You wouldn't be ignorant if you haven't heard of Syberia 3. It's a point-and-click adventure game developed by French studio Microïds, and it's part of a cult franchise known for its pre-rendered backdrops, distinct mechanical puzzles, and eccentric characters and settings. Syberia 2 was released a mere two years after the original, followed by the third entry five years later – well, if the original release plan had gone through. Instead, 13 years have passed, since the developer lacked funds and had to partner with a publisher. Now we finally have the next instalment in Kate Walker's European travels, but we'd advise not booking a ticket for this expedition.
It only makes sense to introduce newcomers to where our lady protagonist has already been and what characters she frequently alludes to in conversation. What does this Russian army want to do with her? How did she come across this Eskimo-esque tribe of Youkols in the previous game? It's clear the narrative was constructed to not rely on prior events for Kate's newfound objective to escort the Youkols to another land so they can complete a spiritual journey.
However, it ends up feeling unfocused as a result, so a summary of her exotic adventures and motives would have felt appropriate to invest players in such a story-driven series; this unbalanced approach doesn't benefit longtime fans nor the uninitiated. As the story moves forward, there's something great about the charming quirkiness of the Youkols, a returning character's humorous dialogue, and the seemingly rich histories of the cultures and places around you. Despite these things, the game only makes matters worse with horrifically bland antagonists and uneventful story beats.
Adding insult to injury is the amateurish writing, which is an actual pain to parse. Even the most mediocre of dialogue usually emulates casual conversation well enough, but every character in Syberia 3 sounds like they're reading formal, handwritten letters to each other. Complex and long sentences, unnatural verbiage, and strange habits (such as awkward pleasantries and characters using each other's names every other moment) throughout their speech put us in a state of constant cringe.
The voice acting takes this to a new level of awful with Kate possessing the faked, sickly pleasant tone of a receptionist. A side character like Sarah literally sounds like Siri, and Steiner is backed by an incredibly wooden guy who voices several other personalities with little to no change in his inflection. After sifting through the previous games, the quality of the writing and its delivery has suffered a phenomenal fall, further crippling the series' main attraction. Subsequently, the introduction of a dialogue wheel doesn't really affect relationships or outcomes in meaningful ways, and you can imagine if we engaged optional conversations.
That's not to say this troubled title is devoid of what cemented its legacy. Despite the move to dated 3D graphics compromising some of the artistic timelessness and careful precision of its pre-rendered predecessors, the environments and objects riddled throughout them can be surprisingly detailed. The Germanic architecture of the town of Valsembor, attire and artifacts of the Youkols, and intricate design of the puzzles speak to the developer's lingering talent.
This is especially true for those puzzles, which mostly consist of deducing the functions of complicated devices and machinery by pushing buttons, rearranging pieces, pulling levers, and more. It's not something you see in many adventure games these days, and with cryptic items to use in varying and sometimes multiple contexts, the puzzles can be unexpectedly impressive in scope.
Composer Inon Zur also returns for the soundtrack that contains beautiful vocals ranging from the chilling singing of Aeralie Brighton to the eerie chanting of tribal voices. It's a relatively safe score with strings, woodwinds, and percussion, but sometimes evokes the grand sound you'd find in old Russian symphonies or a spiritual etherealness. And it's awesome to hear some tracks build with more layers as you get closer to solving key puzzles.
Beyond these high points, there's only more problems. Half of the puzzles are fetch quests where the only difficulty is simply finding items. Instead of creating fun, interconnected side quests to obtain things, you'll just be talking with random NPCs and checking every corner to obtain stuff for blatant solutions. We spent 30 minutes wandering around for one item across Valsembor, only to find that it didn't pop up on the screen in an area we already scoured due to the finicky controls and detection.
Much of it starts to feel like monotonous busywork designed to feel like you're accomplishing so much with little payoff, even if there's the occasional brainteaser to mix things up. And since some puzzles won't allow you to pick up needed items out of order, you'll be plenty mad returning to places to discover what you already examined has something new for you.
This isn't even to mention the stuttering, chugging frame rate, which runs somewhere around 25 frames-per-second on average. How the frame rate is a consistent 60fps only for the inventory system's animation and interacting with objects, we don't know. When it comes to the character models, they're just gross with the partial exception of Kate with jarring animations and lip-syncing that lazily flaps along to the dialogue.
Kate's erratic walking animation also matches the unwieldy controls you'll wrestle with when changing which item you want to examine or your desired direction. There are other issues with the camera, audio skipping, and more, but we don't need to elaborate on the bumps and snags replete throughout this 10 to 12 hour journey. You'll want to break off from it less than halfway through.
This game feels like it should've come out over a decade ago, and even then, it still wouldn't have been ready for release. Some sprawling mechanical puzzles, an intriguing world, and a solid soundtrack can't save Syberia 3 from its disappointing delivery. Poor writing and even worse voice acting make its humdrum story a chore to chew through. With major technical issues in tow along with too much errand-like gameplay, the series should've waved a final goodbye like its protagonist in her last outing.