Tag Archives: Inon Zur

Syberia 3 (2017) Video Game Review

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After 13 years of waiting, this game was finally released and much like Kingdom Hearts fans waiting for number 3, fans rejoiced.  Compared to the original 2, Syberia 3 was eager to give back to fans by not only being available on PC, X-box One, Nintendo Switch, and PS4, but by also selling premium editions which included artwork, an art book, the game’s soundtrack, a 23 page comic book (which is also sold on comixology), a poster and a small figurine of the main character, Kate Walker.  At £100 for the console versions  and £40 for the PC version (which excluded the figurine and had everything else in a digital form) on release date, I chose to get the PC/Mac version, simply because I didn’t have the money.  Anyway.  Lets read about it.

Our story begins sometime after the events of Syberia 2.  Hans Voralberg, the last heir of the Voralberg automaton factory, has finally accomplished his goal by finding Syberia with Kate Walker, and then riding on the back of a large, wooly mammoth into the arctic sunset.  Such an ending then brought up the question – What happened to Kate Walker?  Well, in Syberia 3 we see this;  Kate ends up travelling (by foot) through the vast snowscape, until she collapses .  She is then found by a tribe of Youkols, natives to Syberia who haven’t changed with the times of the world around them.  The Youkols are on a pilgrimage, a long path to a land where their Snow Ostriches can partake in their mating season (or go extinct).  Kate wakes up in a hospital, where she is sharing the  room with Kurk, the young guide of the Youkols, who lost his leg and needs a prosthetic.  After finding out that there are people who are not only trying to stop the Youkol Migration, but also aiding the New York Detective, Nic Cantin, who was sent by Kate’s ex-law firm employers to find her and place her under arrest for various charges – Kate makes it her goal to not only avoid capture, but also to help the Youkols (and their ostriches) finish their pilgrimage.

Now to discuss components:

First of all, this game really nailed the artwork!  Benoit Sokal, a comic artist himself, worked as both author and art director, and contributed in the concept art.  The art itself was mostly done by Amanda Goengrich and Sebastien Bousquet.  I love how everything is presented with tons of quirks, much atmosphere, evident steampunk mixed with 20th century Russian stylisations and a very european charm that’s either found in european cinema or Wes Anderson movies.  The art book was a lovely addition to this also.

The graphics are…almost understandable, since this game was in development hell for so long and visuals in video games have grown so much since then – It’s safe to say the graphics are a mixed bag.  When I first bought the game, I was presented with the option of “beautiful but with fewer frames per second” or less detailed and faster.  I close detailed and slower – and I did rather enjoy the graphics around this time, despite the cinematic lag in framework.  However, about 3/4 of the way in, a patch was created on the PC/Mac version, and when I played the game afterwards, I could no longer choose my presentation.  In the end, the game did play a lot faster, but the textures were evidently worse.

The gameplay animation for this game, much like its previous chapters, is terrible.  It’s made even worse when you consider it’s 2017 when you look at it.  I can compare it to the animations in Frogware’s Sherlock Holmes PC game series, which were as stiff as the Tin Man in the middle of a good oiling – but I guess it has become a running trend – that while Sokal gets amazing artists, his renders, animators and possibly his choice in software, leave a lot to be desired.

The cutscene animation is better than the gameplay animation by a long shot – but when compared to its contemporaries, it’s pretty ordinary at best.

The gameplay has an inconsistent quality with a number of curveballs thrown in.  Several puzzles were very easy, others had me wandering around lost for 20 minutes.  But many-a-times you need to think outside the box.  Such as 1 particular puzzle that seemed to require a code, when in actuality, I just needed to smash it with something.  Little things like that which can go over your head.

The voice acting seems to vary in quality, depending on the character.  I played it in english, but when I watched the cutscenes again in French it sounded (and looked) so much better!  Much, much more endearing.  Makes me feel like I’m watching a Jean Pierre Jeunet film in places.  But since my ear to the quality of french voice acting is limited, I can only talk about the english version.  The voice for Kate Walker (Sharon Mann) is by far the best, while many other voices don’t seem to match the characters, especially Mr Steiner the Clockmaker (who sounds like a bank clerk than a grizzled artist) and Olga the evil doctor (who sounds 30 years younger than she looks).  They sound so much more in character in the french voiceover.

The characters are what you would expect from the series.  With the exception of Kate herself, many are there for a short time.  Full of character?  Yes.  But their time in-game doesn’t always last, as the story likes to progress rather quickly (depending on how good you are at this sort of game).  During their short stints, you basically know who they are in their appearance, the environment and their dialogue by the end of it.  Which, to be honest, can take great skill.  Enjoyable, and 1 of the better aspects of the game.

The Story’s actually very good when you’ve been following the rest of the series and manages to maintain a consistency.  It’s like the series has been able to continue without much time gone past.  It’s colourful, funny, and full of twists and turns to the point of finding its 1 problem after another as an amusing wink to the audience.

The music by Inon Zur is 1 of the best parts of the game.  A mixture of Tribal music, chanting, wooden instruments, brass and some strings, it manages to provide an oddly magical sound to the game that would have otherwise suffered without it.  You feel the adventure, the mystery, the danger (in a quirky, theatrical way), the struggle, the sadness, the longing, and the hope, which are just some things I love about it.    Even when the game’s over, I’ll be sticking this on for some ambience or pondering.  Really, really great stuff!

