Stylish, but overrated and unpleasant game
The adventure genre is dead. Hmm. How pity. Yeah well, who cares, we have "Quake 3" to play, with billions of new lava-spitting machine-gun-equipped tomato-headed monsters and a gazillion way of helping them back to hell. I never actually liked those silly 2D slow-going puzzle-solving thingies for nerds. Who needs 'em, anyway?
If this is the way you are thinking, you are probably not reading this review at the first place. Wait a second... that didn't sound right. So I guess you do care for adventure games after all, and want to know if the famous "Syberia" is really the great Messiah and savior of the genre or at least a truly great offering to it.
Well... you've already read the one-line summary and therefore know that my answer to this question is no
. So, what is the reason for the overwhelming praise "Syberia" received from critics and players all around the globe?
"Syberia" was developed by a company that by that time had had some experience with adventure games; their previous works were Amerzone
and Road to India
. "Syberia" doesn't really do anything much better than those two games, but it got rid of their "disturbing factors" ( Myst
-like perspective and atmosphere of the former, the demo-like size and non-existent challenge of the latter) and expanded itself to become a more "mainstream", full-fledged adventure game.
What Syberia undeniably has is style (so did "Amerzone", for that matter). That's its strong point, and that's how it managed to capture the hearts of so many players. The creators of "Syberia" let us enter a unique world. Usually, science fiction novels, movies or games concern either space travel or all kinds of futuristic machines. The word "science fiction" becomes immediately associated with highly advanced electronics, space ships, robots, and over-intelligent computer systems. But a "retro" science fiction? Science fiction of the beginning of the 20th century, science fiction in little quiet European towns of yesterday? Well, this is what "Syberia" is about. A strangely appealing world of automatons - mechanical robots - is definitely stylish. This is something no one has thought of before, and for that idea the game deserves credit.
It also has good production values. The pre-rendered background graphics are very beautiful, surpassing all the Atlantis
games with their lack of animation, and even the similarly looking The Longest Journey
. Especially nice is the 2D animated water. Of course, the graphics don't have the engrossing quality of real time 3D, but they surely fit the unique atmosphere of the game. The music is orchestral, in classical style.
One good thing to say about the gameplay of "Syberia" is that at least its puzzles are not too illogical. The puzzles of "Syberia" involve a lot of operating switches and pulling levers, but all those activities are not as nearly as depressing as in Myst
, its sequels or the countless clones it inspired. And that's a relief. I think Microids understood people will play even less adventure games if they will contain puzzles impossible to solve. Who wants to spend two hours trying to solve a stupid lever-pulling puzzle?
"Syberia" lacks in so many areas that I really found it hard to understand why this fact wasn't mentioned by the critics. Virtually all the components that make a great adventure game - story, characters, gameplay - are nothing but average.
The story of "Syberia" unfolds itself much too slowly. There is absolutely no sense of urgency in the development of the plot. It is as if the designers decided that the stylish setting alone would be enough to guarantee good story-telling. The whole game is spent overcoming ridiculous obstacles in search of a missing person. You could sum up this story in a couple of sentences. Nothing really significant happens in the game. True, the ending is not bad compared to the rest of the game, but to suffer hours of unexciting gameplay without any real story advancement just in order to see this ending is a bit exaggerated.
"Syberia" is a very dry game. It sorely lacks emotions. Its attempts at humor are infantile at best. Its characters feel artificial and uninspired. You know there is a problem with the character cast of a game if its most interesting character is a mechanical robot. There was no character I cared for. This includes the main protagonist. Since the only good parts about the story are about Kate's relationships with the people who call her mobile phone, it becomes an even bigger flaw. It is really hard to care for Kate. I didn't give a damn about her private life simply because she was such an uninteresting, superficial, and most of all, cold person.
And all those dry characters will force you to engage in equally dry conversations with them. There's a lot of dialogue in the game, and almost all of it is boring and artificial.
And now we come to the gameplay, and we see that it is on par with the other aspects of the game. It is your standard, traditional, old-fashioned, outdated adventure gameplay based on mediocre and unexciting "pull the lever" or "use this with that" puzzles. I honestly don't recall any creative puzzle from the game, maybe with the exception of the cocktail preparation.
The puzzles are also poorly balanced. You see puzzles virtually in every location you visit, and many of them are elementary easy to solve and do not require any specially obtained object. The result will be that you will probably solve many puzzles without any clear idea of why you have solved them. For example, there is an area with five different exits. At two or three of them, there are devices you can interact with, with levers and all the other machinery necessary to operate. Of course, your first instinct is to pull whatever is pullable and to push whatever is pushable. And what do you know, something happens - you have triggered another device, that you still haven't encountered and didn't know you will need to trigger it, or even obtained a clue item you have no idea what its purpose is. Since you can't get stuck or die in the game, you can experiment with whatever you see, and if you do so, and do not follow the strict logic of the events (first find out why
you need to do it, then
do it), you'll accumulate an embarrassing amount of solved puzzles already early in the game. It gets better in the later parts, but the first part is really remarkable in this aspect. All this leads to obscurity of the puzzle design.
The Bottom Line
+ Unique style
+ Good production values
- Thin story
- Boring dialogues
- Poor characterization
- Outdated, dull gameplay
"Syberia" is a perfect example of an overrated game. It was met with joy by critics and players alike. People were longing for an adventure game, and "Syberia" was undoubtedly better than most of its genre cousins released at that time. But it cannot be compared by any means to the great classic adventures of the past. The only really interesting thing about it is the stylish concept of automatons. Lack of great story, characters, and gameplay are anything but indicators for a successful revival of the adventure genre.