Syberia Review: a port that should be better

TIME :2022-07-03

Syberia is a point-and-click adventure game that was originally released for PC back in 2002, and has since been ported over to various mobile platforms. The game is lengthy, and has decent voice work. From here, let's dig in.

The story is one of the strengths of Syberia. Players assume the role of a lawyer named Kate Walker, who has been tasked to go to Europe (a fictitious town in the French Alps named Valadilene, to be exact), to locate the owner of a factory, named Anna Voralberg, that specializes in creating a form of robots called automatons, which have been designed by her brother Hans. Automatons, in this game anyway, are much like how robots and androids get depicted in SciFi, only they're built and powered with gears, springs, and the like instead of electronics. While this gives them an old fashioned feel (along with rust, nuts, and bolts comprising their outward appearance), they are also often quite intelligent in way that would surpass the presumed "insides" of one, though how exactly that's managed is never really explained. The company interested in buying the factory plans to monetize this unusual process by using it to build toys, and the player needs to locate the owner to sign off on the sale.

The game begins shortly after Kate's arrival to Valadilene, where she learns that the owner, Anna had just passed away without a will, and that her brother that was long presumed dead may yet be alive, and would be the next owner if that's the case. Kate then sets out to confirm if the brother still lives (and if so, she intends to get him to sign the papers). This sets Kate off on a trek over a few other fictitious European locations in search of a person that might not be there at the end. On this voyage with Kate, players begin to learn about the childhood of Anna and Hans through a wide range of methods, from anecdotes from people that knew one or both of the Voralbergs, to diary entries, voice recordings, cut scenes, seeing the various inventions by Hans, and more. While on this journey, Kate receives numerous calls on her cellphone from various people at home (work, family, etc) that begin to fill in her back story, and attempt to add a later of complication to Kate's mission.

Oddly enough, while I found the search for Hans and his story to be quite interesting, Kate's personal connections struck me as shallow, one dimensional, and somewhat predictable, as if each character was really only attempting to represent a particular emotion or sentiment, with little deviation from it. Even Kate's contributions to these conversations seemed to fall into this "stay in your lane" approach a bit, causing me to become indifferent and bored with those interactions, more often then not. Fortunately, there were few points where the two stories intersected. On the whole, playing through this story is going to take several hours.

The gameplay for Syberia is pretty linear and simple. All objects that can be interacted with are highlighted with one of two icons. If the object can be picked up, it's marked with a hand. Everything else (placing objects down from your inventory, viewing something, or interacting without removal like flipping a switch) will all be marked with a magnifying glass. All viable points of egress from a given room are all marked with arrows. Simply tapping on an icon will cause Kate to attempt to interact with it or move in that direction. This set up was both convenient, as it allows a player to quickly size up a room, as well disappointing as it seemed to almost guide me along, similar to what one might experience in a rail shooter; more than once I had the strong sensation of this being a bit more confined and less open and exploratory than I would've liked. Even the puzzles frequently had the feel of "bumper bowling", in that finding a utilitarian object would mean it would often be needed shortly thereafter, with little mystery.

Encountering problems first frequently left me with the same feeling going in reverse, as I was confident the required object would be a couple of screens away. It was very cause-and-effect. Once an item was no longer needed, it disappeared from inventory often leaving the player with flavor/filler items. To be fair, this wasn't how every puzzle and object went, but it was definitely the norm. At one point, shortly after the midway point, I encountered a room where the markers weren't in effect. With no other way to determine which objects were intended for use, it was a frustrating few minutes looking at that screen for objects that should've been delineated before tapping objects at random in the hopes of getting what I need. Hopefully this will be updated.

There is little for a soundtrack, with players hearing absolutely nothing for music as often as not. Music was typically reserved for cut scenes and the like, while background noises like running water or birds chirping were most commonly heard while navigating an area and solving puzzles. I also encountered a second bug of sorts, where the sound on occasion emit a static-like noise when solving a puzzle or placing an object. It didn't impede the game play like the other one did, but it was noticeable throughout the game. Syberia only contains a single save slot. Players can access it from the menu, or just wait for an auto-save to kick in, which would be indicated by a pair of cogs in the lower left corner that show up from time to time. Lastly, as milestones are reached in the story, players are awarded a "bonus", which is some type of concept art that can be viewed from the start screen. 

Unfortunately, as much as I enjoyed the story and world that this is set in, I find the asking price of $6.99 on Google Play to be prohibitive. The game is long enough and the story is compelling enough to justify the cost, but between the bugs, the shallow characters, and the extremely linear and guided feel, I don't think many players would enjoy it all the way through. So if the story is paramount for what you look for in a game, wait for it to go on sale and/or the bugs to be patched. Otherwise, don't bother.

Syberia (Playboard) | Syberia (Play Store)