There is a group of people who are going to buy Syberia 3 [official site], and they are going to love Syberia 3, no matter what it's like. If the released game were just a black screen from which only terrifying abuse were endlessly screamed, they would love it. If playing it caused them to develop sores all over their bodies, grow pustules that bubbled and burned, and wretched sickness and diarrhoea bugs afflict them and all their loved ones, they would refuse to hear a word said against it. If the game came to the homes of their families and stole all their valuables, and then sold those valuables and used the proceeds to take out an advertising campaign in which they stated, "Everyone who loves Syberia 3 is a paedophile", these people would still love Syberia 3, and send threatening messages to anyone who disagreed.
How do I know this? Because, man, I was there for Syberia 2, man.
The original Syberia was released in 2002, a time during which I paid my rent by writing reviews of the endless sloughing of barely translated adventure games from Europe into our shores. Games like Curse: The Eye Of Isis, Dracula (Resurrection), The Black Mirror, Schizm: Mysterious Journey, and Jerusalem: The 3 Roads To The Holy Land. (All of which are reviewed in my archaic archive of early reviews, fans.) And oh boy, the hate I would receive for giving these dreadful games the low, low marks they deserved. Oh the forum wars that would erupt, the furious missives on the PC Gamer message boards, the angry letters. Because, as I've said before and I'll say again, adventure game fans are like heroin addicts: any game is a hit.
Into this mire of bubbling shite appeared Syberia, looking like it was going to be exactly the same as the rest, the same overly glossy pre-rendered sheen, the same generic white 20-something like-a-cop female with a mobile phone that starred in 90% of them, the same ludicrous premise and cruddy menus. Here I went again, I thought. And then, out of the blue, like a shining golden goblet atop a mountain of rotting arse, it was... fine.
I gave it 78%! This was a game about a New York lawyer who'd been sent to France to sort out some sort of issue with a will over a clockwork toy factory. Why? Because it was 2002, man, you weren't there. But as dull as that premise might sound, it belied a sweet, moving story of a broken family, an attempt to understand the life of a recently deceased brilliant mind, and the experience of his astonishing (well, impossible) clockwork automatons. It dealt with autism with a delicate hand, in an era when it still wasn't being sensibly discussed. And it wasn't terrible!
It wasn't great, of course. It was fine. Fine! Which, in those dire years, meant it was The Holy One, to be revered like the appearance of Jesus in some bridge mold, adventure game fans making pilgrimages to its birthplace. So, when two years later a sequel was released, expectations were high. Or, you know, moderate, because the first game had been fine.
The second game was, perhaps rather predictably, pretty rubbish. It threw aside the calm, genteel air of the original, ignored its sensible, solveable puzzles, and instead embraced the cold, spiky arms of every other bloody awful adventure of the time. As I wrote in 2004, "this incarnation contains horrid Myst-like metallic pattern-solving monstrosities. Just like all the rest. And in keeping with the wretched genre, there are no clues as to what you should be doing, and no tangible rewards for stumbling upon the solution. Just the usual blind clicking until something goes clunk."
But no one was allowed to say so. Syberia had been the game that Proved Them Right! The game that didn't get slaughtered by the non-specialist adventure press. The game even non-junkies rated. When the addicts were trying to claim stinking rhino turds like Schizm II were worth playing, rather than smashing into a billion pieces and scattering those pieces about the universe such that its evil may never be reunited, Syberia was the game they clung to like a life ring in a lake of vomit. So dammit, this sequel was going to be as great, and a legend would be formed! But it wasn't. It was shit.
The legend persisted, however, and so Syberia 3 is a thing. It was originally intended to appear in 2010, but wow has it slipped. And slipped, and slided, and skidded. But after seven years of seeming like it might never happen, it finally has. Despite the universe's best efforts.
