By: Ted Chow
With holiday cheers and festivals near, Syberia is one of those games that sold me on the festive mood. Clearly, the premise of a toy maker, magical automatons and snow brings up a certain someone that lives up in the North Pole. The game is an adventure through and through, and the more you invest within its world, the more fascinating the characters and the plot becomes. If you enjoy a story encompassing mystery and plenty of gregarious characters, then Syberia may warm that cold heart of yours this holiday season.
If you wanted to know the main villain of this game, it would most noticeably be the controls as they can be horrendous. Character movements felt rough and animations aren’t up to snuff with limbs jerking and other odd anomalies. The fixed camera and invisible barriers made the game difficult and frustrating to navigate, and they took a bit away from the immersion as you couldn’t pan to see some of the gorgeous sceneries within the game. The camera staying locked while your character travels far onto the map tunnel visions your experience rather than expand.
With that being said, the controls require a bit of patience, otherwise it is all too easy to scream at your character being hindered by invisible impasses.
Looking at when the game was originally released, the graphics still do hold their own from 2002. Especially the matte landscapes and vista shots. It is true, however, without a shadow of a doubt, that the in-game textures have seen better days. Textures seem a little muddled with other environmental pieces and character models feeling rather plain and singular in color palettes.
The soundtrack invokes numbness with the same track on rewind and suffers from sound skips as well. Despite the rough patches, the game does seem to hold up well enough not to bar any player wanting to experience the story.
You will follow the journey of the main protagonist Kate Walker, a business lawyer, out to close a deal between a multinational toy company and a family operated toy factory. Nothing is always as easy as it seems as Kate discovers the death of the owner and must find the apparent heir Hans Voralberg, the genius toy maker. The adventure will take Kate along a journey of self discovery and internal reflection from a lavish, stable life to an unexpected future.
Syberia is a down-to-earth adventure game and, as such, you will most likely be interacting with the environment and reading journals rather than shooting guns and tight-roping intense acrobatics. The narrative is given between the interactions with NPCs as well as your cell phone with characters close to Kate. Your cell phone will continue to remind you of the life that you have left compared to the persistent world in which you have entered.
And the persistent world requires a suspension of disbelief as you will interact with automatons that have humanlike qualities to them amongst other abnormal situations. I mean, in all seriousness, can you imagine having cell phone reception in Siberia? The game will blur the distinction of what is real and what is not with a level of tension that sways Kate in unprecedented ways, enough to compel you to chug along through your journey — pun intended.
The characters you meet and the plot discovery have a level of charm that can’t readily be transcribed into words. But if I had to try, it would be an irking sense of self awareness and perseverance in the midst of a time ready to be forgotten. The journey Kate traverses is like trying to chase after a modern day Santa Claus that brought joy with his automatons.
Even the train used to travel from location to location is very reminiscent of the Polar Express heading towards Santa’s workshop. It would seem that some of the personalities and cultural references that these characters and machines embody do indeed invoke a sense of mystery and curiosity; very much so that they will leave a lasting impression even after the game ends.
With the game being single player and lasting around 10 hours or so, the journey may come to an abrupt halt. But that doesn’t cheapen the lasting impression that the game sets out to convey or the story it wishes to tell. It will leave you wanting more, and that is where the other sequels come into play.
Syberia really did try my patience with the controls, but the story was intriguing enough for me to continue. The metamorphosis of Kate from corporate lackey to independent woman is also a good sight to see. And with the holidays in full bloom and tales of a certain toy maker ready to make his rounds, the story is one that hits home to many individuals and children alike. If only Santa enjoyed mammoth’s milk? May everyone stay frosty this holiday season!