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Platform

PC

 

Genre

Adventure

 

Publisher

Microids

 

Developer

Microids

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

July 2002

 

 

- A pure adventure game

- Integrated puzzles

- Good graphics

- An interesting story

- Some amusing moments

 

 

- Interface needs a slight tweak

- Some of the translation doesn’t quite make it

 

 

Review: Escape from Monkey Island (Playstation 2)

Review: Drunna (PC)

 

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Syberia

Score: 8.9 / 10

Like many gamers on the PC scene, I grew up playing adventure games.  In North America the genre was once dominant and is now all but extinct – or at least evolved into other forms.  Syberia may not be the emissary of a New Age of Adventure Games, but old school adventurers will probably fall in love with Syberia.  And I don’t think it’s a case of “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”  Syberia’s a great adventure game that tells an intriguing story with all the flourish that old-schoolers always wax nostalgic about.

 

syberia-1.jpg (136301 bytes)          syberia-2.jpg (128583 bytes)

 

Some of this must be credited to Benoit Sokal, who obviously knows what’s he’s doing.  He manages to create a believable world of automatons and clockwork mechanisms against a backdrop of the real world.  Not only that, the story is well above what’s expected of most games nowadays.  You assume the role of Kate Walker, a lawyer from New York, in Europe to ensure the sale of an old automaton factory.  She’s there to get a signature from the owner, but when she arrives to witness the owner’s funeral procession things get complicated.  It happens that the owner has a brother, Hans Voralberg, who has become the sole heir of the automaton factory.  Like any good lawyer, Kate goes looking for Hans (who was actually supposed to be dead) to get his signature and complete the sale.  As the search progresses Kate meets up with the most anal retentive automaton you’re likely to have dealings with (beating C-3PO by a wide margin), solves some deftly integrated puzzles, and uncovers several small subplots involving some interesting characters, like a customs official that has been on guard for several years making sure a tree stump doesn’t attack wayward travelers.

 

When previewing Syberia, I had reservations about the emphasis on Sokal’s involvement.  Microids hyped it quite a bit but after finishing Syberia, I’m very interested in reading some of Sokal’s works and digging up a copy of Amerzone – a game that is referred to in Syberia – that he was also involved with.  The story, dialogue, and integrated puzzles all combine to nearly make me forget the last Microids adventure game I played, the truly awful Druuna, which is saying something.  It wouldn’t take much to top Druuna, but Syberia absolutely squashes Druuna under a 12-ton anvil.

 

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the story may not be as strong as the original, Syberia II is still an interesting sojourn with at least one main sub-plot involving a detective hired by Kate’s employer back in New York.

 

The developers took the “if it ain’t broke” route in regard to the interface.  It’s the same point-and-click navigation and interaction found in the original.  This means you’ll also slowly scan for hot-spots – just waiting 

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But there are a few knocks against Syberia.  The interface makes things a little frustrating at times.  The onscreen cursor takes the form of a small halo. (Everything is point and click.)  It changes shape if you can interact with an object and lights up if you can walk off-screen.  Problem is, if you’re not paying attention you might miss the cursor changing since the transformation is so subtle.  Sometimes it’s not always obvious what item you should click on and it’s in these cases that you wind up scanning the area with the cursor waiting for it to change.  Some items are very easy to miss – mostly books.  Accessing some areas happen almost by accident.  In one area in particular there are two exits extremely close together – one takes you up the stairs and the other takes you under the stairs where you find Oscar, the annoying automaton.  The points are so close together that the halo seems to be lit up for only one area – up the stairs.  If the cursor had changed to an arrow, this would have been eliminated.  Otherwise, inventory management and interacting with characters is a simple affair and these navigational problems are few.

 

Another minor annoyance is that some of translation didn’t quite carry over. (Syberia was originally French) You’ll probably only notice it in minor ways, but at one point it totally tripped me up.

 

Puzzles, so integral to the adventure genre, are a definite highlight.  Consider this elaborate setup: Kate winds up stranded at a university with no way to wind up her train (yes, wind up).  She’s found a barge that will tow her to a winding station but they want a $100 and Kate has no money.  Fortunately, the university administrators want the bandstand repaired and are willing to pay $100 for the job.  But to affect repairs, Kate has to discover an underground wine making trade, seek out some much needed berries, feed some really angry birds, and acquire the one item that will complete the puzzle – a large egg.  All the puzzles are like this – integrated so well they’re part of the story, instead of having a lot of clichéd slide puzzles.  Admittedly there are some really tough sections that can be easily solved if you pay attention.  You know the kind of puzzles I’m talking about – ones that you lose sleep over for a few nights then strike on the obvious answer and curse yourself for not thinking of it sooner.

 

syberia-3.jpg (137951 bytes)         syberia-4.jpg (155940 bytes)

 

Syberia has substance but it also has a good-looking surface.  The graphics are great and the animation is smooth, but there is some strange sliding that goes on when characters are getting into position to talk.  There are even some areas just thrown in because they look good or act as a place-holders to brighten up your walk.  Art design is universally good and the cutscenes are consistent with everything else, conveying an excellent sense of “place” no matter where you are.  Aurally, Syberia mixes light music with lots of ambient sound.  With a story as good as Syberia’s it's heart-warming to see that the presentation end of things hasn’t been given any less weight.

 

Adventure gamers hungering for some old-school action won’t find anything better than Syberia in today’s market.  Not only is it an intriguing game, it’s also fun.  It’s like a good book – one that you’ll want to return to again and again.

 

- Omni

(July 31, 2002)

 

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