Syberia (DS) review
"Even for people like me, who never played the original, there was a sense that something was terribly wrong. The feeling was so strong that I did some research and discovered that not only had all of the voice overs been cut out, more than half of the dialogue had been removed from the port. "
On the fourth day of Syberia my DS gave to me...
Four wasted hours...
Three broken puzzles...
Two terrible cutscenes...
And a lawyer in a bad game...
I never made it to the fifth day of Syberia DS on account of it being the most painful gaming experience of my life. Keep in mind this comes from a man who has played E.T. on the Atari.
Let me back up a bit. In 2002, Syberia made itís way onto the PC amidst a flurry of praise. The game follows the story of Kate Walker, a lawyer sent to the small European town of Valadilene to secure the sale of a toy company for her employer. Things become complicated by the death of the companyís owner and the appearance of a mysterious heir. The game broke new ground in the mainstream adventure market by focusing on a serious character-driven narrative and by incorporating strong elements of surrealism and art nouveau in its design. Unfortunately, due to my terrible relationship with PCís, I could never get it to run. I stared at the enticing pictures on the back of the box until my friend asked me for his game back. Those pictures, and a brief demo I managed to play once before it crashed, stuck with me, leaving a puddle of emotional regret that I successfully avoided stepping in for six years.
Jump to the present day, when developer Tetraedge decided to port the classic game to the DS. Lo! I was chosen from the many to review the result. Upon being given this honor I was struck by a feeling of excitement and, yes, even of being touched by fate. The feeling lasted about fourteen minutes into the game.
From the start, you can tell something is wrong. For one, the graphics are highly inconsistent. On a single screen you might see a beautifully rendered statue standing majestically against a grainy pixelated background... meanwhile, the blocky protagonist makes her jerky way across a terrain littered with clipping issues. In addition, these screens are often populated by... well, no-one. Syberia gives players a feeling of intense loneliness. Itís rare to see another person on the streets, let alone an NPC you can actually interact with. This, combined with the fact that Kate Walker rarely speaks except to occasionally and unhelpfully tell you that you canít go through a door until youíve gone to so-and-soís house, creates a real disconnect between the game and the gamer. Itís hard to become immersed in a silent uninhabited environment.
Even for people like me, who never played the original, there was a sense that something was terribly wrong. The feeling was so strong that I did some research and discovered that not only had all of the voice overs been cut out, more than half of the dialogue had been removed from the port. This included many of the NPCs and side stories. In particular, they cut a major one involving Kateís failing relationship with her boyfriend back in the States, originally played out over a series of phone calls. These phone calls were carefully placed at lulls in the gameplay, to give players enough story to keep them interested through the slow parts as well as acting as a strong source of character development for Kate. Their absence is extremely apparent. Without these tid-bits of story to create the pacing and shape Kate's character things quickly fall into tedium.
Then they go past that into abject hatred.
The first thing youíll learn to hate about the game is the length of time it takes for Kate to cross from one side of the screen to the other. Kate Walkerís name is cruelly ironic as she refuses to move faster than a strolling snail. So, of course, most of the game revolves around getting objects from one location and bringing them to another over a distance usually spanning at least seven screens. And remember the terrible graphics. Thereís no eye candy here. Thereís also no button to skip the walking animation and if you donít click in the exact right spot Kate will walk to the edge of the screen but wonít leave it. So you have to monitor every boring step she takes. Itís like being forced to watch videos of someoneís sleeping children.
The second thing youíll learn to hate about Syberia is the music. In their infinite wisdom Tetraedge decided they could save a lot of memory space by cutting down the entire soundtrack into little blurbs that last about twenty seconds. Then they repeat them. Forever. Or, at least, until you toss your DS across the room. Now, Iím a stalwart man, so I listened to their looping song about forty six times before I finally turned off the sound and put on the Myst soundtrack instead. Itís not like youíre missing any sound effects or voice acting, anyway. Remember? They took it all out.
The third thing youíll hate are the broken puzzles. The first puzzle I got well and truly stuck on came about five minutes into the game where I had to insert a key into the top of a desk of drawers to open them. It seemed simple enough so I opened my inventory to grab the key. When you want to use an item in Syberia a little menu helpfully pops down and gives you easy access to them. You just grab the item you want and drag it to the spot you want to use it in. Unfortunately for me, in this case, the menu opened directly over the key hole. You canít close the menu while holding an item so I was well and truly screwed. What I finally ended up doing was exiting the menu and quickly grabbing the key before it could fully close. It only took me about an hour.
The second frustration came about fifteen seconds later when, after opening the top drawer, I couldnít close it. The DS helpfully instructed me to ďdrawĒ towards the drawer as if I was closing it in real life! I can only assume that the developers at Tetraedge operate basic furniture with their tongues because no matter how many times I drew on the screen the damn drawer wouldnít close. Finally I managed to pray to the right demons and the drawer shut... leaving me with four more drawers to search through.
Jump forward about an hour later and three screens to the left. Now Iíve activated some kind of mechanism attached to a mausoleum. Apparently I have to go there next. Iím at the church looking for said mausoleum but, for the life of me, I canít find it. Thereís no way to put into words how frustrating this game is. The game clearly showed me the path leading to the mausoleum. But every time I clicked on said path it brought me instead to the graveyard behind the church. It took me THREE days to realize that I had to click SLIGHTLY to the left of the path to make Kate go the right way.
By then Iíd lost the will to live.
A stalwart adventurer may be able to push past these issues to complete the game but, with so many obvious gaps in the story, whatís the point? Itís like a watered down beer: thereís not really any motivation to finish it. I can only advise gamers, whether they be fans of Syberia or newcomers, to avoid this diluted port.
As for me, Iíll just have to go back to nursing my woes at never being able to play the original.
Freelance review by Jonathan Stark (February 16, 2009)
Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.
If you enjoyed this Syberia review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!