I have often read about some particular game, book or film and it was said
that it’s creation was "a labor of love". I believe that this is true about
Syberia . And if that is so, then this review is an unabashed love song. I
suppose this passionate opening suspends all objectivity, a cardinal sin for
a reviewer, so be it. For there are always those experiences that even in the
most critical and objective light are beautiful and worthy of our
As a bit of pre-history to this review, I have a long held appreciation for
Benoit Sokal and his work. Before his days with the well known Microids game
Amerzone, he has been an amazing artist of vision in the field of
illustrated adult books and art. When he graced Microids with his artistry
for Amerzone - I was happy and indeed found much to like about the game.
Then came the whispers of something new. A name sprinted around the web
circles - Syberia. I am not sure exactly why, but at the very first
tantalizing hints of this new project - something stirred and I had a
thought that this would be something truly different. As time passed and
early screen shots and more tangible evidence surfaced about this game -
those stirrings gelled into a secret certainty. By the time release was
imminent - I was convinced Syberia would be more than a new adventure game -
it would be THE game. Perhaps even more - a perfect blend of interactive art
and creative vision.
Then the box arrived on my doorstep. I realized that through some kismet of
the mails, I was one of the very first to get this game in my hands. I had
earlier decided against playing the demo for this game - first: I needed no
inducement to get it - and secondly, I wanted nothing to detract from my
first impressions. I was now thrilled at that decision, because after I had
installed and loaded Syberia., within seconds I was transported far beyond
my desk top and keyboard.
As the opening cut scene passed across my screen and the beautiful musical
score became a permanent part of my musical memory, I knew that I had never
been so right in trusting a pre-conception. For once, my expectations about
a game had not only been reached but surpassed. In fact after experiencing
Syberia I now know how far I could have let my expectations truly go and
still find them transcended.
The characters were instantly sympathetic. Momo, a child, - perhaps not
quite right according to the society we endure - but somehow also above all
that we see and hear. Oscar - who throughout this game grows in our heart as
a trusted companion and tin man to be loved. Then there is the aging Russian
star, beautiful and heart breaking in her pain and isolation. Kate our
heroine; harassed and harried by the voices of her life - while silently
awakening within herself a spark of a dream for something more.
This is the true brilliance of Sokal and this tale. We can easily identify
with Kate Walker. She is an attorney, bright and socially adept. She has an
ambitious fiancé, a socially alert mother and the right sort of friends. As
Kate moves into a world of wonder and distance from her old life, the calls
from this life intrude with greater frequency and increasing annoyance. Here
is Kate in a faraway place with mastodons and marvels - while her friend
prattles on about Bloomingdales and Kate’s fiancé fusses like an old woman
because she is hindering his plans for a successful dinner party and
business deal. Kate and we as the player revel in her new found heart,
spirit and capacity for love as the game unfolds. I found myself wishing
with all my heart that I too could be traveling into a world of ice and
magic rather than face even one more troubling phone call or e-mail.
The specifics of the game will be discussed I am sure in abundant detail in
many reviews and board discussions. And I will confess right now - I am not
going to discuss the OS of my PC or the details of game settings. There will
be plenty of places and reviews that will tell you all that and more.
Because as I told you in the beginning this is a love song not a shopping
list. Suffice it to say, the graphics are flawless. There is seemingly no
detail too small to be overlooked. I had to pause as I left my hotel for the
first time. The rain had stopped and I just listened and looked. I watched
as the last few drops of rain slid off and dropped to the ground. Birds
cantilever against the sky and trill happily. I swear if you close your eyes
- you can almost smell the damp earth and feel the breeze on your face. The
music is perfect, rousing and soaring where it needs be, dark and moody when
the scene and environment have shifted gears. Even now - it is hard to get
the music from my mind. Many parts of this game are in short - haunting and
the musical overlay plays a major part in that.
The interface could not be easier. Here is return to the simplicity of
nothing but the mouse. Double click to run or a single one to walk through a
scene. The cursor will let you know if there is something to pick up, to use
or a dialogue to be had. The length is purely up to you. You can ask all
that you see or go for the simple question that you know must apply. I
happen to enjoy well crafted lines and in fact re-visited some of my
favorite exchanges after completing Syberia. There is a particular poignancy
to Kate’s last exchange with Oscar, her automaton companion. Although it has
nothing much to do with any perceivable goal - this should not be missed.
Much of the charm of these lines has everything to do with the voice talent
employed. It is the nuances and intonations with which Oscar says this piece
that hits the heart - not the words themselves. Which if read coldly would
signify little. Whether it be a beautiful and aged opera singer, a madman,
Momo, Kate Walker, beloved Oscar or ultimately the cause of this journey
Hans Voralberg himself - the voice talent in Syberia is wonderful.
There are puzzles as it were or perhaps challenges would be more accurate.
Locked doors must be opened. Rusted machines must find new life and be
started. I did not see any that were superfluous, not logical to the
environment or unfaithful to the story. In fact there are many objects and
wonders that even with the best efforts are beyond help. But they are still
a marvel to regard and consider. In fact one of the best parts of this whole
experience was the rarity in which I found myself stuck or without some
sense of what needed to be done. If I did find myself wandering aimlessly -
it was always because I missed something that a more careful eye and slower
pace would have seen. I recommend making this game an experience rather than
a challenge or a project. I think that if this is played with a clock and a
dedication for "beating the game" you will surely miss much wonder,
enjoyment and perhaps even the point of the story. For this is indeed a tale
of the journey being the message rather than the destination.
This game’s message was hard to face at times and most of all distressing to
finish. I knew even as I started and made my way through this story that I
would miss this game much. So I played with anticipation and also the
conscious regret that this would at some point be over and the story told.
In fact - I played the ending more than a couple of times - and it is
achingly beautiful. I have revisited my favorite scenes and conversations
too. I will miss the music as the game unfolded and the opening load screen
as I started up Syberia each day. I can only wait in wonder for Syberia 2
and the rest of this amazing journey of heart and soul.
So ends this love song and ode to a great game, an amazing vision and
perhaps greater still the beauty of the human heart and spirit. For this
game tells us that beauty is more than youth and physical grace. It is in
fact to be found in the ageless depth of a human soul coupled with the deep
capacity for love and wonder in us all.
copyright © 2004