Microïds' sale to Anuman Interactive could have killed it, but didn't. Instead, they stated it would miss its original release date intentions due to negotiations. Come 2011 creator Benoît Sokal admitted that they hadn't even started the game. A year and a half later, at the end of 2012, it was announced that Sokal had been signed by Anuman to write the game. (Remember - this is the game's writer finally being contracted to write it a full two and a half years after it's original release date.) They predicted it'd be out by 2014/15ish. The first trailer for the game appeared in 2016. Ho boy. And then yes, this year, it was complete.
I played the first room and it was already so awful I didn't want to carry on.
Then I got ill for a week, so I didn't carry on, and I would rate the flu I've had as slightly more fun than that opening room of Syberia 3. It's been thirteen years since Syberia II, a game that I estimate 99.999% of the population of planet Earth didn't play, and of the 0.001% who did I imagine most will have forgotten the dreary nothing events that filled it. So I'd estimate that perhaps some sort of introduction might be in order. Some sort of explanation of who Kate Walker is, maybe. Let alone why she's in some sort of rudimentary hospital ward with a man with no legs. It literally just carries on from the end of the previous game without even a written recap. The arrogance of this is - well, it's bloody amazing. All credit to you, Microïds, it's a bold and inventive move, to deliberately alienate just about every single person who could be playing this game. I applaud you.
Saying that, it doesn't really seem to care much for what it was about before. Gone now is the delicate tale of automatons and tragic creators, picking up instead on a thread of the second game that involved a tribe of diminutive people called the Youkol, who live in a land where mammoths still exist. And now there are snow ostriches, and they want to go for a walk or something for fucks sake. Fortunately Kate is white and American enough to save the day.
This is a game so embarrassingly poor that when a guy was here to service our boiler I turned it down until I could barely hear it myself, for fear of what a complete stranger I'll never see again might think of me for hearing what I'm doing from the next room. This is a game that contains lines of dialogue, unquestioningly read aloud by English-speaking actors, that go like:
"I did warn you, you know you can't be at all well enough yet to deserve to be released already."
And yeah, sorry, no. Playing this game is actively horrible. A message appears when it loads stating, "The game is more enjoyable if you play using a controller". Those are never words you want to read when starting a point-and-click adventure, because it means one thing only: something went really wrong.
Something went really wrong. This is, somehow in 2017, a third-person game with tank controls. Kate must be rotated and pointed forward before moving, like no one has ever wanted in any game in all of history. Then, in order to really create that nostalgic feel of the early 2000s, the camera cuts and jumps about as Kate moves through a location, such that the direction you were just pointing her in no longer works. And then things are only interactive when you've cumbersomely steered her into them. And then you want to stop playing because no, no, games don't need to be this bad any more.
They redrafted the same voice actor who spoke Kate's lines in the first two, one Sharon Mann, but oh boy something's gone wrong there. It might simply be the passing of time - Mann is fifteen years older than when she recorded for the first game, while Kate's barely aged a week, and yet her voice now sounds like someone in her 60s. It's so jarringly peculiar, this seemingly elderly voice coming from a woman in her 20s, although this at least serves to distract from the nonsense she's speaking.
And then it just cascades - gibberish puzzles, doors magically open because you talked to some random person, traipsing about looking for what minute detail might have changed since you last traipsed through the scene, and a cavalcade of abysmal acting delivering half-translated nonsense.
And that'll do it, really. Horrible to control, horrible to listen to, really surprisingly ugly to look at, and and all-round mess, I've no desire to put myself through this. So, I shall state for the record: Maybe it's amazing! I mean, it obviously isn't, because it seems unlikely they'll fire the voice cast and implement a new control system some hours into the game, but I can't assure you they haven't. What I can assure you is I've been here too often, seen this too many times, to put myself through it again.
And why would I, anyway, because the people who've already decided they're going to love it will be loving it against all perceptions of reality, and I'm fairly sure at this point in the game series' life, no one else could care less.
Syberia 3 is out now for Windows and Mac via Steam, for £30/$40/€40.