Syberia

When I write a review, I reserve recommendations for the review’s closing statements. For my review of the PlayStation 3 version of Syberia, I’m not going to waste the time. Don’t buy this game. Hop over to Good Old Games and buy the original PC game, which is cheaper, and experience the charm and wonder of this wonderful game as it was meant to be played.

Syberia doesn’t feature wise cracking pirates, an over the hill lothario, or plots to take over the world. Kate Walker works for a law firm overseeing the acquisition of a toy factory located at the center of a sleepy French town. While en route, the factory owner dies and deathbed confession reveals the existence of a second heir: a younger brother once thought to be dead. Pressured by her boss to seal the deal, Kate journeys through Europe to find the heir and learns about the family’s secrets along the way while trying to strike a balance in her personal life. When I played Syberia for the first time a few years ago, I was entranced. The experience is similar to when a rainstorm hits and all you want to do is curl up in sleepy clothes, read a book, and enjoy a hot cup of soup. The game is such a pleasant experience and the frustration that occurs as a result of Anuman Interactive’s meddling makes me really sad.

The game suffers from an inconsistency of design. Instead of pointing and clicking on environment hotspots, a new analog control system gives Kate freedom of movement. This was not needed. In order to interact with the environment and initiate puzzles, Kate has to stand in a specific spot for the prompt to appear. With a point and click system, this would be no problem - just move the mouse until the icon changes, click, and Kate moves to where she is supposed to go. With analog controls, there’s a whole lot of futzing around in positioning Kate in such a way that will trigger the necessary icon. You could be standing directly in front of a person, looking at them square in the face but are unable to initiate a conversation because she’s not standing in the right place. The controls fare better when zoomed in on puzzles only because cursor movement is restricted to passing over specific hostpots.

This guessing game also causes problems with moving around. You won’t go very far before Kate bumps up against an invisible wall. Walking a path, especially a city street,  shouldn’t be so trying and its surprising to see how restricted Kate is in her movement. The transition from scripted pathways to free movement should be liberating and give me an opportunity to see and go places that were previously inaccessible. That’s not the case here and she’s stuck inside an invisible canyon, following a path I cannot see. This restriction also affects certain screen transitions. Going back to inconsistency, some scene exits have prompts, others don’t. Each screen has a specific exit that Kate must cross in order to move on. It’s not enough to run up against any part of the screen’s edge, you must locate the exact route that will trigger the scene change. I don’t understand how any of this could have made it into the game. Anuman’s misguided implementation of analog controls makes Syberia far more cumbersome and frustrating than it needed to be. Why include an analog system without making sure that the game can accommodate it properly?

Syberia also suffers from a technical problems. The audio stutters and cuts out, usually at the end of cutscenes or when the game takes over after a puzzle has been completed. There are framerate drops that occur frequently and randomly. You will not find these problems in the PC version. The only thing Syberia has going for it on the console are cleaned up cutscenes, though I find it hard to be happy about that small ray of sunshine when the rest of the game suffers so much. I would take the time to rail against the game’s use of the atrocious Comic Sans font, but I will spare you from that lengthy rant.

I played through the game’s first chapter before quitting in disgust and frustration. Syberia for the PlayStation 3 is a half-assed product. Anuman broke what didn’t need to be fixed and in the process, they killed the magic. I’m left asking myself, why does it exists? Was it some contractual agreement? Who is this for? Nostalgic PC gamers? They already have the better version. Is someone trying to capitalize on Grim Fandango’s re-release buzz? Did someone need quick money? Whatever the reason, the best thing to do is walk away. Don’t waste the money on this incredibly inferior product when the better one is just a few mouse clicks away (to purchase Syberia from Good Old Games, please visit their product page).

Teen Services Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.