Growing up I had no set preference for games except they had to be playable on my computer. Aside from that, if a game looked interesting (I had to judge by cover art mind you) I would do my song and dance until my parents gave in and bought it for me. I don’t recall ever playing a bad game, and that is interesting to 25 year old me. In the past two or three years I’ve walked away from games feeling like my money was entirely wasted. But back in the day I played some great games.
One, or should I say two, of those games was called Syberia.
It’s not a play on Siberia, though that is a destination in the game, but a mythical island somewhere deep in Eastern Europe. Of course, you don’t really find this out until quite a ways into the first game, but that’s ok and I’ll tell you why.
To start, Syberia focuses on a lawyer named Kate Walker. The opening scene shows Kate arriving in a small town you soon learn is called Valadilene (Vala-da-len for pronunciation) while a funeral procession passes by. There’s something odd about this procession though, the pallbearers are not men, but automatons. As Kate enters town and makes her way to the inn you take control. From here on out, you are going to enjoy a grand point and click adventure.
Part puzzle solving, part character reveal, part exploration, Syberia is fun from start to finish. The majority of the first game is all about discovering Kate. You know she’s a lawyer and has come to Valadilene to talk to the owner of the automaton factory about signing contracts to sell. However, Anna Voralberg has just passed and Kate has arrived just in time for the funeral. Of course Kate thinks everything should still be in order, but Anna has confessed on her deathbed that her brother Hans is still alive and will be in charge of selling the factory. Sounds simple enough, but no one knows where he is.
Kate sets off through the town to uncover the past in order to track down Hans. She discovers Hans left behind amazing creations. A train, and an automaton named Oscar. The only way to find her man is to start a trek across Eastern and Western Europe. Initially she is set on completing her business deal, but her adventures uncover more than just where Hans Voralberg is located.
Kate is hounded by her boss, the aggressive Mr. Marson, her mother, her friend Olivia, and her fiancé Dan. Despite risking everything for her job, these people constantly call to tell Kate how selfish and unacceptable her behavior is. She begins to feel distant and hurt, and learns a lot about who she really is. Who she wants to be.
And that’s why it’s ok it takes so long to learn about Syberia. Because you are learning about Kate. That’s also why this game is split in two. Syberia is all about Kate, Syberia II is all about completing her adventure. Her boss and family are hunting Kate down while she is simply looking for her better world.
The greatest thing about this game is its story, but there are plenty of good things otherwise. Syberia was released in 2002 and Syberia II was released in 2004. In my opinion they were well made and hold up graphically. While I love both, Syberia II is, as far as game play goes, the better of the two. A number of the inconsistencies of Syberia are corrected, the color is more robust, and there are some updates that make things operate more smoothly most notably the system used in guiding Kate around areas.
With that said, Syberia is filled with better content. The puzzles make more sense and require seeking out information. Syberia II gets a bit sloppy and requires a stupid amount of luck while you guess your way through. I get frustrated easily with these games as missing a simple click can cost you more time than you’d like to admit searching around, but in the second game that is less the issue than facing a puzzle that you’ve seen no notes on beforehand and you must solve by pressing buttons until they work.
There aren’t very many options in these games in terms of graphics and audio, they don’t require them really. But the cutscenes are beautiful, the characters are quirky, the interactions are fun, and you fall in love with the clockwork origins of just about everything. There’s plenty to admire, as long as some mistakes in subtitles don’t bother you.
There are things you can find wrong with this game, most notably the treatment of the female lead by male counterparts, but they are easy to overlook. Kate is too strong and self-reliant to care about how others treat her.
If you’re playing this on a new system, and have two monitors like I do, this game gets confused. A mistaken mouse click off screen and you will find a number of highly hilarious but annoying glitches. Also, I ran into a problem where my anti-virus software would quarantine the .exe file of Syberia II and make the game unplayable, but the Steam version of these games might not have these problem.
All in all, Syberia and its sequel are great. The story, the world, the graphics, all is satisfying. If you love point and click, adventure, a good story, clock work and automatons, and discovery, then Syberia and Syberia II are for you. If you slept on these, wake up and try them out. If you do and like them, or have long since played them, the Internet says there will be another one this year or next. I’m excited.
The art for this game is beautiful, check it all out.