03rd Dec2018

‘Syberia 1 & 2′ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Britt Roberts

syberia-1-2-switch

Released in 2002 and 2004 respectively, Microids’ Syberia series was a hit for the French developer, featuring protagonist Kate Walker’s escapades in the small village of Valadilene and her travels beyond. With its photo-realistic graphics and relatively dry tone, it stood out at the time as a more ‘mature’ game. Played now on the Switch, the visuals still impress but the design choices, music and atmosphere feel somewhat staid and it feels more of an artefact of its time as opposed to a gem that needs to be rediscovered by a modern audience.

With this, the 2018 Switch re-release combining both Syberia and its sequel (we’ll ignore the third game – which was released BEFORE these two, back in October), Kate Walker’s complete story is told. At the time criticised for the abruptness of the ending of the first game, this collection does feel like two halves of a whole as opposed to separate entities and so it’s good they are both included here, allowing for a more complete experience and definitely a more satisfying story arc. As mentioned previously, the visuals still stand out and the various character animations have been crafted with love, ensuring that each person you come across will have their own identity and feel memorable. The voice acting is decent and incidental sounds add to the setting but the main issues I had were directly linked to the impressive buildings and epic outdoor locations.

Well-drawn they may be, however the choice to use static images with a fixed camera (a-la Resident Evil, Final Fantasy 7 and Silver) mean that quite often you will run into a position that causes the camera to switch angles but registers your control direction in a way that correlates with the new angle, meaning that you’ll double-back on yourself to the previous screen , especially if you are running (which you will inevitably be due to Kate’s relatively slow walking speed) . I also found that, due to the constantly switching camera angles and sheer scale of some of the locations, it was hard to find out where entrances and exits were and it would have been handy to have a button that highlights interactive objects to lower the time spent border-walking in order to get your bearings. This version also includes an option to alter the original screen-size to fit the Switch’s screen but it felt like the image was warped so I reverted to the original setup which left two blurred borders on the sides of the screen, only a small niggle but it did feel a bit of a missed opportunity.

The music is sweeping and completely suited to the situations that Kate finds herself in but it seemed to repeat itself fairly quickly and randomly start and stop in different places so it wasn’t as flowing as I would have liked, this means a lot of your journey is spent in a sort of contemplative silence broken by Kate’s booted footsteps, I thought it may be a design choice to accentuate Kate’s loneliness and mental space but it really did seem random at some points.

The puzzles that make up the game are for the most part well-implemented with an array of automatons, strangely-shaped keys and inventory-based puzzles making up the bulk of them but it was the story itself that didn’t grab me as I have never played the game before and so had no real nostalgia or fond memories of it beyond remembering how well it was received at the time. Kate is send to Valadilene to close a deal with a toy company that looms over the town, only to find out that the owner has recently died, complicating matters. Further muddying the waters is the reveal that the owner’s brother, Hans, long thought to be dead is in fact alive and well [-ish] and so Kate needs to locate him in order to complete her case, this journey makes up the bulk of the story (although there are sub plots brought into play via occasional phone calls to her fiancé and mum back home). The story is surprisingly expansive in that Kate’s travels feel like she is really covering a distance in her mission but I never felt truly engaged in what was taking place although I did enjoy taking in each new place visited as I made my way through the game.

Syberia was a different, deliberately paced and mellow game when it was first released and for those gamers out there with an eye for the more serene, casually paced gaming experience, Syberia will definitely scratch that itch and get your grey cells pumping. Likewise, the Switch release is a good way for fans of the series to get reacquainted with Kate Walker and her chilly adventures, I do think that it’s somewhat dated design quirks and relatively tame, mellow tone mean that it won’t make too many new fans of the aging genre, one for a cup of tea on a cold, quiet evening.

Syberia 1 & 2 are available on the Nintendo Switch now.

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