The Poor Man’s Tomb Raider (On Depressants)
Back to the Future. The Matrix. Alien. Pirates of the Caribbean. What do these movie trilogies have in common? Simple: their respective third installments are largely considered the weakest of the bunch. Unfortunately, the third movie/game has the unfortunate task of tying up the loose ends that the first portion started and the second piece elaborated on, and when a trilogy universe gets too big for its britches, disappointment seems inevitable.
This is largely the complaint that is being hurled against Syberia 3 – but how does it rate on its own two legs? As someone who has not played the other two games in the trilogy, that is the answer I have to offer.
Syberia 3, developed and published by Microids, was released on April 20th, 2017 and can be found on Steam for $39.99. As it stands, the game has received mixed reviews with a numerical rating anywhere between a 4 – 7. As expected from split-down-the-middle reviews, there are those that absolutely loved the game and those who hated it with every fiber of their being.
The game opens up with a young woman, who we later learn is Kate Walker, being found by a roaming group of nomads called the Youkol. Their destinies are inextricably tied to the giant ostriches that they have herded for generations. The ostriches need the Youkol to guide them to their breeding grounds, and the Youkol have built their customs, belief system, and lifestyle around these humongous birds. Comatose, Kate Walker spends an entire month in a yurt on the backs of these ostriches as they continue on their pilgrimage, a shaman attending to her every need and feverishly working overtime to bring her soul back from the spirit world.
It is at this point that Kate wakes up in a strange room with the young Youkol chief, Kurk, as her roommate. He provides her with much needed backstory; during the conversation, she can’t help but notice that the young man has lost his right leg and is strapped to his bed. Unable to move without a prosthesis, Kurk urges Kate to find her way out and ensure that his artificial leg gets to him quickly so that he may lead his tribe to the breeding grounds. Saving Kurk through his attainment of a prosthetic leg becomes the main quest of the game, and after some trial and error, Kate solves the puzzle and proceeds into the next area.
“Kate solves the puzzle and proceeds into the next area.” – keep that sentence in mind, because this is basically the entire game. Locked door that needs unlocking? Kate solves the puzzle and proceeds into the next area. Gotta get an owl’s attention? Kate solves the puzzle and proceeds into the next area. Another locked door that needs unlocking? Kate solves the puzzle and proceeds into the next area. Throw in a few cut-scenes for exposition and it’s lather, rinse, repeat until the credits roll.
The story behind the puzzles were surprisingly relatable in a way. How many women have gone to a doctor’s office to be dismissed by a physician? Not kept against our will or anything, but that we’re overreacting or something to that effect. I was literally transported back to a medical emergency of my own where my pain was minimized by doctors, so it struck a really odd chord with me – even if that chord was a humorous one. But after the laughs ended, the storyline’s true nature droned on in its tediousness. The main quest, finding a prosthetic leg, sounds more like a side quest that I’d keep in the miscellaneous portion of my quest journal until kingdom come. But no, that’s the main objective of the game – get Kurk his artificial leg so he can get out of the hospital and lead his people to the promised land.
And speaking of the people, I will say that I initially was excited for the characters in this game. As it takes place in kind of a pseudo Russo-Eurasian land, there are people that resemble Russians and Eurasians, like Mongolians and Kazakhs. I personally don’t think I have seen anything like this in any games I’ve played before. It’s a region I’m personally interested in, so it won some points from me at first…until the voice acting kicked in. Oh God, that voice acting is absolutely atrocious. While the mouths and words don’t sync up (at all), the biggest problem with the voice acting is that the lines seem to have been read by only four different voice actors that were given absolutely no context regarding when their lines would take place. Moments that are supposed to be serious are conveyed in a light-hearted manner, and voice actors did the same voices for pretty much all characters.
While bigger games like Skyrim also did this to some extent, the characters with recycled voices at least looked like they matched the skins and said their lines in a believable manner than expressed appropriate feelings. Syberia 3, on the other hand, repeatedly featured characters like a heavyset woman pushing 50 with the voice of a chipper, recent college grad. The evil doctor had the same issue – clearly an older, crotchety woman with the voice of a young woman who has no idea what emotions are. I can look past mismatched voices and mouth movements, but the emotionally-confused performances were a deal-breaker for me.
