Syberia

aka: L'avventura di Kate Walker: Syberia Volume 1, Sibir
Moby ID: 6828
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Description official descriptions

Kate Walker is a lawyer who has been entrusted by the Universal Toy Company to negotiate the takeover of an old luxury toy and automaton factory. Over the centuries, the factory has been developing clockwork devices, specializing in perpetual mechanical movement. The factory's ambitions, however, are ill-suited to the contemporary economic climate, and the elderly Anna Voralberg, at the helm of the Valadilene factory for more than half a century, has decided to sell up.

It turns out that the takeover might not be as straightforward as expected. The day that Kate Walker arrives, Anna Voralberg is being buried. What is more is that she has left an heir – her brother Hans. But Hans had left the valley at the end of the thirties and never returned, and was actually believed to be dead. However, a letter written by Anna in the days leading up to her death reveals that Hans is well and truly alive and living somewhere in Siberia. Valadilene's elderly notary entrusted to take care of Anna's affairs suggests that Kate find Hans Voralberg as he is now the only person in a position to ratify the sale of the family business.

Syberia is a traditional puzzle-solving adventure. The player navigates a 3D model of the protagonist over pre-rendered backgrounds with fixed camera angles. Puzzles are mostly inventory-based, though some involve manipulating the environment (such as mechanical devices). The interface features a single cursor; only highlighted objects can be interacted with, and there are no verb choice commands.

Spellings

  • Сибирь - Russian spelling
  • シベリア 日本語版 - Nintendo product page Japanese spelling
  • 西伯利亞 - Traditional Chinese spelling
  • 赛伯利亚 - Simplified Chinese spelling

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Credits (Windows version)

114 People (101 developers, 13 thanks) · View all

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Art Director
Production Manager
Technical Manager
Project Manager
Lead 3D Modeler & Texturing
Lead 3D Animator
Lead Programmer
Lead Integrator
France-Canada Coordinator
Game Designers
Writer/Editor
Set Design
3D Modeling & Texture Art - Environment
3D Modeling & Texture Art - Characters
Animation - Cutscenes
Animation - In-game
[ full credits ]

Reviews

Critics

Average score: 76% (based on 66 ratings)

Players

Average score: 3.9 out of 5 (based on 192 ratings with 14 reviews)

Beautiful. And lousy.

The Good

By now, Syberia has become one of the classics of an almost dead genre. Yet at its time, it was anything but that; it was a mad attempt to breathe life into a corpse. The problem, however, is that this breath of life was, in fact, terribly stale. While the game may be appealing to the newcomer, for seasoned adventure players, it's almost embarrassing. Consider this a rant on why Syberia is not a classic, or even a good game.

First things first, though: the game is gorgeous. The graphics have aged gracefully; the combination of 3D characters and prerendered backgrounds still looks very good (compared to Grim Fandango or The Longest Journey), while the backgrounds themselves are stunning. It's clear the prerendered images were meticulously touched up by hand, with a consistent art style, looking almost like a pencil drawing inked over. FMVs are a different kettle of fish, with wooden animations and a few ugly effects (oh, the explosions!), but the rest of it? Beautiful; and one of the best-looking games I have ever seen.

I also rather like the interface, which is a logical conclusion of the trend adventure games have been following for years: single button point and click. It's barebones, and gives an extremely limited control, but it is a clear, reasonable design decision and as such, I can get behind it.

Sadly, however, it is now time to move to the next section.



The Bad

Unusually for video games, Benoît Sokal has something of an auteur thing going on in Syberia. He's the lead designer of the game, but also a comic book artist, which explains a lot. As I have said, he certainly can draw, and he has an artistic vision. But he can't really write, and, worst of all, can't design games.

The soul of any adventure game is the writing. None of the true classics became a classic because of its puzzles, or its graphics, or anything else: it was always writing. And this is where Syberia fails tragically; and comic books are perhaps to blame. First of all, the story is simple. The whole thing can be retold in one paragraph, with nothing significant being omitted. American lawyer tries to find a missing, eccentric old man, whose eccentricity is an excuse for populating the world with all sorts of mechanical contraptions. That's pretty much it. It's a story worthy of speech bubbles, but certainly not branching adventure game dialogue. It also doesn't end; and I mean at all. Imagine listening to a story where the narrator suddenly pulls out a watch, looks at it, and says "Alright, so she went outside and there he was, sitting on a bench. Now go home." The ending gives a clear "to be continued in the next issue" vibe; and suddenly we learn the rather large amounts of backstory were just window dressing. Just an excuse to show more pretty pictures.

And regarding dialogue - there's nothing to write home about. There are characters in the game, and they talk. Everything about them is completely forgettable. There is just one exception of a dialogue that stands out: an old sailor who is talking in a hodgepodge of about five languages, curiously interpreted into English by his wife. The more of the languages you recognise, the more hilarious the exchange is. That's all, though, really. The dialogue system is simplistic, with a handful of the same, universal topics for every character, which certainly doesn't add any spice to it. It does the job. Full stop.

This single-purpose writing is actually one of the tell-tale aspects that reveal the true nature of Syberia's game design: things were put in just because adventure games, a genre Sokal has chosen for Syberia, usually have them. Their implementation is entirely superficial and often plain wrong. They are there just because a pure comic book videogame, where you would just keep clicking Next, would be too boring.

