The premier entry of Benoit Sokal’s renowned adventure series Syberia has now found itself a new home on the Nintendo Switch. Initially released on PC back in 2002, ports of the first two games have also appeared on Xbox; Xbox 360; PlayStation 2; PlayStation 3; and on multiple mobile devices, so it’s no surprise that the series in its entirety is now coming to the Switch. The truth is, that while I have heard of the Syberia series before, and enjoy playing adventure games just like it from time to time, I never actually got around to playing any of them until now (I know, I know). So how does a 15 year old PC game fare in 2017’s console market? Would a person who didn’t get to experience it during its initial release still enjoy it without the added nostalgia factor? Does Rick finally manage to kill Negan or will the war drag on for 5 more seasons? I’ll answer all these questions and more, after this dramatic paragraph cliffhanger! Ok, well I’m not actually going to discuss The Walking Dead, but we will definitely talk about whether or not you should buy this game.
As far as the gameplay goes, Syberia is pretty much on par with every other PC adventure game ever made. You search the around the areas for important items needed to solve somewhat intricate puzzles, while interacting with NPCs in order to glean some useful information, progress the story, or just learn more about the world around you. Most of the NPCs in Syberia are interesting and weird, with their own unique personalities that are brought to life by fully voiced-over lines. The drunken Russian cosmonaut and your trusty travelling companion Oscar: the automaton who also happens to be a big stickler for the rules, are two of my favorite. Having engaging gameplay is nice and all, but the most important aspect of an adventure game is the adventure itself! Spoilers are incoming. The next paragraph contains light spoilers about the first area of the game, while the paragraph after that contains major spoilers. Be warned!
Syberia is the story of a young American lawyer named Kate Walker. Her law firm sends her all the way across the sea to the remote French village of Valadilene to get the necessary paperwork signed in order to complete a corporate takeover of a once-illustrious automaton factory owned by the Voralbergs. She arrives in time to see a funeral procession made up of complex, human-like automatons escorting the coffin of Anna Voralberg, the only remaining member of the Voralberg line. After heading to the local notary, Kate finds out that Anna’s younger brother Hans, who had supposedly died at a young age, is in fact still alive and out there somewhere North Western Europe. So now you need to track down Hans, who has been missing for decades, for his signature so you can finish up your job and return home. Great. After searching around Valadilene, you discover more about what happened between the Voralbergs and the reason for Hans’ disappearance. It all started decades ago, when Hans was a young boy. After Hans and his sister Anna discovered an ancient mammoth doll in an old cave, Hans fell and banged his head while trying to climb up the big rock and grab it. As a result of his injury, his mental growth becomes stunted and he is consumed by his obsession with mammoths. Even though he is about as smart as a 12-year old, he displays an unparalleled aptitude for creating automatons. While his father tried to groom him for a life of working in and running the factory, Hans became more and more insistent on going on a journey to find the mammoths, which he believes are still alive out there somewhere. Hans disappears one day to embark on his quest and his father is so ashamed of him that he faked his son’s death, holding a funeral and claiming that Hans died in a fall while hiking.
This is more than just a story about finding mammoths, however. This is a story about going after your dreams. Doing what you love, despite what others may think. It’s a story about casting off the unnecessary things in life that aren’t really making you happy, but you do them anyway because it is what society expects from you; what it deems ‘normal’. For example, Kate will frequently receive calls from her boss, her friend/co-worker, and her fiancé. Her boss doesn’t give a damn about the troubles Kate is having. He calls every so often to get on your case and he expects immediate results and doesn’t care about the extenuating circumstances Kate has found herself in. Kate’s friend calls to catch up with her and idly chitchat about mundane things like office gossip and clothing sales. Worse is her annoyingly self-centered fiancé Dan, who keeps calling to bug Kate about when she will be returning home, and if she’ll be home in time to go to one of his important business dinners because it just wouldn’t do for him to be seen without her. As the adventure progresses, Kate becomes more and more enthralled in it, and begins to feel bogged down by the constraints of her boring, unexciting life. Eventually Kate receives a call from her friend, who then confesses that she went with Dan to the dinner party because she felt bad for him when Kate couldn’t make it. They both got drunk and ended up having sex. While this revelation would have startled most, Kate shrugs it off because she has already begun to realize that she never loved Dan, and that she wasn’t ever truly happy with her busybody life of being a big-city lawyer with an important businessman for a fiancé, trying to keep up societal appearances. The big moment comes at the end when she finally finds Hans, and instead of returning to her old, dreary life she decides to run off with him on an adventure into the unknown. And just like that, boom. The game is finished, leaving the way open for the sequel.
The visuals are made up of 2D static pre-rendered backgrounds with 3D models being used for the characters and interactive objects, a style you see a lot of in titles made around the mid 90s/2000s. The earlier Resident Evil titles are a good example. While the 2D backgrounds of Syberia hold up well (they do look a bit sharper on the smaller screen), the character models can look a bit dated in certain respects and the CGI cutscenes take on a blurry haze in comparison. Syberia also suffers from a common problem with games using this style of rendering: sometimes the 2D background and the 3D models don’t mesh well, leaving Kate’s model sticking through the occasional staircase or random object. Moving a 3D model on a 2D plane also has its problems. Sometimes I would get caught on an invisible object and forced to reset the game. This only happened to me twice, and thanks to the autosave I wasn’t put out by it too much. Still annoying, though.
Whether you decide to play on the go or in docked mode, there are a couple of issues to be aware of. When playing in handheld mode (as I have for most of the game) there were a few times where I had trouble progressing because I missed an important item or two because I had a lot of trouble seeing certain miniscule objects on the small screen. While playing in docked mode, you are given the choice of playing in the original 4:3 ratio or making it fullscreen. This really comes down to personal preference but there is one drawback. Playing in 4:3 fills in the extra space on the sides of the screen with your choice of either black bars or a weird effect that looks like frosted windows. I don’t mind it but I have a few friends that can’t stand playing games that aren’t in fullscreen.
So for my first time with a Syberia game, it went quite well. The story was interesting. It’s a nice change of pace from the usual slaughterfests that make up a lot of games these days. The graphics feel a bit dated but they are still enjoyable while the sound effects and music are both still incredible. The orchestral music tracks that are interspersed throughout the game help lend Kate’s adventure an air of gravitas and epicness. Syberia suffers from some technical problems, but that doesn’t mean it is an adventure that should not be experienced, whether it’s for the first time or whether you simply feel like helping Kate out on her adventure once more time.
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 8/10
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