Syberia is a relic, in both senses of the word. Benoit Sokal's 2002 adventure is a game that offers a tantalising glimpse at a bygone era, while simultaneously seeming rather outdated.
Under the guardianship of Big Fish Games this first part has all the strengths of the original and the majority of its weaknesses. It's been sensitively updated in some regards, but not in others, and the result is a game that feels even more inconsistent than it once did.
At least the story is intact. Syberia spins a genuinely original, atmospheric yarn that begins with lawyer Kate Walker visiting the remote French hamlet of Valadiléne (don't Google it, it doesn't exist) in order to dot the i's and cross the t's on the takeover of a toy factory.
A hitch in time
She arrives, however, at an inopportune moment: the present owner has died, and the deal can only be finalised if Kate can locate her long-lost younger brother. Cue riddles, mystery, and creepy automata as the curious village's many mechanised contraptions confound both Kate and the player.
Despite the complete absence of jeopardy, Sokal and company conjure an eerie atmosphere in this near-deserted place, while the narrative is intelligently written and rich in intrigue. Though the translation isn't perfect, the characterisation is strong, and Kate is a strong, likeable protagonist.
Subplots risk derailing the story, but here they're beautifully judged, helping to ground the characters amid all the surface weirdness. Case in point: Kate's relationship with her fiancé, which begins to deteriorate through a series of phone calls in which she's forced to explain her extended stay overseas.
It's a good job, too, as Syberia occasionally sabotages its carefully cultivated atmosphere. The music is repetitive, while many of the conundrums are almost wilfully obscure, often involving solutions that require a lot of backtracking.
Big Fish has remedied this issue in part by highlighting all the objects you can interact with, and the location of the exits, which weren't always easy to parse in the original. A couple of the more oblique puzzles have also been simplified.
Those are undoubtedly improvements, but this update suffers elsewhere. The in-game graphics are sharp, but many of the cutscenes (which follow the solution of just about every puzzle) are fuzzy and indistinct.
To be continued
Then there's the issue of pricing. You get to play a small section of the game for free before you're asked to cough up £2.99 for the rest. It's just long enough to generate interest in what follows so most players will pay to continue, even if it's hardly a generous demo portion.
However, once you've shelled out, there's not an awful lot left. A couple of hours later and you're done in Valadiléne, catching a train to your next destination, which is reserved for Part 2. Whether your fee covers that remains to be seen, but it's likely we'll have to pay again to continue.
Adventure enthusiasts may find that a price worth paying for this inscrutable point-and-click, but even with a nip and tuck here and there Syberia is showing its age.
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