A Tale In Two Parts

HIGH The ascending/descending mechanics on steps.

LOW The lack of proper localization.

WTF A fully mechanized steam-powered orchestra.

I realized something while playing Syberia. It dawned on me that if the story I was experiencing in this game were a movie, TV show or book, I probably wouldn’t have given it a chance. Syberia is a testament to videogames as a medium because it opens doors to something that would have otherwise been some sort of arthouse project viewed only by a handful of aficionados. Instead, it’s available in an easily-accessible format and can bring its narrative to what surely must be a wider audience.

Syberia: The World Before is a third-person title with a focus on storytelling and features two main characters — Dana Roze in 1937 and as Kate Walker in 2005.

It’s a long-running franchise, with the first installment launching in 1999, titled Amerzone. The World Before is the fifth in the series, and knowledge of previous entries is necessary. There’s a option on the main menu to recap past events, but it’s barely three minutes long and not near the top of the menu options, making it easy to miss. I think this information could have been integrated into the opening sequence of the game, ensuring that players wouldn’t skip or miss it.

Right off the bat, time travel is introduced and the narrative hints at an intertwined destiny between the two characters owing to where they are located instead of when.

Dana Roze is a woman trying to build a music career in the fictional town of Vaghen in the years leading up to the second world war, including the rise of the third reich. Kate Walker is a prisoner in a salt mine somewhere close to Vaghen, but other than that, not much is known about her other than she has a strained relationship with her sister, her mother has just died, her hair is blue, and she’s in a lesbian relationship with her cell mate, so I guess that’s something.

Combat is refreshingly non-existent here, and the focus is on puzzles. The challenges in Syberia are varied enough to keep things fresh while also creating a reasonable progression curve from start to finish. For example, instead of having dozens of trinkets to collect, connect and/or decipher, the player will go from reheating ancient stoves to setting up a mechanized piano, and even breaking into a room in the middle of a bustling market center that’s been sealed since WWII. What they may lack in challenge, they make up for in charm and uniqueness.

(Side note, optional objectives are clearly labeled – very convenient in a game that does not allow reloading of past checkpoints is a mission is missed.)

On the other hand, some of the puzzles do seem to suffer from shaky logic. One of the earliest has Kate in modern-day repairing a motorcycle that was abandoned in the ‘40s, with no factory parts or professional tools. No amount of plot devices should be able to magically reawaken that bike without serious effort, and such instances felt like reality-bending reaches that pulled me out of the story’s immersion.

Movement is slow but deliberate in Syberia. While other fixed-camera third-person adventure titles might come off a bit squirrelly, the calm pace meant that I made consistent progress, and it led to me feeling less frustrated than I otherwise might have been when the camera position shifted the viewpoint.

Attention to detail is a priority in Syberia, and nowhere is it more evident than when walking up or down stairs. Both Dana and Kate take deliberate steps up or down staircases — a touch that many games overlook, but characters moonwalking up or down flights of stairs can be a distraction, especially when the art style and writing are clearly trying to convey a sort of realism.

The music and architecture is, for lack of a better descriptor, very French. From the design of street angles to the arches around the doors to the music composed and performed, it all adds up to a vibrant atmosphere that communicates a where and when. The voice actress for Kate comes across very well – that’s not to say the other characters don’t put in decent performances, but Kate definitely stands out, marking one of the few instances where a voiced inner monologue didn’t grate at me.

Without giving any spoilers for this narrative-based adventure, the story is engaging and has good timing for slower moments that give the player some time to enjoy the sights and take in the atmosphere without feeling rushed.

Dialogue isn’t very open-ended, however. The few conversation options essentially give the opportunity to select the tone for Dana and Kate, but their actions and decisions remain the same regardless of what’s picked. However, character development is significant for Dana, although Kate remains essentially the same person in the campaign — ironic since Dana is the one in the past and Kate is the one in the present.

Overall, the message of true love surviving war, distance and death was well-constructed and the various payoffs as the story unfolds are impactful. On the other hand, ambition and evil are only explored on a surface level via the various antagonists — it felt purposeful, but ended up being a bit of a disservice to the characters. For example, a Nazi hardman stands out as a particular sore thumb, as he is evil because he is evil, without any why. The man even hates music! It feels a bit lazy and forced.

While not pushing the genre forward, Syberia continues to develop and expand on its established gameplay loop and continues a story that began 24 years ago. I’m sure that returning franchise fans will enjoy it, and there’s a lot to like here for those who enjoy narrative adventures and interesting puzzles — it might even motivate them to delve into the previous entries and experience the magic from the mind of creator Benoit Sokal.

Rating: 7 out of 10

— Patricio do Rosario

Disclosures: This game is published and developed by Microids. It is available on XBO/X/S, Switch, PS4/5 and PC. This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PlayStation 5. Approximately 12 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed.

Parents: The ESRB has rated this game as T. There are depictions of Mild Language and use of Alcohol.

Can you give me some examples of the kind of content that these warnings refer to? example: there is a bar where alcohol is served, curse words such as A/B/C are used, etc.

Colorblind Modes: Colorblind modes are not available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Syberia offers no options for audio accessibility other than subtitles, but these do not cover environmental sounds that assist with puzzles. As such, Syberia is not fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Only the X and Y axis can be changed, everything else cannot be changed, so the controls are not fully remappable.

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