I remember watching on an episode of “Extra Credit” that one of the few game genres that have predominantly female protagonists are adventure games. Of course there are games with male protagonists (like Monkey Island) & many have you play as yourself (like Myst), but there do seem to be more capable heroines in adventure games. Perhaps it’s because these games are less action-oriented that developers (& gamers) feel more comfortable with female characters. Whatever the reason, if there even is one, Syberia is one such game.
In Syberia you play as Kate Walker, a business attorney who travels from America to a small French town to oversee the transfer of a unique toy manufacturing plant. They make automatons, gear-based machines. But upon arriving, Kate learns that the owner has died & left her company to her brother, long believed to be dead. With him as the legal owner, Kate must track this mysterious Hans down using the creations he left behind on his journey into Siberia.
Syberia is your standard point-&-click adventure game. Items you can collect or interact with are highlighted by your mouse as you move around the screen. The majority of your time will be spent talking to people & finding items to solve the various obstacles you’ll encounter.
Narrative: I liked the gradual progression of the plot in this game. I’ve always liked the idea of extraordinary things happening to regular people, & that’s the impression I got from Syberia. What starts as something as mundane as getting an old lady to sign some paperwork quickly escalates into this grand adventure that neither Kate, nor the player, expects. Seriously. By the end I was saving retired opera singers from creepy old guys with a Phantom of the Opera complex & blowing stuff up. Although the driving point of the story is learning about Hans & tracking him down, the story is ultimately Kate’s, I feel. It’s about her realizing how fascinating the world can be if we let it. At times it seems like the various subplots in the story are disjointed, but I think they end up tying together nicely. For example, the short phone calls Kate gets from her mother & fiance actually end up playing into the larger story. The characters encountered through the game are unique & colorful. But the main characters would have to be Kate and Oscar, the automaton train engineer. I enjoyed their interactions with each other grow throughout the journey. I also found Kate to be a likeable heroine. She’s sort of an Everywoman. She expresses frustration at the hindrances she faces, but is driven to succeed. My only real complaint story-wise is that the game ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. I found Hans, but his & Kate’s journey has clearly only started. But since I already have Syberia 2 in the wings, I won’t hold it against it too much. Score: 4
Mechanics: Overall, the gameplay is nothing stellar but it works. The way the cursor changes when there’s something to examine is very helpful. I also liked that you could make Kate run by double clicking, making it faster to get through some sections. There’s no combat in the game & no way to really fail. The exploration aspect of the game was nice, giving you enough space without making it overwhelming. Generally I always had some idea of what my overall goal in a level was & it was just a matter of exploring enough to find the right tools. But I didn’t like that in some sections I had to run back & forth between two characters to advance the plot. Thankfully, the game avoids any major leaps of logic, & everything you need to know to solve a puzzle can be found in the environment. So it’s all about observation. It had a nice variety of puzzles & never felt repetitive. Score: 3
Aesthetics: Although the graphics are aged, I thought they were fairly nice. Especially the backgrounds. Being static images, they all had this sort of faded, water-color look to them, which I thought really fit the mood of the game. The character models are a bit blocky, & their stiff movements can be a bit hilarious at times (especially when they turn). The cutscenes fare better, & while not to today’s uber-realistic standards in terms of detail, they’re still well-done. The music in the game is mostly ambient, & at times seemed more dramatic than the scene necessitated, but the sound effects fit nicely. Some of the voice acting was good as well, although it could be a bit hit or miss. Kate’s voice is good, as is Helena’s (the opera singer), but the hotel manager in the final stage just sounded weird. He had this posh British accent but spoke like an American. I’m not sure if that was intended to be funny, but I nearly died when he said, “No way, Jose,” & pronounced it Joe-say. Score: 4
Replay Value: Average. While most people will be happy playing this through once, some people might enjoy playing more than once. There’s no real reason to, but it could be enjoyable to play through the game a second time without to stress of solving the puzzles. Score: 3
Overall Score: 4
Final Word: The slow pace of the story & gameplay will probably turn off some people, but for those who want a solid adventure game experience with a fantastical story, I recommend checking Syberia out.
Console: PC, PS2, XBox, iOS, Android
Publisher: The Adventure Company
Release Date: January 9, 2002