Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Syberia 2

Post-Launch Review
Syberia 2 (PC)
Developer: MC2-Microïds
Released: March 2004
Played: story complete in


Picking up immediately after the first Syberia, Kate Walker has abandoned her New York life to help the eccentric inventor Hans Voralberg fulfill his dream of finding the legendary island of Syberia and the mammoths that are said to still live there.

At Launch

Syberia 2 was well received, earning average review scores of 82%. Many reviewers felt that it didn't quite capture the magic of its predecessor, citing more preposterous and confusing puzzles as the main flaw. Critics did note improvements in dialogue and character animation compared to the first game.

Post Launch

There is an optional patch which is only required if you encounter problems in the game. I think it's included in the Steam version.

As soon as I started to write this review it occurred to me that I should've played and reviewed Syberia 1 and 2 together. The second game is really not a standalone - not like the sequels you can pick up without having played the first. Syberia 2 is the second half of a single story, not a sequel to the first story. There is a recap of the first game available from the main menu, but it's pretty superficial, working better as a reminder than an intro.

As a party two, the visuals and gameplay are exactly the same as in the first game. There are of course plenty of new environments - various snowy and icy landscapes, since Kate is travelling deep into the Russian north. Actually, the pre-rendered backgrounds often look better than in the first game - with the more natural settings and materials there isn't as much smooth metal, some of the only bits that could look out of place. The second half of the game looks really nice - from the end of the train line onward, the art style does a great job. Some of the rendered cutscenes are particularly good as well, like the bit on the ship with very detailed water.
I was a little disappointed that the story started to include made-up animals and mystical rites, but it isn't taken too far. Also I don't get why I'd have a problem with that but not clockwork trains and intelligent robots. *shrug* What I did have a legitimate problem with - which may seem pedantic - is penguins. Penguins don't live in the north, they live in the south!

One thing I liked about the first Syberia is that it it almost never falls into the weird "adventure game logic" where you have to perform a series of completely unrelated actions to solve a puzzle. Unfortunately, Syberia 2 leans a little bit more on this type of logic, and without enough clues. For example: there's a guy hanging from a parachute, but he's asleep and his headset prevents Kate from waking him by yelling. You have to experiment with the complex, unlabelled airplane cockpit controls until you find a radio frequency, and then you have to go to a nearby radio tower, align the dish, and call him on the correct frequency to wake him up. Why couldn't I just throw a rock at him? There are rocks all over the place.
I also noticed a few odd quirks in the dialogue. First, everyone always refers to Kate by her full name, Kate Walker. For some characters this makes sense - the automaton who follows procedure down to the letter, for example - but even Kate's boss and other perfectly normal rational people call her Kate Walker every time, and it feels kind of weird. Also, Kate's boss uses some noticeably old-fashioned language, such as "namby-pamby" and "private dick" (detective), which seems a little out of place given that Kate's cell phone style puts the timeline somewhere around the early 2000s.

But this is a lot of nitpicking. As I said above, this is a continuation of the first game and not a standalone story, but it adds a lot. The formula is shaken up a bit too, with some twists that surprised me. In the first game Kate spent much of her time getting stuck at a station and figuring out how to get the train moving again. In the first area of the sequel it seems like you're just doing more of that, and while I won't spoil what happens, things get much more interesting and personal than just "keep the train moving". Though I did find the ending a little bit sudden - the subplot of "what is Kate doing with her life" is unresolved, and there's not so much as a hint of what happens to Kate and Hans.

Recommendation: play it if you liked the first Syberia.

As I said, this is part two, not a sequel, and it will make pretty much no sense at all if you haven't played the first game. If you're a fan of point-and-click adventure games, Syberia is a great game (or two I guess) with an intriguing hook and and a good story. The voice acting and character animation are a little bit clunky, but the story and mythology make up for that: robots, mammoths, and ancient myths!

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