Originally released in 2002, Syberia is one of the most fondly remembered examples of the point and click adventure game genre. With a clever story, and equally ingenious puzzles, it remains as relevant today as the day that it was released. But while the title itself makes a strong case for the revival of this antiquated style of experience, this particular port leaves a lot to be desired.
Kate Walker, an American lawyer, has been sent to the remote Eastern European village of Validelene to finalise the takeover of a toy factory. The workshop in question exclusively manufactures clockwork robots known as automatons. However, its owner, Anna Voralberg, has recently passed away, leaving our protagonist to track down the company’s lone surviving heir, Hans Voralberg.
This conceit propels you through the wilderness of Eastern and Western Europe, exploring increasingly harsh and alienating landscapes. From the brutal totalitarianism of the Komkolzgrad mining facility to the lofty and elaborate arches of the Barrockstadt University, the game features a wealth of intriguing and beautifully designed architecture to ogle.
While the writing itself has all of the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the face, the strength of the characters definitely shines through; a watchman fixated on a non-existent enemy spy, a miner yearning for lost love while his life’s work crumbles around him, and an opera singer who spends her dying days lazing around a decrepit spa resort – these NPCs all have a bleak pathos which is at turns charming and heartbreaking.
The gameplay is relatively standard: you’ll wander about relatively large areas, collecting items and using them to solve puzzles. Similarly, the challenges themselves are the exact blend of unique and intriguing brilliance that you'd expect from this era of adventure game. Thankfully, none of the conundrums require unfathomable leaps in logic, but your investigative problem solving skills will still undoubtedly be put to the test in smart and polished ways.
It’s a shame, then, that this port of the point and click classic is anything but smart and polished. Indeed, it turns an otherwise satisfying and relaxing experience into an exercise in frustration. For a start, the beautifully designed backgrounds haven’t been upgraded in any substantial way, and look stretched and blocky. This means that it can sometimes be hard to distinguish between interactive objects and simple set dressing.
However, arguably the most egregious addition is the title’s new controls. Porting a game of this type to a console is obviously going to be a challenge, and while the developer certainly deserves credit for a solid attempt, its workaround is thoroughly flawed. Instead of the traditional cursor model, you’re given full control of Kate Walker. Unfortunately, the environments were clearly not designed for this sort of movement, meaning it’s often incredibly difficult to determine where you can and can’t walk.
What’s more, the implementation of this feature is spotty at best. Indeed, you’ll likely spend more time navigating invisible walls while trying to determine the exact pixel of screen-space which will allow you to move forward than you will actually solving the puzzles. Further, the lack of PlayStation Move support seems like a missed opportunity.
With clever puzzles, solid writing, and a smashing sense of style, Syberia remains a fantastic illustration of how a point and click adventure game can tell a deep and interesting story. However, this console port absolutely does not do justice to the original title, ultimately resulting in a fickle and frustrating experience.