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Syberia II (PC) artwork

Syberia II (PC) review

"The game, as a whole, stutters and limps along, seemingly existing only to tie up to loose ends of the first game. When an impossible chasm separates Kate from her clockwork train, a character from the last game literally drops out of the sky and offers her a steaming hot cup of deus ex machina. Though itís prettied up with the stellar graphics and adequate writing, Syberia II is a game lacking in total ambition. "

The snow in Syberia II is mesmerising. Itís not just clumps of white pixels dribbling down the screen; itís clear, individual flakes that swirl in the wind, haphazardly fluttering on the breeze. Each dizzy dive is seemingly unique, and they fall in never-ending showers, peppering the screen in pure white. The flakes that fall closest to the screen are defined as actual flakes, not lazy globs. Caked snow slides off cluttered rooftoops and overloaded branches when built up, crumbling at the sides, but sliding away as a sheet.

Itís a commendable eye for detail set against a game where this kind of artistic care is commonplace. If anything, the outstanding art direction of the original Syberia is almost effortlessly eclipsed by its sequel. Most of the world Kate Walker explores in her second outing is caked in pure white snow, backdropped to crystal icicles and lazily drifting flakes, but stepping into darkened monasteries present dilapidated stone buildings caked in shadows, highlighted only by splinters of sunlight stealing in through cracked ceilings. Visiting surreal imaginary planes wash the world in tired browns and whites, overlying a grainy and tired feeling to everything it presents. Forgotten nomadic villages styled from ice and bone to rustic bars with broken-down clockwork attractions, Syberia II is nothing short of beautiful.

Thatís the one and only thing it holds on par with the previous title.

Continuing directly from where the first Syberia left off, Kate finds herself in an undermanned Russian outpost, her clockwork train out of coal, her automaton driver complaining of the harsh conditions and the result of her previous, quest, Hans, desperately ill. Her initial task is to find some way to get the train moving again towards their destination and to right Hansí failing health. The train is out of coal, the stationís coal dispenser broken and an engineer crew not interested in making the trip to such a remote area any time soon. The opening stages set an uneasy precedent; although thereís little to complain about when exploring the rotting collection of sparse buildings that make up the stationís outlying town, after tricking the local villains through vandalism and mental aerobics, the train is good to go again. Then Hans is suddenly ill, and youíre back to square one. Itís not a natural progression of problems like the first game presented; thereís the unappreciated artificial hand of manufactured obstacles being placed in front of you. For the first time, Syberia II feels like a sequence of events slapped together to make a video game rather than a overbranching story.

After the train is fuelled, you need to convince the local monastery to take the faltering Hans into their care. They donít allow women inside, so you need to trick your way in. However, as soon as youíre in, the monastery decides that having a woman inside isnít so bad after all, and youíre free to poke around as openly as you please -- until the game calls for progression to present another obstacle, and then, suddenly, the monks are very angry with you, and the complete 180į is complete when theyíre suddenly very eager to never let you leave.

Perhaps theyíve been more outlandish situations in adventures games past when stood alone and dissected, but the lax attitude in which theyíre presented in Syberia II highlights the fact that theyíre pre-programmed obstacles to overcome rather than an intricate part of the whole. The second gameís Monastery could be compared to the firstís forced stay in a faltering University; for whatever reason, Kate is stuck in both buildings until certain tasks are undertaken. But the Universityís problems never feel constructed; the clockwork monument in the middle of the courtyard needs fixing, but itís never been a big enough issue for the school's stuffy headmasters to pause their bickering over whereas the manuscripts you need to hunt down in the monastery have been searched for by those inside for decades. Both are relatively easy tasks in the grand scheme of all things Syberia but only one of them doesnít make you sit and wonder why a lawyer from New York can achieve in a couple of hours what a legion of monks with nothing but time on their hands have failed to do for the better part of a century.

It also helped that when Kate first arrived at the University, she was a person questioning the very core of her existence. She was a busybody lawyer working her way up her companyís ladder and saddled with an awkward out-of-the-way job no one wanted which she took just to curry favour. She was in the midst of her evolution; in the midst of deciding she wanted to be more than she was. Syberia II is afforded no such personal growth. Kate is as she finishes the last game, and her supporting cast is given precious little screen time to do themselves any justice. Aside from the cute but clumsy animal sidekick thatís awkwardly forced into as much of the game as is possible.

The game, as a whole, stutters and limps along, seemingly existing only to tie up to loose ends of the first game. When an impossible chasm separates Kate from her clockwork train, a character from the last game literally drops out of the sky and offers her a steaming hot cup of deus ex machina. Though itís prettied up with the stellar graphics and adequate writing, Syberia II is a game lacking in total ambition. Hans stops being a goalpost and instead turns into the worldís crinkliest damsel in distress as youíre forced to rescue him time and time again, one showcased as being driven by a dream but instead plays out as selfish and completely ignorant of those around him.

Syberia II might provide a conclusion in Kate Walkerís efforts to help a feeble old man discover the legend thatís always existed just outside his reach, but itís a quest that gives you unwelcome peeks beneath the veneer. Look under all the artistic merit, and youíll find nothing but a checklist of unfocused ideas, clumsy implementations and the last half of a quest best left unfinished.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (February 24, 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.

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