Syberia II Review
Here's the short version: Syberia II is out, and it's good. Buy it. Buy it NOW.
You want more details than that? Then read on. The first Syberia (which I'll call Syberia I) appeared in 2002 with all the impact of a woolly mammoth in Times Square. Conventional wisdom said the intelligent, funny, thought-provoking adventure game was extinct, a victim of the testosterone-ruled marketplace. No shooting, no babes, no ichor-dripping demons, and puzzles that require more brains than adrenalin -- you must be nuts to release a game like that. But Microïds bucked the industry sages and released it all the same, blessings be on their fuzzy Canadian heads. Têtes. Whatever.
The appearance of the first game was a pleasant surprise. That it did well enough to allow for a sequel is a shock and gives us hope for mankind. Given that, it's probably too much to hope that the sequel would be as good as the original. But it's not just as good -- it's better. Really.
Syberia I was the story of a New York lawyer dispatched to the Swiss hinterlands to negotiate the sale of a defunct toy factory. The search for the true owner of the factory sent her on a journey through eastern Europe and Russia, and through her own ambitions and values as well. When at last she caught up with him, she found herself face to face with the shallowness of her life, with an opportunity to leave it all behind and be someone else instead.
Syberia II picks up where the first installment left off. Kate Walker (who persists in pronouncing her last name "WALL-ker"), the enigmatic inventor Hans, and the mildly annoying automaton Oscar are on a train ride across Russia in search of the fabled island of Syberia (last seen near, but not in, Siberia). After rewinding the clockwork train, they're ready to set off -- and that's when the real problems begin.
Syberia II is very similar to Syberia I in many ways. You'll find here the same stunning graphics, intuitive interface, intriguing characters, logical plot, and general sense of thoughtful fun of the first game. The improvements are slight, but worth making:
- The endless cell phone calls from Kate's tedious New York friends have stopped. In addition to eliminating a major source of irritation, this also helps the plot move along more smoothly without the constant jarring imposition of an uninteresting side plot.
- Dialogue choices now disappear once you exhaust the topic. This keeps you from having to replay the same comment over and over in case the person has something new to say.
- The puzzles tend more towards social problems (like how do I make this guy help me) and less towards mechanical problems (like which plug goes in which slot). There are still plenty of mechanical problems to tackle, though, for those of you who love plugs in slots.
- You might not think it possible to improve on the graphics of the original game, but they did it. It's amazing how much beauty and variety Benoît Sokal, the mind behind Syberia, was able to find in snow. The colors are brighter and cleaner, and the scenery is more dynamic, with realistic falling snow, drifting fog, flames, and footprints.
You don't need to have played the first game to enjoy this one; a recap of the first game is included to help you get up to speed. Be prepared, though: If you play Syberia II first, you'd better put aside some money to buy Syberia I, because you're going to be hooked.
The continuing characters are voiced by the same actors from Syberia I, which is always helpful for continuity's sake. The writing is first rate, given the usual translation problems (though they are far less of an intrusion than I have seen in most translated games). The plot is logical, but it has some surprising and very satisfying twists as Kate and Hans draw closer to Syberia. Be prepared for a mild shock or two along the way.
Is there a downside to Syberia II? Well ... maybe a few minor ones. For o ne, there is an unflattering portrayal of Russian Orthodox monks in the game, and as it happens it's inaccurate too (a patriarch is the head of a country, not a monastery). If you're Eastern Orthodox (like me), you might find it borderline offensive. I don't know that anyone else will care. And with a few exceptions, the puzzles are -- well, I don't want to say easy, exactly, but they're not exactly killers either. Personally I love a game that doesn't make me feel like an idiot, but it does make it go awfully fast.
This is the second half of the Syberia story, which presumably means there won't be a Syberia III. Personally I'll buy any game with the name Benoît Sokal on it. Hats off, gentlefolk: a genius!
-- Lynn Hendricks