A wonder, a marvel, and yet I do not quite understand why
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
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 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
Ah, if only, if only....