Written by  :  Jacques Guy (55)
Written on  :  Mar 13, 2005
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars

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A wonder, a marvel, and yet I do not quite understand why

The Good

This is an exceptional game, and not for the reasons you might think. As a game, it is abominable, completely linear, with absurd puzzles, and so on. And yet I loved it, and I see, from other reviews, that all those who have played it have been swept off their feet too.

Why? There is nothing special about the graphics. The scenes are a series of rendered backgrounds which you cannot pan unlike, say, Exile (Myst III). The camera is set and unmovable for each scene, only Kate Walker (that's you, gamer) and her occasional side-kick move against the background. Nothing to write home about.

The gameplay is abominably linear. Don't you dare even think of doing this until you are allowed to, after having done that.

So? So where is the magic? (It is a magical game).

So where is it? Hidden. When you play "Myst" you cannot hold back a "WOW!" of wonderment. Not so here. The "WOW!" is there, but subdued. There is nothing alien at all about those landscapes, that architecture, even those clockwork automata. But everything is... unfamiliar, yes unfamiliar enough, to wrench you out of this our world into the world of Syberia, without fully realizing how, or why.

What else? Oh, that is the one. Kate Walker (you, gamer) slowly grows in understanding and in wisdom. By the time it is time for her, her mission fulfilled, to fly back to New York, to her job as a lawyer under a perfect arsehole of a boss, back to make up, perhaps, with her perfect arsehole of a boyfriend, and back to her harebrained pain-in-the-bum of a mother, you just know that she will kiss good-bye to the "good" life for the frozen barrenness of Syberia. And that is where the story, the game, becomes a morality play. Kate takes to her heels to catch the Syberia-bound clockwork train which is leaving right now. Running like mad through the dining room of the Grand Hotel Cronsky, she slips, knocks over a chair, regains her balance, resumes running, away from New York, her boyfriend, her boss, her mother, to catch the train. That split-second incident, the slipping, the knocking over of a chair, is what turns this game into an unforgettable experience. This is no longer a game, it is life.

There are some very funny scenes too, some of them, alas, inside jokes which most players will miss. Kate's clockwork train runs out of spring power in Barrockstadt, a university town and a perfect spoof of Oxford and Cambridge. She has to take her train to a winding station. To do that, she needs to get it towed by a barge. Kate hasn't got the money (another piece of absurdity: who would go on such an errand without $100 in her pocket?). So she tries to talk the barge owner into doing it for free, as a favour. The barge owner replies: "Favor, favor, alors buik not full, mooonney, ya, buik full." Unless you know French and Flemish you won't appreciate it: "Favour, favour, then belly not full. Money, yes, belly full". Then Kate tries idle chit-chat. There is a marvellous aviary in the railway station. Has he been to see all those birds? Comes the answer: "Met U, mooie girl, ya, ya, met plezier!" (with you, beautiful girl, yes, yes, with pleasure!) Kate does not understand of course, so the barge owner's wife translates: "We no leave boat, husband is land sick."

The Bad

The puzzles. They bring nothing to the story, but aggravation. Some are trivial, some absurd, some aggravating. Aggravating such as when one puzzle requires you to have listened to Kate's mother's over-the-phone logorrhea to solve the Russian diva's puzzle. It was all useless garbage, along with her boyfriend's calls, and her boss's calls, and you are expected to have written down all that crap? (it doesn't show on your journal). Or again, you are supposed to mix a cocktail that will make the Russian diva regain her voice. Following the instructions, you mix the cocktail. She drinks it. No effect. So? So you think you have stuffed up, and you try again, different ways. Wrong. What you must do is mix it again, exactly the same way, and it will work. I object to that. There are many more such examples of aggravating absurdities, such as when you are told that a document must be signed, when, in fact, you should have it stamped.

The Bottom Line

What other game could be worth playing, with such stupid, irrelevant puzzles, with such a linear story? And yet, what other games end up with such flying colours against such a handicap? "Syberia" just has to be something exceptional.

Ah, if only, if only....