Would I recommend Syberia 3?  Maybe.  It depends.  As a whole, and within context of the times in which it came out, it’s safe to say that Syberia 3 is not as good as its previous chapters.  It struggles to make any impact on the modern market, the attempts to give back to fans have possibly been thrown back at them (with their broken statues in £100 premium editions) and at times it feels like the world has very much moved on without it.  It’s the little fishing boat chasing the large cruise liner containing the Triple-A developers.  As someone who creates things without “going through the system” – I actually feel for this game and its developers.  It’s created by people who tried, and wanted it to succeed.  They had hopes of it doing well and putting the franchise back on the map, and it ended up being disappointing, even when I was willing to accept all of the things that they would have been ashamed of themselves (which was usually in the animation department more than anything else).  Fair play to them, they managed to get the game out there after 13 years with some wonderful qualities to it.  But the whole thing feels bittersweet.  If they release Syberia 4, I’ll be ready for it.  Whether it’s an actual game or a Comic-book-continuation that’s similar to how Buffy, Angel and Firefly are still going in comic form, even when the show has finished or been cancelled.  Either way, as someone who enjoys Sokal’s work, may this story keep going somehow.

Art Style: *****

Graphics: **3/4

Gameplay Animation: *1/4

Cutscene animation: ***1/2

Gameplay: **3/4

Voice Acting: **1/2 (**** in French)

Characters: ****1/4

Story: ****

Music: *****

Overall: ***1/2

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Syberia 2 (2004/2015) Video Game Review

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We return to Syberia!  Or lets just say, our journey towards the title land continues.  If you haven’t played Syberia 1 yet, then don’t read this, as I’ll probably be spoiling some of the previous instalment.  To commemorate the recent release of Syberia 3 after 13 years of waiting, here is Syberia 2.

We begin our journey right where we left off in Syberia 1 – After deciding she wanted to help Hans Vorelberg find Syberia Island, rather than give Hans’ signed contract to pass the deed of the automaton factory to another toy company through her bosses in New York – Kate Walker continues her journey at the cost of going home to her family, friends and work.  Meanwhile, Kate’s Law Firm has sent Private Detective Nick Cantin to search for Kate and bring her home.  The Automaton Train makes a last stop in the last piece of civilisation in the area, Romansbourg.  A very small town that’s divided in 2 – On top is the higher level, for those who look down on everyone, and on the ground floor is everybody else.  Those who live in the higher levels include the Station Master and the monks in the monastery.  On the ground floor are civilians trying to get by…even to the point of craftiness and selfishness.  With Hans’ health being an issue and Oscar showing more humanity despite telling everyone he’s only designed for a particular purpose, Kate does all she can to make it to the end of the journey, and not only see if Syberia is real, but if Mammoths actually exist…Because what adventure doesn’t have hiccups?

Now to discuss details:

The art style is as good as ever, and some adjustments have been made here and there.  The grainy but quirky backdrops have been replaced with a smoother, more painterly style.  However there is a lot more snow in this game compared to last time, so that could be easily done.  The character designs and the towns are very interesting and full of life, despite how little time some of them have on screen.

The graphics are roughly the same as before – occasionally better and occasionally worse.  Much like Syberia 1 it’s very rough around the edges and clunky, with fixed backgrounds.  Occasionally it snows and there are more character animations.  But 1 or 2 animations are…not great.  One in particular comes from Kate walking up to the Monastery – There’s a bird that flies away in our direction when Kate comes into scene.  It’s a great idea.  But if Kate is running, she will actually overlap the bird!…It was never destined to look like a Naughty Dog game, even in 2004.  But rather it’s a platform for some great imagination, art and storytelling.

The gameplay animation, believe it or not, is a little worse.  This was never a strong point in the series, but dear goodness it didn’t do well here.

The cutscene animation is an improvement, with some very nicely presented cut scenes, including the Cabaret Scene, the Escape and the screen were Kate basically flies.  For 2004, they were nicely done and occasionally reminding me of Final Fantasy 8 and 9 cutscenes for the PS1 (which were designed as PS2 graphics prototype presentations).

The gameplay is around the same.  Excellent puzzles, much exploration and some tight spots that could occasionally make you feel lost.  My advice is to go everywhere and touch everything..and use your head.

The Voice Acting, depending on whether you’re playing this in english or not, is slightly worse, despite how cartoony they’re meant to be with some characters being particularly annoying.  Kate and Oscar are fine, but the ‘villains’ are a bit weird…as are the Youkol (yes, you finally meet the Youkol mentioned in Syberia 1)

The Characters serve a greater range, and even have a more long-term villain to act as a Maguffin for Kate.  I like that both Kate and Oscar are developed more, with Kate being more sarcastic and annoyed than before, as well as Oscar…I guess everyone gets to that point while on an adventure.

The story maintains the same feel as the original, but it’s also a different story altogether.  Before it was about searching for Hans Voralberg and now it’s about getting Hans to Syberia.  The roles of the train, Ivory Dealers, Bear, the Chasing Detective and Hans’ health also add a nice sense of urgency to the journey.

The music is by a different composer this time – instead of being by Dimitri Bodiansky and Nicolas Varley, it’s by Israeli-American Inon Zur.  It maintains the same charm and character as the previous chapter, but at the same time the influences used make it clear that you’re no longer in Europe and very much in Russia from here on out.  It borrows a bit from traditional Russian music, as well as Eastern Orthodoxy chants and Tribal music.  There is also a part of the game where the theme reminded me of Edward Scissorhands…which was interesting.

Would I recommend Syberia 2?  Yes I would.  It’s roughly as good as the first 1 and is a continuation of the story for those who want to know what happened after last time.  If you became a fan of the series through the first 1, then you’ll be happy to know you’re not going to be disappointed with this 1, all while maintaining its charm and good points.

Art Style: *****

Graphics: **1/2 (****1/4 in 2002)

Gameplay Animation: *1/4

Cutscene animation: ****1/4

Gameplay: ****

Voice Acting: ***3/4

Characters: ****1/2

Story: ****1/2

Music: ****1/2

Overall: ***3/4 (2017) **** (2004)