If nothing else, reviews of Syberia show a definitive split between those who loved it and those who found it mediocre showing just how subjective our preferences can be. I played this game a few years ago, but decided to resurrect it for the sake of adding genre variety to the featured games. As I've moved away from point and click adventure games, the slow pace is a bit of a shock to the system. In remembering though, I know I liked it well enough at the time to want Syberia 2, but never did end up purchasing it till years later. So this review might be rather a jumble of what I remember feeling then and what I think now.
Kate Walker is a business lawyer hired to represent the American based company Universal Toy and sent from New York to Valadilene in the French Alps to close negotiations for a buyout of the Voralberg Toy Factory. Upon arrival, there is a funeral procession in progress and Kate soon discovers that Anna Voralberg, the elderly owner of the toy factory, has died. Believing she can still wrap up the deal with the notary, it's a surprise to discover that Anna's long thought to be dead brother, Hans, is still alive and the legal heir. Believed to be somewhere in Siberia, his exact location is unknown and the story revolves around Kate's determination to find him and close the deal.
The Voralberg Toy Factory is a throwback to earlier days and has built its reputation on producing high quality mechanical and life-like automatons, not to be confused with robots. With the world now computerized, the company has fallen into financial ruin, forcing its sale. These ingenious automatons play a very large part in the puzzles and one of them will become Kate's companion on the journey. Kate's resolve hardens as pressure from her boss, her friend, her mother and her boyfriend mounts. We never meet these people, but come to know them through Kate' conversations with them over her cell phone and each will play their part in ultimately reforming Kate's priorities in life.
There are four levels in the form of locations as Kate travels on a mechanical train driven by the automaton engineer, Oscar. Each level includes its cast of characters and involves solving a number of puzzles in order for the train to move on in the quest to find Hans Voralberg. Hans has left his mark in these places through the various types of automatons he's built. In the second location, we find out why the game is named Syberia and not Siberia.
Syberia was made in a simpler time when it was easier to distinguish a game's genre. This could never be mistaken as an action adventure. The left or right mouse button controls all movement and action. The graphics are very pretty, but the characters movements very limited. Kate cannot move outside of the determined path. This makes for a certain amount of tedium as many times she must move back and forth through several screens where there is nothing happening. Although you can make her run, it's not seamless as she stops while you click for the next screen. As the game involves repeatedly going from one side of a town to the other, you can't help but feel you'd like to give her a push. I think I kept saying "Get on with it Kate."
The puzzles are not overly frustrating apart from traversing the map over and over, but as one person put it some are obtuse. For instance at one point Kate comes across a chest with five drawers. On the side of the chest is a knob that when she tries to turn the commentary is "it's jammed." Now, to me jammed suggests I should run for the oil or a lever, but there is no such thing. So, I spent a great deal of time looking for an answer that didn't involve the knob. Without spoiling the solution, I'll just say that the commentary would better have been "it seems to be stuck." Thereafter, I realized that jammed meant there was a way to unjam it. I also found many of the dialogues way too long.
The scriptwriters have done a very good job of developing Kate's view of the automatons away from being strictly outdated mechanical objects. Also, as a result of her trials and tribulations, we see her character slowly reformed from a person attempting to please everyone into a self-sufficient adventurer.
Would I buy this game? The answer to that must be yes as I find myself now wondering what happened to Kate and still considering Syberia 2. However, with the clear understanding that there is no replay value except a possible revisit after a lengthy hiatus, a person would have to decide what they would be willing to pay for a one time shot. However, as a point and click game, this is one of the better ones.