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by DreamCatcher Interactive / Microids

Syberia deserves some serious applause from all those adventure gurus out there. They have just received one of the crown jewels of the genre at a time when it is needed most. This title is nothing short of an artistic masterpiece in its presentation. It blends all the right elements into an engrossing experience with shortcomings that are minuscule. So now that adventure games are back in a big way let’s see how this monster came to be.

The story begins with the protagonist, Kate Walker, on her way to a small French town called Valadilene. She works for the firm Marson & Lormont, which represents a giant company, Universal Toy. Kate is in town to facilitate the buyout of a local toy maker, Voralberg Toys. Voralberg has been around for numerous generations and the town has come to depend on the toy company’s revenue.

The opening scenes of Syberia characterize the game’s overall flavor. When Kate first arrives to Valadilene, she stumbles onto an odd funeral procession. The coffin is carried past her by a group of archaic looking robots with wind keys sticking out of their backs. The procession is led by an eerie "drummer boy" machine. Not morbid, but distinctly odd in a dreamy kind of way. This is much like the experience of Syberia itself.

As Kate spends time in Valadilene she comes to realize just how inundated the town is with these machines called automatons. They’re on every corner performing menial tasks. The town itself appears to have dropped out of the late 1800’s even though the game takes place in our day. Kate seems a stark contrast, being from fast paced New York. She soon finds out that she will be staying much longer than she anticipated. The funeral procession was for none other than Anna Voralberg, the woman who was to sign over the Voralberg Toy Company to Universal. From this point Kate will begin unraveling the mystery behind the Voralberg name and the hints of an heir once thought dead. Not a bad story, but Syberia certainly doesn’t rest on its laurels. This journey is guaranteed to be a memorable one.

The atmosphere of Syberia is one of its selling points, like any self- respecting adventure game. The developers have really gone the extra mile here, though. The visual presentation is top-shelf. The pre-rendered backgrounds are beautiful, but still believable. Players will wander down the cobbled streets of Valadilene with a distinct sense of appreciation for the effort invested. The interiors are also impressive. The rooms are decorated just as you would expect, with aged elegance. The automatons themselves are presented with an interesting flavor as well. While conceptually they are extremely advanced, their appearance is as gothic as the town’s. So we’ve got a good story and great visuals. Have we got a winner yet? Not according to Syberia’s developers.

The absence of any hardcore action from Syberia is definitely not a low point. The thrill and suspense of this game comes from uncovering clues and unraveling an intriguing mystery. This is accomplished through tasks such as puzzle solving and being just plain social. Kate will encounter several memorable characters that will help shed light on the plot before her. The riddles and puzzles of the game hover right at an acceptable balance between easy and ridiculously difficult. The presence of a puzzle may not always seem very realistic, but in Syberia the puzzles fit right in. They help the story flow rather than divert you from it. I’m not saying that you won’t get frustrated. That is not the case at all. Those who are not fans of the genre will probably not remain patient, while those who are should still expect to be frustrated at times. It comes with the territory. You won’t be asking yourself why the heck you’re being asked to perform a task, however. The game is not arbitrary.

The sound is also executed well in Syberia. The music reflects the atmosphere with its rustic European tunes. The music also builds during important moments to add emphasis. The dialogue is all voiced, which really adds to the experience. I would have appreciated some more attention in this area, though. The voice actors who inhabit Valadilene sound disturbingly American. It was like pulling teeth to get a "mademoiselle" out of somebody. All and All, the voice acting isn’t so irritating, though. Most gamers will appreciate the voice-acting period, as it’s still a step above what most games provide.

The controls in Syberia are fairly simple. Microid has made sure that getting around isn’t one of the many puzzles you’ll encounter. Just about anything you will want is but a click away. Moving Kate around is a point and click affair. Double-clicking on a location will cause her to run. The mouse icon will change when it comes into contact with things that can be manipulated such as doors and handles. Menus pop up by right clicking. The interface is simple and easy to grasp. This is a blessing because surely you want to be stumped by a novel puzzle, not how you make Kate open a door.

This game is truly a blessing for those fans of the adventure genre. This is probably not a game that is for everybody, but it meets and exceeds the standards set by its peers in the adventure category.

There are a lot of games with intense action and on the edge of your seat thrills out there. Is Syberia one of those? Nope. This game will accentuate your brain and imagination, but not your thumb strength. This kind of a diversion is a healthy one. If there are more games like this in stores then maybe we ought to start testing the waters of this genre more often. Those who aren’t into Syberia will still admire the effort put into its presentation. Those who are still can’t stop thanking its makers.

Todd Allen   (10/04/2002)


Ups: Top-notch graphics; immersive gameplay; a jewel for fans of the adventure genre.

Downs: Minor interpretive details.

Platform: PC