When the first Syberia game arrived back in 2002, there were far fewer point-and-click adventures on the market. The title represented a genre that had seen much more proliferous times and was something a little bit different in a market that was being dominated by FPS games and bland but successful AAA games that were just like what was already out there.
In 2017, there’s a lot more to choose from. The rise of indie gaming brought about largely by things like Steam and Xbox Live Arcade, has seen the bedroom programmer return with a vengeance. Further to this, the rise of Telltale has shown developers that the point-and-click adventure can shift units still. It’s why we’ve seen some of the masters of the genre like Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert return. The latest is Benoit Sokal, who has returned to gaming in order to pen the third title in the series for long-time developers Microids.
With a very placid and slow-paced style, the Syberia series isn’t for everyone. If you prefer a game with a lot going on, then it’s never been the kind of thing that you’ll be interested in. Its cinematic approach isn’t entirely unlike Hideo Kojima’s, with plenty of cutscenes and dialogue to move the story on.
In this regard, Syberia III takes a similar approach to its predecessors; the slow pacing and use of fleeting characters making it stylistically like a road-trip movie. The use of transitory characters keeps the action moving along, but it also means that there’s a lot of people that come and go, meaning that there just isn’t the time to grow overly fond of any of the characters. Our star, Kate Walker returns, and there’s also a return from fan-favourite Oscar. The other characters though, honestly I could only name a couple of them off the top of my head.
This is where the beautifully crafted tapestry of Syberia III starts to unravel a little. It’s not a bad game, but it just doesn't have that intangible feeling of quiet comfort that the others had. The characters don’t feel as warm and three dimensional, which is ironic given that this is the first game in the series to be created in full 3D. It’s still well written and perfectly charming but something is missing. Possibly the fact that I have a dearth of great point-and-click games to play now that makes this one less of a candle in a darkened room and more of a fart in a jacuzzi.
The music is as lovely as always, with series stalwart Inon Zur returning to craft some more beautiful sweeping background music, setting the atmosphere perfectly. There’s also a return from Sharon Mann to voice Kate Walker once again. This is a little unnerving though, as we now have actress in her fifties playing a character in her twenties. It’s nice to have some continuity, but the fifteen year gap between game number one and now makes it sound a little odd.
I’m not a massive fan of the new control scheme, it has to be said. This game was clearly designed with consoles in mind, playing it with a mouse like a normal point-and-click is cumbersome. In fact, I can’t really even say it counts in the genre any more. It’s more of an action adventure game now, albeit one with not as much action in it as you might like. There’s still fixed camera angles, but you are now directly controlling Kate. This gets super annoying at times. On a number of occasions I left a scene, only to walk straight back in again because I was still holding down the analogue stick. Manipulation of objects is done with the analogue stick like in a Quantic Dreams game, but unlike those games, you aren’t told how things need moving. Sometimes, it’s really intuitive, but sometimes you just find yourself jiggling the stick around like a drunkard with a door key and hoping for the best. It’s neither intuitive nor necessary. I believe proper point-and-click controls are due in a later patch, but I’d have much preferred them from the start.
Although the graphical fidelity isn’t ground-breaking, it’s still a very pretty game, with the world being quite vibrant and alive. There’s tonnes going on in the background at all times, a really nice improvement over the more sparse locations of the first two games. The animation lets things down a bit though. There’s some really nice pieces of animation like the meticulous trudging of snow ostriches and the graceful flights of owls, but then you see Kate walking with her head stationary like she’s in a neck brace and you start to wonder how many different people created this game and whether they were all actually professionals or not. Some absolutely atrocious lip-syncing in parts makes the whole thing look like a cheap dubbed kung-fu movie at a number of points too. There was even one section where the dialogue line either hadn’t been recorded or just got left out, and the character sat there waggling her jaw with no sound coming out like an automaton, something I found ironic given the steampunk nature of the Syberia universe.
All this isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the game, but it just wasn’t what I’d hoped for. With such a long gap between episode two and this game, could it ever have lived up to expectations anyway? I’m not sure, but what I am sure about it that I just didn’t come away from this experience with all the feels, and that was how I came away from the first games.
At the end of the day, this is still worth getting if you’re a fan of the series because it’s a charming little story set in a universe that you already know and love, but it’s probably worth waiting for it to go on sale because it’s really not up to the standard of the earlier games. I wanted this game to be good and no doubt the fanbase did as well, they waited over a decade for this after all, but frankly, Syberia III ultimately left me cold.
Syberia 3 (Reviewed on Windows)
The game is average, with an even mix of positives and negatives.
A below-par return for the series. The awkward controls and slow pace detract from what is actually quite a charming little tale about the human condition. Without more to grab the attention though, it just feels like the game never gets out of first gear