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SummarySymptoms of decay
The GoodSyberia was released to nearly-standing ovation from many fans of adventure games. Some went as far as to proclaim it the promised savior of the agonizing genre. So, what are the reasons for the overwhelming praise this game 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 got rid of their "disturbing factors" (the overused 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 of the ever beloved third-person, point-and-click variety.
Though it does borrow a few elements from Amerzone, it cannot be denied that Syberia has a strong sense of style. That's its most appealing aspect, and that's how it managed to capture the hearts of so many players. The creators of the game let us enter a unique world. Usually, science fiction novels, movies or games are concern with either space travel or all kinds of futuristic machinery. The word "science fiction" becomes immediately associated with highly advanced electronics, spaceships, robots, and overly intelligent maniacal computer systems. But a "retro" science fiction of the beginning of the 20th century, science fiction in little quiet European towns of yesterday - that's quite unusual, and that's what Syberia is about. A strangely interesting world of automatons - mechanical robots - is definitely stylish. This is something no one has probably thought of before, and for that idea the game deserves credit.
A few of the locations are rather imaginative, with some interesting architecture and the elusive mechanical toys contributing to the peculiar charm. There are some nice gameplay elements here and there. You may rejoice at the occasional good, fulfilling puzzle and a bit of lively dialogue happening when you least expect it. I liked the idea of the protagonist communicating with her friends and family over the phone - particularly because that wasn't connected to any in-game activity and was there simply to flesh out the rather indifferently-acting main character a bit more.
Syberia has good production values. The pre-rendered background graphics are detailed and aesthetically very pleasing - though, in my opinion, the art is somewhat cold and cannot quite compare to the majestic beauty of the similarly-looking The Longest Journey. Also, everything is done in grayish tint - which is probably intentional, conveying the occasionally atmospheric, bleak solitude of the game's world.
The BadSyberia may be the next hippest thing in the world of 2D background art or even a clever metaphorical tale of human life for all I care, but it is not a good adventure game.
Most adventures live and die with their puzzles, and that's where Syberia fails utterly. There is no spark or inspiration in the puzzles at all. After you finish the game, only the cocktail preparation and perhaps one or two other tasks would linger in your memory for a while. Everything else is forgettable at best, and more often irritating. The mechanical puzzles are uniformly dull; inventory-based activities come across as pathetic shadows of the merry experimentation we knew from the comedy adventures of yore. Worse, however, is the fact that most objectives force you to run back and forth through lifeless landscapes from a solitary character to an obscure item well-hidden in the backgrounds, to an extent rarely seen in the classic representatives of the genre due to the game's abysmal linearity and lack of interaction. Even more so than other contemporary adventures, Syberia discourages experimentation and any kind of creative thinking; it contains almost no optional actions at all, grabbing your hand and sending you on an on-rails museum tour, occasionally sticking your nose into a puzzle that has to be solved here and now.
The puzzles are also poorly balanced. You encounter them virtually in every location you visit, and many of them are elementary easy to solve right away. As a result, you are able to actually solve many puzzles without even knowing that. Since you can't get stuck or die in the game and there are usually only very few things the game allows you to do, the puzzles often refuse to follow the cardinal rule of logic (first find out why you need to do something, then do it). Because of that, most puzzles feel like amateurish imitations of classic gameplay devices pasted into the game without a good reason.
The story of Syberia starts strong, but 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 storytelling. The whole game is spent overcoming ridiculously irrelevant obstacles while searching for 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 also 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, and even he comes across as forced with his uneasy goofiness. 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 dull. Almost the only exception I can think of is that guy hitting on Kate in different languages.