one goal that mattered most--I finished it with pleasure and bought the sequel when it came out (see my Syberia 2 Review for more details on that). If you're already a fan of graphic adventures or puzzle games, you definitely won't want to miss this one. If you're used to the flexible storylines and interactivity of modern CRPG's, though, you'll need a full store of patience to just sit back and watch so much of this fascinating plot unfold without being able to influence it at all.

Style: Syberia 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 has had one sequel, Syberia II. 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 and Nintendo DS. As of this writing, it is actually less expensive to buy the PC version of Syberia bundled together with Syberia II than it is to buy it separately, like this twofer offer from Amazon.

Getting Syberia to Work: Syberia 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: You can check out my low-spoiler page of Syberia hints if you like. There is also 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 its sequel taken 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 I suspect is why it was released in two installments.

Age-Appropriateness: This game is rated T (for 13 years old and up). It wouldn't be objectionable for younger kids, either (no nudity, sex, or violence--Kate does say "damn" and "hell" a few times), and the puzzles are certainly easy enough--my grade-school kids had a blast with it.

Lora's Syberia Review: (Very Good)

Plot and Quests: The plot is generally compelling and thought-provoking. Like most graphical adventures, Syberia suffers from its inflexibility. There is only one way to complete each quest; no alternate endings, no choices to be made. The plot also ends very abruptly, leaving many of the most interesting questions raised in the game to be explored in the sequel. A bit of a dirty trick, that.
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. All of them are extremely easy.
Characters: You play a pre-assigned PC in Syberia, 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. Many of the NPC's, on the other hand, are fascinating, memorable, even poignant characters, and add significantly to the feel of the game.
Gameworld: Syberia 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 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 frustrating, and navigation is extremely annoying. There are many clickable exits to inaccessible locations in some of the areas, and trying to access one of them causes Kate to declare "No need to down go there!" You HAVE to click on every hotspot on the screen for basic gameplay purposes, and it gets really frustrating to do so only to have to hear Kate give her "No need" spiel for the 287th time.
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. NPC movement is even worse. Some of the characters seem to be made out of silly putty. Their limbs actually get longer and shorter as they move.

Lora's Recommendations: If you're already a fan of graphic adventures, you definitely won't want to miss this absorbing, lyrical game. Syberia also makes a nice introduction to computer adventure games for neophytes, as it's charming, not very difficult, and it's impossible to get lost or paint yourself into a corner. Anyone who doesn't care for 3D graphic adventures, however, should stay away; Syberia does not overcome any of the general weaknesses of the genre, and the haunting mood is unlikely to distract you from that for long.

If You Loved Syberia: Then you'll probably want to play Syberia II, which will let you follow Kate's story to its conclusion. You will 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. Finally, if what you loved most about Syberia was its 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.

For a more detailed critique of the game involving spoilers, plot holes, and impacts Syberia could have on the adventure-game genre, please see my Backseat Game Designer page. Enjoy the game!

Native American headdress * Indians * Longhouse * Arctic circle map * Mens moccasins

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