Yet this half-hearted implementation of the staples of the genre makes Syberia exactly that: boring. The game world is almost entirely dead. As I have said, visuals triumph here, which means the game is full of gorgeous, yet absolutely empty screens. My conservative estimate is that in about 70% of the game's screens, perhaps even more, absolutely no "gaming" is going on. They are there just to walk through. Every once in a while, a minor character is inserted into such a screen for local colour (and I do mean once in a while; there are about half a dozen of them altogether) who repeats the same mechanical response over and over again. The whole game is incredibly, mind-numbingly static.

And this brings me to the other major point, this one caused by something else than comic book design mentality. It takes a while before the penny drops, but the secret is that while the game pretends to be a classic third-person title, it is, in fact, a Myst clone. Gorgeous, yet empty and dull, fascinated by mechanical contraptions and puzzles that are not a part of the game world, but that exist only to be solved. It's quite obvious, really.

To put it simply, the puzzle design in Syberia is atrocious. It's an almost completely linear sequence of events, some of which are not connected at all yet have to be performed in the prescribed order, with copious amounts of backtracking through dead scenery. The train won't start because you haven't retrieved the MacGuffin yet. The train won't start because you have the MacGuffin in your inventory, but haven't put it in its proper place on the train (and after the train stops again, you'd better pick it up again, because you'll need it). Follow the numbers. Of course it makes no sense for your heroine to waste time doing this or that, but the story can't continue if you don't. The puzzles are not a part of the plot, they are added in, as an afterthought. The consequence, naturally, is that Kate is sometimes forced, by the twisted "there ought to be a puzzle here" logic, to do things in a needlessly complicated manner. There's a puzzle arising from the fact that she isn't willing to jump over a small brook, and another, involving running all over the place and talking to everyone who will listen, just because shooing away three cuckoos is apparently too difficult. The logic of the puzzles is twisted, yet the over-convoluted solutions are usually very apparent, because the extremely linear nature of the game means there simply is nothing else to do. And if the solutions aren't apparent, it's probably because you overlooked a hotspot in one of the screens which there was a good reason to consider useless. It's maddening; and I often caught myself wishing there was actually a "next" button to turn the pages of the comic book, skip a puzzle or two and view some more pretty imagery.

And that, to sum it up, is the sole reason why I can't consider Syberia a classic, its most peculiar characteristic: gameplay for gameplay's sake. It shouldn't have been a video game in the first place, that's what's wrong with it.



The Bottom Line

If writing is the soul of an adventure game, and puzzles are its flesh and bones, the only thing Syberia has going for it is a beautiful skin. Thinking back, there is nothing memorable about the game at all, except that it is gorgeous. And that's not even remotely enough.

Windows · by plumifrons (95) · 2010

A beautiful, well-written but ultimately flawed game.

The Good
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.

The Bad
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.

Windows · by Tomer Gabel (4539) · 2011

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....

Windows · by Jacques Guy (52) · 2005

[ View all 14 player reviews ]

Discussion

Subject By Date
Who Was the Model for Kate Walker? null-geodesic (106) Dec 1, 2007

Trivia

Language

The words written on the control panel of the airship in Kolmkozgrad are authentic Russian. However, the name of the hotel in Aralbad is written incorrectly.

Marketing

Some German games magazine editors received a postcard from New York with a handwritten text from someone called Kate who wrote in German, that she had an Austrian uncle, some problems and so on. There was no clue that this was a PR-event for the game Syberia, even the fake-handwriting was done with some smeared ink.

PlayStation 2 version

Contrary to the Xbox release, the PS2 version did not appear in North America, as SCEA did not approve the game there.

References

  • The rat from Road to India makes a cameo appearance in Syberia. It appears in the basement in Kolmkozgrad, makes exactly the same movements it did in Road to India, and disappears.
  • Syberia contains some references to another game by Microids, Amerzone . In Barockstadt you can read and hear a lot about different species of Amerzone's flora and fauna.

Awards

  • Computer Games Magazine
    • March 2003 (Issue #148) - #10 overall in the "10 Best Games of 2002" list
  • Computer Gaming World
    • April 2003 (Issue #225) – Adventure Game of the Year
  • Gamespot
    • 2002 - PC Adventure Game of the Year
    • 2002 - Best Artistic Graphics
  • Gamespy
    • 2002 - PC Adventure Game of the Year
  • IGN
    • 2002 - Best Adventure Game (Readers' Choice)

Information also contributed by Felix Knoke, Jeanne, PCGamer77 and Sciere

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Contributors to this Entry

Game added by Isdaron.

Nintendo DS, PlayStation 3 added by Charly2.0. Linux added by Plok. Android added by Ingsoc. Nintendo Switch added by Kam1Kaz3NL77. Xbox 360 added by Kennyannydenny. PlayStation 2, Blacknut, iPhone, iPad added by Sciere. Xbox added by LeChimp. Windows Mobile, Macintosh added by Kabushi.

Additional contributors: frin, Unicorn Lynx, Jeanne, tarmo888, Sciere, Zeppin, Paulus18950, Patrick Bregger, Rik Hideto.

Game added June 28, 2002. Last modified January 29, 2024.