Platform: Windows, XBox, Playstation 2, Nintendo DS
Labelled as the adventure game of the year for 2002, many accolades were given to this unique adventure and some have called it the best adventure ever. While I have no strong feelings about that (the list of great adventure games in the early aughts are pretty slim), I fear Syberia has been given legendary status in the gaming community for the wrong reasons.
You play a young business woman named Kate, who is on a trip to Europe to get an old geezer to sign some papers selling his toy factory to some American corporation. What is fascinating about the toys is that they are automatons, purely mechanical but highly complex and diverse. Around town are zillions of example of his work, including automaton doors, locks, birds, and even an automaton train and conductor! Some of his inventions suspend belief just a bit, but in the game world it is not a problem to overcome.
Of course, the old geezer is nowhere to be found, so it is your job to take this automaton train, and with vague clues, follow him across Europe to track him down and get him to sign the damn papers. Of course, things break down on the trip, while other conveniently contrived subplots mar your progress as well. Nearly every puzzle in the game requires the manipulation of automatons, sometimes of their own parts, and at times with inventory items. While the puzzles recall the occasionally obtuse horrors of Myst, the goals are more clearly defined, and to be honest, are usually pretty easy, if not by using logic, but by using guess-and-check.
All of this is fun at the beginning. But the fecundity of such puzzles becomes monotonous, especially when you consider that many puzzles exist simply for puzzle’s sake, and are not interesting enough in their own right to deserve their place within the plot. Mostly, there is not nearly enough human interaction, and what is there is often in cut scenes. Or on the cell phone. Kate has four people back in the states who call her quite frequently throughout the trip. All conversations are timed and unavoidable. Oh, and lest I forget, mostly pointless in terms of the character development of our heroine and the enjoyment of the player. To summarize every conversation:
Kate’s Boss: “Kate, you goddamn bitch! It’s your fault you don’t have the papers signed. I don’t care if the old bastard died, you find him and put the pen in his dead hands and have him sign it. You’re fired if you don’t succeed!”
Kate’s Fiancé: “Kate, you obviously don’t care about me because you’re trying to succeed in your job. Are you cheating on me? Come home now or we’re through! Forgive me!”
Kate’s Best Friend: “What’s that Kate? Tough times on the job? Yah, sure, did you hear there’s a sale at Macy’s? Oh my gawd!”
Kate’s Mother: “This independence thing is just a fad. Come home and conform to society and my wishes!”
I’m guessing the designers are supposed to have us believe that Kate is trying to do some soul-searching in Europe and realizing there is more to life than her shallow acquaintances back in the states. This could work if they weren’t ridiculously one-dimensional, or if Kate was one-dimensional herself. But even when we first meet Kate she appears to be a responsible, reasonable, and only slightly-arrogant human being. It is hard to believe she would associate herself with people like this back home. Her motivations are rarely, if ever, explained to satisfaction throughout the game.
As for the rest of the characters, they are passable and the voice acting is fairly decent. I am a sucker for flashback scenes, and there are several that Kate can see throughout the game to understand the history of the geezer and his automaton empire. Overall, the story is a good one.
I haven’t talked about the production values yet, and more specifically, the graphics. In short, they are amazing. Character animation is much more fluid than previous games in the polygon era. The music is gorgeous. And the ending sequence was so jaw-dropping that I had to watch it twice.
But all of the positives can’t make up for the fact that the puzzles bored me quickly and I felt I was being pulled and tugged through various plot devices and a maze of puzzles with only a faint whiff of the cheese at the end. I became so irritated that I downloaded a walkthrough at the halfway point and referred to it continually through the end of the game.
Many people are able to put up with the above problems more than I can. But if Syberia had had any real competition in the market, some of the praisers may have found themselves to be detractors.