Wednesday, 11 September 2013


Post-Launch Review
Syberia (PC)
Developer: Microïds
Released: January 2002
Played: story complete in 7.5 hours


Kate Walker is a lawyer working to wrap up the sale of an old clockwork toy factory on behalf of her firm. The deal is ready to go and requires only a signature, but upon arrival in Valadilene Kate finds that the matter isn't quite that simple - the factory owner has just passed away, and an heir has turned up. To track down the heir, Kate embarks on a journey across Europe, uncovering fantastic technology and myths along the way.

At Launch

Syberia was well received, earning average review scores of 82%. Critics praised its graphics and visuals, the complex and interesting plot, the diverse characters, and a feel described as moody or sad. Some felt that gameplay was clunky and that the puzzles were too simple. Some players reported crashes and technical problems at certain points in the game.

Post Launch

A few downloadable patches were released to solve crashes and technical problems. As of this writing four patches are available for download through Gamespot, though I played the whole game through Steam without patching and encountered no issues. I'm guessing the Steam version includes all the patches. Some Steam users have reported problems on the official forums, so if you do have issues, try the patches or check the Steam Syberia forum.
Note that the Steam version does not include the Italian translation, which available if you buy through
A sequel, Syberia II, was released two years after the first.

The weird colour artifacts happened on every screenshot I took, but it's not present in-game.
Syberia hooked me right from the opening cutscene. Knowing nothing of the game before starting, I was pretty surprised to see robots heading to a funeral, and excited to find mammoths playing a role in the story. But the game does a good job of staying grounded, and even when you're interacting with clockwork constructs, Kate is still just a lawyer trying to get her job done.

The plot is solid with interesting turns and revelations. It's really telling two stories: that of Hans Voralberg's life and works, and Kate Walker's journey and growth as she searches for Voralberg. Hans' elements are what hooked me - clockwork automatons and mammoths - but Kate's development is strong, told rather subtly through her actions and conversations. At the beginning of the game she's somewhat unsure of herself and the situation she's been thrust into, but as the game goes on her confidence grows. She's more confident, stammering less and taking control of situations, and makes a couple of big decisions at the end of the game. I'll come back to that later.
In terms of the game itself, Syberia's visuals hold up pretty well due to the style - pre-rendered backgrounds that Kate moves through. Unfortunately the backgrounds were built for a resolution of 800x600, and you can't up the game's resolution, but with antialiasing on everything looks quite sharp. While some of the backgrounds look a little flat due to the fixed camera position and art style, a lot of them do a good job at conveying depth, especially in scenes where 3D-rendered birds occasionally fly around. The animation can be a little clunky when characters transition between two animation sequences (like going from running to climbing stairs).
Audio is also pretty good. Speaking of birds, there are a lot of areas in the game with strong audio presence of various birds, with different bird calls in different environments. It helps to give a feel of life to the mostly static world. Voice acting is a little iffy - good most of the time, but noticeably artificial on occasion, with some lines feeling too rushed or too expository in tone when they should be conversational.

Kate's movement can feel a little slow at times. You can double-click to get her to run, which helps, but some actions always take place at a certain speed (like climbing stairs or ladders) and feel irritatingly sluggish when you're backtracking - which you'll do a lot in the game's midsection at Barrockstadt. That segment gets a little irritating with its running back and forth.
At times, Syberia slips into ridiculous adventure game stuff - but it knows it, and points out the absurdity. At one point you need to leave on a train, and the automaton conductor keeps adding requirements before the train can leave. First you need to wind up the clockworks. Next you need a ticket. Then you need a release form for the train. Now you need to stamp the release form. Finally you have to load the "cargo". The entire way through, Kate is growing more and more exasperated, saying stuff like "Fine, here's your stupid release form, can we go yet?" A few other situations feel a little contrived, but since the game is pretty straightforward and logical, it's not really an issue.
A few of the problems you need to solve are frustrating because solutions that would be obvious in real life are obscured by the format. Here's an example: at one point you need to figure out how to control the locks so a boat can get through. You check out the control panel, but everything seems to be written in German, which Kate can't read. Anyone you ask about the controls has no idea how they work. What you have to do is call the help line for the gate manufacturer. The sign with the phone number is right next to the control panel, but I had to look this step up on a walkthrough because I found that it really wasn't obvious that you had to click on a separate part of the panel to bring up the number. In real life you'd look around and go "oh hey, a phone number", but with the adventure game format, the "click to view" obscures the solution.
There are a couple of other examples of this video game logic, another being that you can't pick up the vision powder you need until you've read about it in a book, which you'll only find if you climb an unobtrusive ladder in the library and notice that one of the dozens of books on the shelf is upside-down. All that said, for the most part the game is quite straightforward and doesn't require any absurd leaps of logic. If you can't figure out how to progress, that simply means you've missed something or haven't made a connection yet, and you should revisit areas or review your inventory.

And I did say I'd revisit my comment about the ending. Syberia's end feels pretty sudden: (highlight for spoilers) you're all set to continue your journey, and suddenly Hans Voralberg shows up, signs the takeover contract, and asks Kate to accompany him to Syberia. This quick wrap-up suddenly makes it feel like I played the first half of a game, and not so much a complete game that happens to have a sequel.

Recommendation: play it.
Syberia is a strong adventure game with an interesting story that does a great job of integrating the slightly fantastic elements of clockwork automatons and mammoths. It shows its age at times but still looks and sounds very good for a game released in 2002. The point-and-click adventure game format might feel a bit slow for newer gamers, but I enjoyed Syberia despite my usual preference for faster-paced action games. 

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