649: Syberia and Syberia II

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649: Syberia and Syberia II

Post by JaySevenZero »

Here's where you can contribute your thoughts and opinions for Syberia and/or Syberia II for potential inclusion in the forthcoming podcast.

A friendly reminder that where the feedback for the podcast is concerned, we love it - but keeping it brief is appreciated. We do want to include a breadth of opinions where appropriate, but no-one wants a discussion podcast that’s mostly reading out essays. Better to save yourself time and cut to the chase if you can.
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Re: 649: Syberia and Syberia II

Post by T-BirD »

Since playing them, it has continuously baffled me how highly regarded Syberia I and II seem to be.

I always expected them to be better. Back in the day, the beautiful screenshots and videos were a huge draw. Together with The Longest Journey, these games seemed to herald the return of the adventure game genre. While TLJ remains a classic to this day, I liken the Syberias more to a chocolate chip cookie in which the chips have been replaced by lots tiny turds. It looks delicious, but is actually inedible.

The dough is great - a light adventure game set in a fantastical world with a unique and intriguing premise, strange characters, and the promise of a journey to far-off destinations. A beautiful musical score accompanies the (for the time) gorgeous scenery, with each location having its own unique architecture and occasionally sad history. The journey taken by the protagonist, Kate WALKER, Kate Walker, Kate Walker, omg, stop saying her full name all the time!!!!!! I can still understand the automaton doing this, but everyone else just, for the love of youkis, call her either Kate OR Ms. Walker!, is not only a physical one, but also an examination of her life to this point. In the first game, the mobile phone - which gets astoundingly great coverage at the edge of civilization and beyond - is an integral gameplay element to furthering this aspect of the story, though it's largely forgotten in the second game.

Sadly, we now get to the "chips." To begin, Kate's internal journey is handled in a terribly ham-fisted way due to the caricature nature of the people she interacts with. She really can't take two steps in this world without running into a personified trope - from a borderline moustache-twirling incompetent villain and his good natured, but "imbecile" brother, to good hearted but shockingly "simple" natives (in fact, there are an awful lot of "simple" folk in this game), and onward to religious zealots; Syberia runs the gamut, and some of these tropes are far more problematic now than they were even in 2002/2004.

Other physical characters in the world are typically more believable, but the borderline incompetent script and deliveries undercut not only my suspension of disbelief, but also much of the sympathy I may have felt towards some of them. Especially the first game contains voice actors who sometimes change bad accents in the middle of a sentence, where neither of the accents fits the character's origin, as well as the liberal use of American phrases by supposedly aged, rural Eastern Europeans. It makes the entire game takes on an unintentionally surreal atmosphere.

There is a good overarching story that WANTS DESPERATELY to be told here, but the actual script is absolutely painful much of the time. On top of that are several completely unbelievable events - even accepting this world of automatons, youkols, mammoths and the like - that ripped me out of my attempt to be IN the setting. At one point in Syberia II, a nemesis manages to - in the span of mere moments, with at least a half dozen people watching the area - infiltrate and hide away in a heretofore impossible to access craft, only to (much later) pop out and attempt to foil KATE WALKER at a convenient moment.

It's all so infuriating because it could have, and should have been better!

Coming to the actual gameplay, almost none of the puzzles in Syberia I provided any real challenge, though the sequel was a bit tougher; one gave no apparent clue as to its solution, even after looking up the answer. A few instances of being stuck in II are explainable by my inability to notice a tiny discoloration that is an item I could pick up - seriously, at one point I could not find kindling IN A CONIFER FOREST because I did not see the one specific bit of it that could be interacted with. Other puzzles came down to extreme busywork, which would not have been so bad except that the game's creators loved their world so much that they inserted many, completely non-interactive beautiful screens to show it off, all of which must be traversed (often multiple times) at a maximum speed of Kate's slow jog or pathetically slow stair climbing .
Finally, there are ridiculous logical inconsistencies. An example from the first game is an automaton companion who wishes to not expose himself to various instances of corrosive air, but then gleefully waits on Kate in the OPEN locomotive cabin. Sokal got rid of that one for the sequel, but added several new jaw-droppers. Near the end of Syberia II, KATE WALKER increasingly often just shakes her head, like she can't believe the lunacy of it all.

I'm right there with you girl.

It's not simply age which has not been kind to the Syberias, as I'm positive that many of these problems would have been issues in the early 2000's as well. It can still be a charming, fantastic trip to take, but you need to pack lots of vodka to shut off your ability to critically think about things in order to be able to enjoy this ride.

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