Syberia (PC) review
"Syberia tricks you with subtlety on a drip feed: the game’s focus, aim and characters all change so naturally over time that it’s not until you’ve worked your way to the end that you can look back over the whole picture and understand just how well realised the entire experience was."
Syberia is largely atypical in every avenue it explores. Set roughly around the mid 1990’s, it features Kate Walker, a very modern-minded lawyer from New York, sent to the forgotten and sleepy little French town of Valadilène to oversee the simple purchase of the local factory. The town is stunning; scenic and unique, revelling in the genius of the factory’s output and filling every nook and cranny of the picturesque town with aging clockwork inventions. There’s a surreal feel about the place; an ageless charm both alien and refreshing, but Kate cares little for the sights. She has a job to do. One made all the harder by the sudden death of the factory’s owner.
What should have been a simple task slowly starts to spiral out of control. The tiny village needs exploring but the steampunk setting causes any outsider to misunderstand and fumble that which an accustomed hand would take as every day. Beyond the breathtaking art direction, the commendable voice acting and the top rate writing, Syberia‘s most stunning achievement is how it reinvents the world with whistling steam, rusted cogwheel and complaining hydraulics. It takes even the most simple of devices, be it a doorbell or a rubber stamp, and turns into something so fresh and new that you can't help but stare at it in wonderment. Searching for the solution to her problem, Kate is faced with unique obstacles, like how to use the cogwork contraption built into someone’s doorframe sufficiently to just get them to open the bloody door!
Kate’s conundrum isn’t helped by plaguing phonecalls from her impatient boss or the lack of understanding from her domineering fiancé that routinely break up blocks of puzzle solving. She panders to their requests, no matter how unreasonable at first, be it stuttered promises she has no way of keeping to her employer or sincere if not bullied apologies for the slight inconveniences her travel has inflicted on her boyfriend. She starts her adventure as someone dominated by both her work and her social circle, nagged at by her ditzy best friend interested in only gossiping about the newest sale or her worried mother wanting to know why her daughter isn’t interested in hearing constantly about the new man she’s hooked up with. She’s detachedly polite to the people she speaks to in her pursuit of the contract to the point where moments outside her cold, professional veneer are rare. She’ll make excuses not to chat with an old man reminiscing about the village’s past or will refuse to get her hands dirty rescuing important items from the shores of a lake. She’s annoyed to be stuck in a little town, no matter how picturesque, in the middle of nowhere; angry at the contrary contraptions that make even the simplest task a challenge and stressed at the pressure piled upon her by her peers.
She needs the factory’s owner to sign her papers. The factory owner has a named heir to the deeds. It’s her little brother, and he’s only been presumed dead for the last half century.
Exploring the town for clues as to the whereabouts of her new target, Hans, leads her into the steam-powered bell tower of the church and beneath it into the dusky crypts stored there. It leads her through the automated factory complete with wind-up construction workers and into the eerie, empty household on the factory’s grounds, haunted only by memories of a sister longing to see her brother again.
Valadilène provides Kate an unwelcome starting block to an epic search to find Hans. One that leads her to a clockwork train complete with an automaton engineer whose legs she must first fashion to his specific designs. The train is a mystery in itself, made of dated and obsolete ideologies that shouldn’t work, yet effortlessly do. The driver should have neither emotion nor feelings, and, though it possesses the anal attention to detail rigid pre-programmed sub-routines would grant him, he’s also afraid of the new, hulking world he’s been thrust into yet excited and eager to meet his designer. Leaving the village behind, she has to bypass a faltering university, steeped in fading grandeur and choking on bureaucracy, but with information about Han’s brilliant mind hidden away in it somewhere. Soviet mines long derelict lead to abandoned rocket platforms left to rust after the USSR lost the space race and even more questions for Kate to answer. Before long, her once simple task has stopped being a job and has slid into an adventure.
Along the way, the Kate Walker that complained about getting her hands dirty changed into a Kate Walker wanting to solve her case not so much for her overbearing boss or so she could quickly return to her demanding boyfriend, but because the alien world, one so different to her own, starts to slowly change her. She spends so much time looking for Hans that she almost feels like she knows him, and the search becomes more and more personal. Syberia tricks you with subtlety on a drip feed: the game’s focus, aim and characters all change so naturally over time that it’s not until you’ve worked your way to the end that you can look back over the whole picture and understand just how well realised the entire experience was.
Staff review by Gary Hartley (January 16, 2010)
Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.
More Reviews by Gary Hartley [+]
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