First posted on 04 February 2006. Last updated on 20 January 2011.
The game is available at Microïds Shop.
This game is part of the Syberia Collection in the Adventure Classics series released in 2009 by Iceberg Interactive.
The compilation includes 3 games previously released by Microïds separately in 2001-2004:
- Syberia II
I have had my doubts about Syberia. I have seen the press screenshots of this game and the thought of another Myst clone pops into my head. As an old school adventure gamer, I frankly rather see old styled cartoon graphics and good gameplay than a pretty slideshow but little interactivity. Despite all of the hype, I decide to give this game a fair shot. Syberia starts with a woman standing on a street watching a funeral procession made up of life-sized clockwork figures that include a horse and a cart slowly work their way down the street. Immediately, I know I am hooked.
Now the papers are piling up outside my door and I have not had a good meal in a few days, let me put it to you simply this way—if you like adventure games, then you owe yourself to drop everything right now and go out to buy a copy of the game. Put the cats or dogs outside, send the kids to the neighbors, call in sick to work, and be prepared to experience the best week of your gaming life! All exaggerations aside, Syberia is among the best adventure games I have ever played, and it is destined to be a classic.
You are Kate Walker, working for the law firm of Marson and Lormont. You have been sent to a small village in France to close an acquisition deal on a clockwork toy factory. The factory is known around the world for their automatons (clockwork robots), but it is now being sold off. The only thought in your mind is that there is nothing easier than signing a piece of paper and then jetting back home to your fiancée. The clockwork funeral you have just witnessed when you first arrive in town is that of the former owner of this company. Not a problem yet? On her deathbed, the owner confesses in a letter to the town notary that there is an heir to her company—a brother named Hans who is thought to be long dead. The company cannot be sold off now without his permission. So, with only this clue, you are off to hunt down Hans to try to close the deal, all the while you must deal with your upset fiancée, a scheming friend, and a worried mother. In the end, however, you discover that nothing is as it seems.
The creator of Syberia is Benoit Sokal, whose previous works include the game Amerzone and a collection of illustrated stories Le testament d'un explorateur where Sokal revisits the imaginary world of Amerzone. This is Sokal's second gaming project. In my opinion, Syberia is, if nothing else, among the most graphically beautiful games ever developed. The opening scene with the funeral procession has my jaw dropped to the floor, and the game only gets better from there. To my pleasant surprise, all the cut scenes can also be played back from the main menu, so I am able to enjoy them over and over again. The story of Hans and his sister, told almost completely through cut scenes, is a powerful piece of animated movie, to the extent that if there is an Oscar for game cinematic this game surely wins hands down.
The music for this game is perfect. It beautifully matches to the different locations and moods. Sound effects are all well done and never heavy-handed. In particular, the game does a wonderful job with its atmospheric sound to pull you into the game environment. In contrast, the voice work is a mixed bag. Among the few disappointments of this game is the cast of supporting characters. The character of Kate is done amazingly well. This is fortunate since you spend a lot of time listening to Kate. On the other hand, the remaining cast ranges from stellar to "turn the volume off" bad, especially after considering the fact that there are sections of the game where you have to listen to a supporting character talk for upwards of 2 to 3 minutes straight. When a game forces a player to sit down and listen to a longwinded speech without interruption, it better makes sure that the voice is not annoying. This is such the case with Kate's fiancée Dan, who sounds like he has just stepped off the stage of a middle school play.
There are just not enough good praises to be sung about the graphics in Syberia. I have been worried for the past years that the graphics may soon overwhelm the gameplay that has once defined the adventure genre. In an action game you can give me jaw dropping graphics, but in an adventure title I prefer a tight story and good puzzles. This game has proved to me that you can have beautiful graphics and a great story at the same time—an achievement rarely accomplished by other games. This is a game that draws you in and does not let go until the end. Equally appreciated is the light humor that is injected into the game intermittently but at the right moments. A perfect example is your arrival to a gate with an ornate hedge maze behind it. If you have played adventure games for any length of time before, this may have been a cause to throw your keyboard across the room. Needless to say, the gate is locked and the hedge maze is placed in that scene only to stop the hearts of brave gamers, if only for an instance. This is just an example of sheer brilliance on the part of the designers as well as how this game distinguishes itself from other mediocre titles.
The game is released in both CD-ROM and DVD-ROM versions. A DVD-ROM version, The Collector's Edition, is later released. Gameplay is split into sections as you travel across many countries in search of Hans. Starting with the city of Valadaline, you must first find clues as to the whereabouts of the missing heir and then find a way to get to him. Syberia is a game of loss and loneliness, and it is reflected throughout. Valadaline is nearly empty, as the new age of toys has left the once renowned city and its toy factory obsolete. Most of the buildings in the city are locked and empty. The remaining patrons do not have much to tell you. I feel frustrated by this emptiness at first, as I am used to games where every room has an item and every door opens at some point. Syberia is not that type of games. You may go down paths which, while beautiful to look at, lead to absolutely nowhere. Yet, this just adds to the charm and atmosphere of the game.
Control can be handled with the mouse alone, whereby the cursor changes whenever you can interact with a piece of the scenery. Inventory is handled well, with documents and background information split from the main inventory items that make for easier navigation during the puzzles. The puzzles, for the most part, are fetching and clockwork puzzles. When set in the atmosphere of the automatons and their clockwork parts, what may otherwise have been clichéd puzzles succeeds admirably to add to the atmosphere of the game. The main idea to keep in mind with this game is that every item has a purpose. If you find a book, read every page or suffer the consequences during a puzzle down the line. If you engage in a longwinded conversation with a character (even a seemingly innocent conversation on your cell phone), listen to every word because it may save you hours of aimless wandering later on.
Kate's cell phone plays an important role in the game and adds a nice touch to the story development, notwithstanding the subplot with Kate's fiancée that seems a little ham-fisted at times. Periodically, Kate receives calls from her boss, mother, fiancée, and friend. Some calls are meant to advance the subplot of Kate and her fiancée Dan, while others provide clues to puzzles. Kate can also make outgoing calls on her phone which are used to solve a few puzzles. I have written the phone off as a mere gimmick at the start of the game and have learned my lesson the hard way after banging my head against the wall over a puzzle that is solved in this manner later on.
The disappointments are few and far between, and none of them demotes the game from being a near perfect adventure. There are sections where Kate lives up to her last name Walker, and all the walking back and forth between screens can get tedious in the latter part of game, even though the run function can cut back somewhat on the time that is spent otherwise. There are a few instances of pixel hunting, but nothing frustrating enough to detract from the gaming experience. While the real world subplot adds some realism to the game, it can get a little "soap opera" melodrama at times.
Syberia is a game that has raised the bar against which all future adventure games are going to be measured. The graphics are gorgeous, the puzzles are well implemented, and the addition of the cellphone is a nice touch to take the player out of the clichéd convention of an adventure game. It is a game that other game developers must look into for inspiration when creating their own titles. Syberia is a rare gem that has earned a permanent place among my classic adventure game collection. It is a fantasy that I definitely visit again soon.