Have you ever wished to play Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness without Lara Croft and the gothic elements? Because that’s how Syberia: The World Before makes you feel. We recently played the first couple of hours at a preview event for the fourth game in a series we are admittedly unfamiliar with, and while we can’t comment on how well it fits in with the rest of the series, the game has a nifty amount of charm, and the gameplay itself feels like it has some potential.
In Syberia, your first thought could be that it can’t be like Angel of Darkness, the Lara Croft Goth Simulator, because it lacks both Lara Croft and any gothic elements. That’s a good point, but if you put Lara in a decent wardrobe instead of double denim and sunglasses and ask her to explore a city, you’ll get Syberia: The World Before. There’s a lot of puzzle-solving, exploring, and being jolly posh about things (the protagonist, Kate Walker, is American, but she’s styled after Lara’s stiff upper lip), so it feels like Lara’s most urban adventure with all of the edge drained out of it.
Unfortunately, the edge brings with it the loss of personality. The graphics of Syberia are charming enough – it’s kind of steampunk? – but we’re not sure we understand what the game is trying to say, think, or feel. Because… it’s set in a different reality than ours. We suppose it’s because robot tram drivers are entertaining. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s also difficult to get enthused about it.
There’s also a mechanical hedgehog who, well, you’ll have to bear with us. Because you have his small mechanical heart in your pocket, we believe he’s a character from one of the earlier games. We swear it’s not as morbid as it sounds. In any case, you come upon a spherical in an antique shop, solve a conundrum, and it transforms into a hedgehog. Place the heart inside, and there you have it. He then flees, ostensibly unable to control his new body, leading you on a chase around the city before vanishing into the sewers. Eh, video games?
This single clip encapsulates everything Syberia excels at, as well as where it falls short. The puzzle itself is difficult enough that several other members of the press at the event needed assistance, but it’s easy enough that We were able to finish it on our own. That’s not a humble brag; we play a lot of puzzle adventure games, and while we’re below average at most games, we’re above average at things like this, and we found it very simple. There are two codes and three mechanisms; solve the codes for the first two to unlock the key to the third.
When the hedgehog comes to life – we don’t think whoever owned the heart was originally a hedgehog, since that’s what the robot is, but the game doesn’t say – the puzzle’s intrigue devolves into some fairly stilted acting and an arduous journey around the city to find the hedgehog in three different locations, each time just clicking on cabinets and suitcases. Syberia’s allure is strange: when nothing is going on, it’s pretty uninteresting, but there’s a calm about it. It doesn’t truly land when it tries to throw action at you.
It begins with a conventional point-and-click game, in which you must locate the correct antique shop using hints from a map and a phonebook. It’s monotonous, but it’s the good sort of monotonous. It’s relaxing. It’s similar to a crossword puzzle. Going to the shop, which is supposed to be the more fascinating section of the game, feels more lifeless, with stock individuals engaging in awkward dialogue exchanges for no apparent reason. The plot centers around an ancient artwork of a girl who looks exactly like you. You’re both in your thirties. In that way, you both resemble Elizabeth Olsen, yet no one is yelling “Scarlet Witch!” at you on the street. Is it because it’s situated in a hazy early-nineties-meets-alternate-steampunk-reality? Maybe, but it’s also because the game has concluded that you and the woman in the picture must look alike.
We’re not sure how we’re supposed to feel about a game that was most enjoyable when we weren’t doing the actual fun stuff, but we think we’d like to see more, especially given the girl in the picture, as well as 1937, the year it was painted, play a larger role in the overall experience. We don’t mind if the little hedgehog spends the entire game in the sewer, but we need another phone book puzzle right now. With a brand-new video, Microids has revealed the release date for Syberia: The World Before, as well as the start of the pre-order campaign and the content of the Digital Deluxe Edition! On December 10th, the game will be released on PC.