Reviewed: June 29, 2004
Released: March 30, 2004
There has been a massive influx of adventure games recently thanks partly to the increasing number of foreign game developers who arenít afraid to take a risk. While mainstream developers and publishers continue to release sequel after tired sequel of the same old RTS and FPS games, Microids teams up with visionary designer Benoit Sokal for Syberia II the much-anticipated sequel to the cliffhanger original from 2002.
Adventure games have pretty much evolved into two types; the first-person puzzle-solvers like Myst or the third-person puzzle-solvers like The Longest Journey. Regardless of your perspective, these games always tend to feature beautiful graphics, a clever story, and some very challenging puzzles in hope of creating some interactive fiction; a multimedia book if you will.
Iím assuming that if you are reading this you have probably already played the original, but just in case, Syberia ended with Kate Walker finding the mysterious toy maker, Hans Voralberg. His toys were more like robots or automatons and many of these intricate devices became the foundation for many of Kateís puzzles.
Hans was obsessed with finding the sacred island of Syberia and locating the Mammoths who apparently arenít as extinct as we all thought. Kate, along with Hans and a delightful automaton named Oscar all climb aboard a giant toy wind-up train and head off in search of Syberia. Youíll get all this information in a much more pleasant opening movie when you play the sequel.
Gameplay hasnít really changed from the last game, or from the staples of the adventure genre for that matter. You still move around gorgeous 3D environments presented from cinematic vantage points. Youíll interact with people and objects, collecting everything that isnít nailed down in hopes of combining it with something you already have or using it for some future puzzle.
As is common with the genre since the dawn of the mouse interface, these games often revert into a pixel hunt where you simply move the mouse over the screen like a metal detector in hopes of something that lights up or indicates some level of interactivity. This presents its own fair share of problems. The hot spots are either too obvious, flashing or glowing, or become invisible and next to impossible to find, as is the case for a great many of these interaction points in Syberia II.
Syberia II continues the story from the first game further developing the characters and introducing new ones. Unlike the first game, this story is more about Hans than Kate. Itís an extension of the original game rather than a game unto itself, so anyone jumping into the sequel without playing the first game will be missing out on a large portion of the story, even with the prologue.
To keep this story moving along you will need to solve dozens of puzzles that range from obvious to ďhow was I supposed to figure that out?Ē While all of the puzzles manage to integrate into the environments, their solutions are often not as obvious as they should be. I certainly donít mind challenging puzzles but give a dog a bone Ė how about some hints, a clue, a piece of paper, some etchings on the wall. You might just end up cycling through all your inventory items until you stumble on the lucky item that solves your dilemma.
Another staple of adventure games is the background information found in journals, books, and other reading materials. While you wonít garner many clues from these writings you will get some wonderful history and gorgeous artwork.
Syberia IIís visuals are amazing; even more so than the original. Each and every screen is a work of art and the overall presentation, cinematic camera views, and wonderful designs are some of the best graphics I have experienced in a third-person adventure game to date.
Much of the game takes place outdoors and in snowy conditions. You havenít seen a winter wonderland like this. Most of the screens are static, some scroll as you move and there are animated effects like creatures running about, trees blowing and falling snow.
Kate and all the other characters no matter how insignificant are created in 3D and are integrated into the 2D backdrops with great care. Unlike other games of this type where the characters pop-off the screen, the cast of Syberia all share the same pastel look and use anti-aliasing to smooth those annoying jaggies. The character animation is wonderful. Kate and everyone else all move with lifelike animation where individual movements blend together perfectly.
The cutscenes are exceptional and feature beautiful pre-rendered visuals that closely resemble the gameplay graphics. This creates a seamless blend between the interactive segments and the narrative movies.
The interface is excellent, simple to use, and very intuitive. The control icons are all self-explanatory and the inventory menu and rest of the control menus are easy to operate. There are all sorts of nice little subtle animations, mechanical in nature, that appear throughout the game menus creating an immersive presentation from opening title to closing credits.
The sound and music in Syberia complement the visuals perfectly. The soundtrack is a blend of fantasy, mystery, and environmental orchestral tunes that blend into the background and create a wonderful and enchanting atmosphere. The best thing about the music is that it changes with each environment and the situation, always remaining fresh.
Sound effects are worthy of a motion picture. Every sound, few as there are, is authentic and meticulously placed into the world to create a totally immersive and interactive experience. Every footstep is accounted for on any type of material Kate might be walking on including the crunch of snow. The howl of the wind will send a shiver down your spine and the various animal noises will delight and frighten.
The voice acting is excellent all around. All of the other characters offer a great selection of dialog and in some cases you can ask the same question and get a rephrased answer. Everyone has great authentic accents and charming personality that comes through with every syllable.
Depending on how good you are at these puzzle-based adventure games you are likely to spend 12-15 hours. I confess to using a strategy guide to expedite my review and the game still took me about 10 hours.
As is common with the genre, once you have finished the game and concluded the story there is no need to replay it anytime soon, so itís pretty much a one shot deal. Even so, $30 for a dozen hours of interactive entertainment is pretty fair. I can comfortably recommend Syberia II to any true adventure game fan.
Syberia II does a great job of extending the story started in the first game but it fails to wrap up a lot of details, indicating a possible third installment or simply poor storytelling. You wonít come away dissatisfied, but you will still have some questions.
If youíve already played the first game then picking up the sequel is a no-brainer, and I wouldnít recommend playing Syberia II without playing the first game, which should be in budget bins by now anyway. Youíll come for the story, stay for the graphics, and tolerate the puzzles, and your reward will be one of the better adventure games you can play this year.