A beautiful, well-written but ultimately flawed game.
Syberia is, simply put, breathtaking. It's not the graphics (see negatives below), but the sheer creativity and attention to detail that went into how the game is built; the amazing depth and consistency of the renderings, the slow, subtle buildup of the music, the way everything is put together is nothing short of cinematic brilliance.
The back story is also fascinating and unique; a cross between an Indiana Jones-like sense of awe and adventure, a fantasy world bordering on the plausible, and a narrative the flits back and forth between fantasy and reality convincingly. Finally, Syberia conveys a true sense of desolation; not oppressive and agoraphobic, as in Fallout
, but rather lonesome, sad and beautiful. From a purely audiovisual standpoint, Syberia utterly oozes atmosphere.
Unfortunately, Syberia has significant shortcomings, and fails to capitalize on lessons learned from previous adventure games. The gameplay consists of the routine "scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" detours, which is fine, but does so in an infuriatingly linear way. There are no multiple quests to keep you interested, and very few intellectual challenges, so the player's involvement is essentially reduced to a "go there, do this, go back, do that, talk to the guy, go to the other side of the current map" routine which becomes badly predictable after the first episode or two.
Worse still, puzzles come in either the woefully obvious verity, with a lot of unnecessary walking and dialog to fill the blanks; the annoying sequence puzzles where you have to do very specific things at a very specific order (which may or may not make sense); or, and this is probably the worst adventure game anti-pattern I can think of (a leaf unfortunately taken from the pages of The Longest Journey
), pixel hunting puzzles. The detailed but static graphics are actually a detriment here, with important objects dissolving into the background and easily missed. This leads to a routine of moving the mouse back and forth over the screen area in order to make sure no clue is missed, which leads to boredom and hurts suspense of disbelief.
Lastly, the game mechanics mostly
work but, given the repetitive and far-reaching nature of the puzzles, can become insanely annoying after a time - moving from screen to screen takes forever, there's no way to skip non-cutscenes such as climbing a ladder, the inventory system is not particularly effective and there's no notepad or dialog history, which means you need to keep notes (even phone numbers!) manually. For any game, this is an annoyance (unless there's an actual intellectual challenged involved; Star Control 2
is pretty much the only example I can think of); for a 2002 game, this is simply inexcusable.
In the nitpicking section, I have to add that the graphics (not the art - the actual in-game graphics) are disappointing for the game's age. The characters only look somewhat believable, the resolution is low and everything is too static; computers back then certainly had enough horsepower to handle a little more detail and move moving objects. There may have been budget constraints here, but suspense of disbelief suffers accordingly.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, Syberia is a modern version of Myst
: beautiful, well-made, certainly a labor of love but ultimately a flawed game. Well worth the sixpence you can get it for nowadays, but I would have been gravely disappointed had I paid full price back in its heyday.