Syberia: The World Before Review (PC)

Syberia: The World Before Review: An Unlikely Third Chance

Syberia

Picking a story up more than a decade after it left off is never easy. The first two Syberia titles were beloved point-and-click adventure games back in the early aughts, but it seemed for a long time the story would never see a conclusion. Then in 2017, after 13 years, Syberia 3 was released, and fans mostly hated it. Bringing back a niche series after more than a decade and not sticking the landing felt like a sure end for Syberia, yet somehow we’re here just a few years later with Syberia: The World Before. Not only is it a significant improvement, it somehow leaves us feeling like there should definitely be more Syberia, and like this may be the one that doesn’t get a sequel all at the same time.

That isn’t to say that Syberia: The World Before is just the developers doing more of the same. Clearly, the development team went back to the drawing board after the failure of Syberia 3. While it is a sequel to that title, there’s a reason it isn’t called Syberia 4. Most of the consequences of that title are swept away in the game’s opening hours, giving way to a story that works quite well as a starting point for new fans. Series protagonist Kate Walker’s past impacts her, but mostly only in her emotional state. The actual story stands mostly alone. We even have a new co-protagonist who carries many of the game’s best sections.

 

A Fascinating World

 

Syberia

Syberia takes place in a world a lot like our own, only with a few changes. Automatons, basically robots, have existed for a very long time, and this has seemingly led to a world both a lot like our own, but also with some pretty striking changes. Much of the Europe we know is entirely different, while countries like the United States and the United Kingdom still exist. Despite these changes, much of history has still played out the same with a World War in the 40s, with one power committing genocide, still happened, albeit with a made-up group called the Vagerans standing in for Jewish people and with a made-up group known as The Brown Shadow taking the place of nazis.

This all feels slightly uncomfortable, telling a people’s story but leaving them out of it, though the Vageran people are certainly where our sympathies are meant to lie. Our new protagonist is Dana Roze, a teenage Vageran music virtuoso who is nearing graduation from the city of Vaghen’s musical academy. She’s extremely accomplished, but a summer job in the mountains will change her life forever.

Much of Syberia takes place in the game’s present-day of 2004 and 2005. Kate Walker is still a prisoner in a salt mine, just where she was headed at the end of Syberia 3. She’ll quickly get out of there, but not before she and her prison lover stumble upon an old painting of Dana Roze in an old Brown Shadow train, revealed while blasting in the mine. Kate’s lover is struck by how much the girl looks like Kate and makes her promise to track the girl down even though more than sixty years have passed and she has little idea who the girl is.

 

A Connection Crossing Time

 

Syberia

Syberia: The World Before tells a beautiful story with these two women, with Kate tracking down people who knew Dana and documents relating to her history, before using these to take us on a flashback where we actually play her. At times moving and tragic, I was consistently drawn in and, at times, entirely overlooked the story’s issues. That isn’t to say they aren’t there, however. The more you think about this whole story, the less it holds together, relying far too much on happenstance, characters acting outside of their own best interest, and after thinking about the story as a whole, I’m not even sure how that painting ended up in that train car, to begin with. I mean, I can think of ways it could have gotten there, but none that make a terrible amount of sense. This is more of a problem than it might be because, in order to progress through the game, you’re very much encouraged to give the game that level of thought. I also have to say, if this World War has anywhere near the cultural relevance the real World War II does, Kate is remarkably uninformed about history.

At the same time, I don’t want to be too harsh because not only are Kate and Dana wonderful characters, but so are many of the supporting characters they cross paths with. Even minor characters, like the modern-day Director of Dana’s music academy, are filled with personality. For many characters, strong voice acting really helps to sell the game’s best moments, though there are other characters who are less successful. It almost feels like the sort of game we would have thought had really good voice acting in the early aughts when this series began, because at least some characters are really well acted, and that was once so rare.

 

Puzzle Things Out

 

Syberia

As you explore Vaghen and the areas around it, you’ll consistently run into puzzles blocking your way. There’s certainly a bit of exploring environments and putting things together, but they tend to have more in common with something like The Room, where there’s a mechanism you have to figure out, manipulating its various parts to get inside or get something running. Most of these are fairly clever, though they don’t get too hard. Most players with a bit of patience will be able to work them out, and if you do get stuck, Syberia: The World Before offers a pretty forgiving hint system.

The big twist the game likes to throw out is that, at times you’ll have puzzles where you have to jump back and forth between Dana Roze and Kate Walker, switching at will. You’ll see things as Dana that then tell you what to do with Kate. These puzzles are mechanically interesting and work well, though the in-game explanation for them is a bit lacking. It’s usually based on a document you’ve found that Dana wrote out, but no one would have written the level of detail that you’re seeing, which really allows you to figure things out. Still, if you can suspend your disbelief, these puzzles are a lot of fun.

They’re certainly better than the other character you need to switch between. One of the main elements back from earlier games in the series is Kate’s automaton friend Oscar. Instead of being in his original body, he’s now inhabiting a small rodent which is quite cute, though also strange if you’re used to the original character. It leads to some strange characterization for him, but the issue is more frequently when you have to play as him. Oscar moves incredibly slowly, and waddling around in his body just isn’t fun. Some of the times he’s used as a mechanic in puzzles work better, but when you actually have to switch to controlling him, it consistently made me want to skip past his areas. Thankfully, this only happens a few times throughout the game.

 

Conclusion

 

The ending of Syberia: The World Before leaves off on a cliffhanger that I really want to see explored, but sadly fans should also go in knowing that whether this happens feels as up in the air as it ever has. Series creator Benoît Sokal passed away last year due to a long-term illness. His team at Microids finished the game without him, but whether they’ll continue with new games in the series with him gone remains to be seen. If not, Kate Walker’s story ends in a somewhat satisfying place, even if the idea of what comes next has me very excited.

Syberia: The World Before is a very mixed bag. With wonderful characters, terrific sights, and a beautiful story, there’s a lot to recommend about it. Unfortunately, that story relies far too much on happenstance, and the more you think about it, the less it makes sense, but if you can suspend your disbelief and just go with it, you’ll find a game that will please long term fans of the series and create some new fans as well.


Final Verdict: 3.5/5

Available on: PC (Reviewed) (Coming to Consoles Later This Year); Publisher:  Microids; Developer: Microids Studio Paris; Players: 1; Released: March 18th, 2022; ESRB: N/A; MSRP: $39.99

Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Syberia: The World Before provided by the publisher.

Andrew Thornton
Andrew has been writing about video games for nearly twenty years, contributing to publications such as DarkStation, Games Are Fun, and the E-mpire Ltd. network. He enjoys most genres but is always pulled back to classic RPG's, with his favorite games ever including Suikoden II, Panzer Dragoon Saga, and Phantasy Star IV. Don't worry though, he thinks new games are cool too, with more recent favorites like Hades, Rocket League, and Splatoon 2 stealing hundreds of hours of his life. When he isn't playing games he's often watching classic movies, catching a basketball game, or reading the first twenty pages of a book before getting busy and forgetting about it.

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