Developer & Publisher: Microids Studio Parts/Microids
Released: March 18, 2022
Requirements: Minimum, 64-bit Windows 7 or higher; Recommended: 64-bit
Processor: Minimum, Core i5 6600; Recommended, Core i7 8700 or higher
Memory: Minimum, 8 GB RAM; Recommended, 16 GB RAM
Graphics: Minimum, Nvidia GTX 750 Ti or AMD Raedon HD 7850/R7 260X;
Recommended, Nvidia RTX 2070 or AMD Raedon RX 6600XT
DirectX: Version 11
Storage: 22 GB Storage
Special note: SSD recommended
Syberia: The World Before
In a word, marvellous.
Itís been 20 odd years or so since we were first introduced to Kate Walker and her habit of getting on trains and heading off to who knows where. Two adventures have passed in between, the first as engaging and engrossing as the original outing, the second a major disappointment. Which raised the stakes for this chapter, one which I was both reticent and hopeful to experience. As I said at the time, Kate deserved so much more than the last one, and she rightfully got that with this.
We begin with Kate imprisoned and being used as forced labour in a salt mine. Escaping is a big thing, then the least of things as Kate seeks to keep a promise, one that is perhaps not as exotic as finding mammoths, but is no less momentous. What follows is a journey that flits back and forth between various times and characters and locations, a journey in which Kate learns so much more about herself. As always, she is in pursuit, hunting for traces of a young woman depicted in a painting from years ago.
The woman in question is named Dana, a young musician whom we meet in 1937. She is on her way to the town square of Vaghen, rewarded as the best student at the Academy that year with the honour of playing in the town square at the spring concert. An elaborate Ďautomatoní piano constructed by the one and only Hans Voralberg as well as an enthusiastic crowd awaits her. What is glorious is however a veneer, hiding the growing harassment and persecution of Vageran people like Dana at the hands of the Brown Shirts, and a looming war.
Across the next 15 or so hours that it took me to play through, Danaís story is at the centre of things. Kate is ever present, but in one sense she is Ďlivingí Danaís life, dogging her historical footsteps and uncovering the (at times surprising) aspects of her life. What she does with that, and what she lets it do to her, is all up to Kate, but I thought they were equal parts of this grand tale.
You play both of them in the course of the game, and at times you can jump back and forth between them, learning things in the past as Dana that you can then apply in the present with Kate. This aspect of the puzzling was particularly enjoyable, and was not limited to the two of them. Kate still carries the heart (and soul) of Oscar, her automaton companion from earlier games, and finding it another host will enable Oscar to both be present and utilised in helpful ways.
The construction of the game world is engrossingly exciting. Visual realism abounds, from the textures, the shading, the design, to the movement and mannerisms of the characters, and everything in between. Every little detail is richly conceived, and without wanting to gush, itís way more than eye candy; rather, itís a living, breathing environment that is just a joy to be in. I am the first to concede that adventure games donít need this degree of meticulous design to be enjoyable, but give me something like this any day.
Needless to say, the sound is equally impressive, both the ambient as well as the score. It is an equal participant in the creation of that living world, and importantly for mine, the game knows when to utilise music and when to leave it alone. Music is often overdone, and I appreciate it when it isnít. Here it tends to be most prevalent in the cutscenes that feature throughout (or maybe thatís when I tended to notice it most), which suits and accentuates their cinematic feel.
Moving around this enticing 3D world is done in the third person via point and click, and while I would have preferred the free movement of WASD and the mouse to steer, if you click and then hold the mouse, Kate or Dana or whoever will follow where the mouse cursor goes. Which was a happy half-way house.
The perspective is dynamic, the camera out of your control, so the environment passes by and around you as the character walks around. The camera isnít a passive over the shoulder view, but moves about, punctuated by short cutscene sequences. While there were a few occasions when I wanted my view to be from somewhere else (the cemetery later in the game stands out), on the whole it was impressively managed.
Everything is voiced and appropriately lip-synched, and again it is top-notch. Kate returns, Dana is equally as strong, and I canít think of a weak one. Mr Ludwig was particularly impressive; you can find out why for yourself.
Interacting with the game world is all done with the mouse, and hotspots and cursors will indicate where and what you can do (look, take, talk etc). If you get the Ďuseí option, a little visual menu will pop up from which you can cycle through your inventory items to choose the one to use. You can though access and look at (and importantly manipulate) items in your inventory independently.
I did think though that some aspects of the interaction were fiddlier than they needed to be. Conversation options pop up, whereupon you need to click and then drag the cursor to your chosen option, and the same thing happens with other action options (look or use for instance). As well, some actions are mimicked with the mouse (pull open a draw, turn a key, pull a lever, slide a door etc) and I have never found this to make things more immersive. It also wasnít always clear at times what I was supposed to do, although as the game progressed that became less of an issue. In the scheme of things, they were very small issues.
Puzzling is largely about finding and using things and manipulating other things. Some of the ones I enjoyed the most were among the latter; restoring the Voralberg piano in Kateís time was an example. There were a couple involving interpreting material and documents, and all of them had hints available should you need them. I doubt you will get stuck, but you will no doubt need to do some fiddling.
With quite a few puzzles you will be drawn into a close up, in which you then have complete control over the camera. This will enable you to examine the puzzle (a machine for example) for every angle, finding all the relevant places of interest and inspection. So too with inventory items, which you can turn through a complete 360 degrees, identifying how they might be manipulated in order to be properly used.
Top right in the game window are two icons, the menu and a diary that documents your journey and keeps tabs on things (including your inventory items), for which you can turn notifications on or off. There are two other icons you can choose to display, one for hints and the other for your current and optional objectives. You can ignore the latter, but achieving them will help you further explore the various backstories and detail of the events. They arenít onerous, and I would recommend doing them, ditto turning off subtitles if you donít need them. You donít have to click to progress dialogue, and letting it unfold through the characters as opposed to being tempted to read it is the best paced way for things to move along.
In that regard, while double-clicking will make the character run, the game is designed for you to take your time. Quite apart from appreciating the detail, there are times you can choose Ďintrospectioní, which lets the character ponder and think about wherever they are at. So too when eg. travelling on the tram you can choose when you went to continue as opposed to having a further quieter moment looking out the window.
The game autosaves on a very regular basis (and if you want to exit will tell you how long since the last save) and you just pick up where you left off. You can if you wish choose one of the previous chapter save points (there were 32 when I finished) and start from there. Three profiles let you have three games in progress should you need to, and you can tweak various settings at any time.
So much of this game is an individual treat. Certain cutscenes are worth the price of entry alone (the wartime shoot out is one example). The sum of its parts though is truly wonderful. I could tell you much more about it Ė the story, its themes, the humour, and its other emotions - or you could just go play it.
I played on:
OS: Windows 10, 64 Bit
Processor: Intel i7-9700K 3.7GHz
RAM: Corsair Dominator Platinum RGB DDR4 32GB
Video card: AMD Radeon RX 580 8192MB