Perhaps the most disappointing characters were the Youkols themselves. Games set in Russia are few and far between – especially when they’re not FPS titles. To top it off, the Eurasian peoples are probably batting a hard zero when it comes to representation in video games, and while I question the need for diversity for the sake of diversity, it would be nice to have their first appearance in the medium not paint them as Eurasian Oompa Loompas. They were noticeably shorter, every single one of them rotund to the point of absurdity, and they all spoke in a goofy manner. Perhaps this was an attempt to make their appearance more foreign, but said attempt was not made when it came to their Russian-esque neighbors. Since Kate is an American, it would have made sense to give all other characters distinguishing accents to differentiate them from her. The game touched on the racism that the pseudo-Ruskies harbored against the Youkols; perhaps the irony was lost on the developers, as they only served to create a caricature of an entire group of people, practically reducing them to a completely different (and implied inferior) species.
Syberia 3‘s controls are J-A-N-K-Y. Kate walks like she’s marching to the electric chair (sloooooowly), and her running isn’t much faster. Her movements are clumsy at best, and everything “sticks” when you press too hard on the keys. Switching camera angles is difficult, as the keys you’d use to move Kate in the desired direction aren’t honored upon the angle switch, meaning you’ll often find yourself running straight, followed by a switch, then immediately running into a wall or back from whence you came. Interacting with Kate’s surroundings are also hit or miss, as moving one millimeter away OR TOWARDS the desired object will make the “interaction” icon disappear. This means re-positioning Kate, which is frustrating for the reasons outlined above, and it’s just…hair-pullingly, teeth-gnashingly aggravating.
And yet…even though there were an alarming amount of negative aspects of the game, I could find a fair number of positive things to balance them out. For one, that soundtrack is actually really good. Composed by Inon Zur, who is also responsible for other works like Fallout and Dragon Age, the music of Syberia 3 adds a layer of authenticity to the setting and really sold me on the Russian-like land. The soundtrack was also broken up by puzzle, so there would be a different song for each step of the way. That meant for an additional level of maintained audio interest, which is a rare feat in a game of this quality.
The puzzles were also decent enough, as there was plenty of puzzle diversity which kept that aspect of the game interesting. Where some puzzle/adventure games feature easy, predictable puzzle segments, Syberia 3‘s actually required a bit of thought to solve, and when thought failed, pure luck would come to the rescue. For example, one puzzle required Kate to stop contaminated water from reaching the Youkol camp. This meant she had to trek over to a dam and mess around with the water flow in order to filter clean water through to the giant
chocobos ostriches. At first, it’s easy to think that all the dam partitions should be opened or closed completely, but after messing around with the dam puzzle for nearly 15 minutes, I figured out that you can leave the partitions halfway open. It didn’t readily seem like an available option, and I was pleased that it ended up being the case because it made for a challenging, unpredictable segment. Also, I got to say “I’m stuck on this dam puzzle” for at least 10 minutes and that made everything worth it.
I feel like Syberia 3‘s strengths were in its ideas – taking the gameplay out of the equation for a minute and just thinking about the concept, the story isn’t that bad. An American lawyer gets trapped in a Russian asylum. After some odd interrogations, she decides she must escape in order to save herself and her newfound friend. What she doesn’t realize is that there’s a sinister plot to completely stop the peaceful migration of the Youkols and giant ostriches, and she’s smack dab in the middle of it due to complicated events that happened in the previous game. To top it all off, there’s an American detective on her ass trying to extradite her back to the States for charges she didn’t quite earn, so there’s that bit going on as well. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of non-action that happens in between the could-have-been exciting parts, and combined with her slow af walking, there’s just not enough momentum to carry through the entire game. As they say: great idea, poor execution.
I really, really, really wanted to like Syberia 3. It had everything that would have interested me – Eurasian people in a Russian-esque setting with a brainy American girl as the lead. What I wanted and what I played, however, were two different games. Kate Walker feels less like an action heroine and more like Lara Croft’s less exciting American cousin – while Lara is fighting off baddies and avoiding death’s cold embrace like it was her day job, Kate walks to an office. Then she walks to a getaway boat. Then she walks to a dam to stop it from contaminating the giant ostriches. And while not every game needs gore and violence to make it appealing, a little excitement and urgency could certainly spruce things up a bit for Syberia 3. In its current state, it’s simply too slow in every sense of the word with strange voice acting and tedious objectives. And as Eddie Izzard would say: “I can’t eat popcorn to this”.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: PC (reviewed), PS4, XBox One, & Nintendo Switch; Publisher: Microids; Developer: Microids; Players: 1; Released: April 20, 2017; ESRB: T; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a Steam review copy of Syberia 3 given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher