SYBERIA: A LOVE SONG
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 experences that even in the most critical and objective light are beautiful and worthy of our unqualified admiration.
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 fiancee, 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 mastadons and marvels - while her friend prattles on about Bloomingdales and Kate’s fiancee 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 Varlburgh 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.
Pentium II 550 MHz
64 Mb RAM
3D graphic Card - 16Mb
Official links:Official Syberia SiteMicroids