Tag Archives: Kate Walker

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

Syberia (2002) Video Game Review

 

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In April 2017 (as of this review), after 13 years of waiting and 8 years of development hell, fans of the series finally get the third chapter to this story, and to celebrate 15 years since the release of the first chapter of the series on PC, I’ll be reviewing Syberia.

Created by Belgian comic book artist Benoit Sokal, Our story is set in the early months of 2002 and revolves around a young woman named Kate Walker.  Kate is a Lawyer from New York who is on a business trip to Valadilene, a remote village in the French Alps that’s best known for its Spring-Automaton Factory (as well as the frequent use of Automatons in the everyday life of the residents).  On the day that Kate arrives, the funeral of Anna Voralberg, the owner of the Automaton factory, was taking place.  As of her demise, a Toy Factory in America wants to buy the Voralberg business, which is why Kate is there – to try and get a signature, go home to her fiancé, Dan, and get a good pay day out of it.  However…not all is as it seemed.  It is then revealed in one of Anna’s last confessions that her younger brother, Hans Voralberg, who supposedly died decades ago, is in fact alive, well and far away, and is officially the sole heir of the factory.  Now the goal has gotten enormous – Kate must find Hans – a man whose father was ashamed of because of mental disability (from a fall that gave him a permanent mental outlook of a 12 year old)…but is also the man who invented incredible automatons everywhere he went and expressed his fetish for Mammoths on top of that.  This leads to Kate boarding what was Anna’s Automaton train (which Hans invented), and along with the Automaton Train Engineer, Oscar (Also a Hans invention), she travels east, possibly in the direction of Siberia, and stops along the way when she has to wind the train up again and gather clues of his whereabouts.

Now to discuss the various bits and pieces:

First of all, the Art Style of Syberia, and the imagination that went into it, is by far the show stealer of the entire game!  I absolutely adore this game’s world and its visuals.  Consider this; Steam Punk mixed with Art Nouveau!  It’s like a match made in heaven, and I love it!  I love the fancy, curved building styles, I love the University that has Dinosaur and Ice Age displays in their halls and a full blown Botanic garden as part of the train station.  I love the creepiness of the antagonist figure’s lair, as you can sense both the madness and loneliness of this individual.  I love the Spa Resort and its intense isolation…There isn’t a visually dull moment in this entire game

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Look at that office!

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And this entrance!

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And these houses!

The Graphics were good for their day, with Kate and Oscar being the best looking character sprites.  But today we see just how rough around the edges it is.  The characters still have their visual quirks present, but at time you’ll be reminded of Sprites that came out during the later PS1 period, more specifically, Final Fantasy VIII comes to mind in terms of occasional visual quality.  When compared to Deadly Premonition, at times, you might even suggest that they are on par in places…and those are 2 games that came out 8 years apart.

The Animation can be divided into 2 parts, the cutscenes and the in-game; the cutscene animation was really good for what was possible in 2002, and while it looks like a PS1 cutscene today, the actual visuals it presents are still mesmerising.  The gameplay animation on the other hand left a lot to be desired and is incredibly clunky, especially on the console version.  I wouldn’t call it laziness, it’s simply a lesser emphasis or a buffering transition, much like the charming but choppy Sherlock Holmes games that frogware are still making.

The Gameplay follows the formula of the Broken Sword series, and its quality sometimes depends on what platform you’re using.  As a point and click adventure game on the PC/Mac, it’s a pleasure.  But on a console level, you’ll find yourself running into a lot of invisible walls and tread-milling against furniture.  On top of this, I’ve experienced an interesting difficulty spike – 1 were out of the 4 areas you explore, the second 1 is by far the most difficult because the area comes across as so vast and you’re backtracking so much between different parts of the level.  But at the same time, it’s possible that by levels 3 and 4, the learning curve levels out a bit as you get good at the game and the unusual demands of some characters become a normal part of progress.

The Voice Acting is 2 or 3 parts good and 1 part bad.  Kate Walker, Oscar, the phone call characters, and some of the more memorable characters were well done.  The only complaint that could be made was the transitioning of the dialogue.  Other than that, it was great.  The worst voice acting?  Definitely the NPCs in the Barrockstadt.  The best is Kate herself.

The Characters could come straight out of a Jean Pierre Jeunet, Terry Gilliam or Wes Anderson film.  They’re incredibly quirky and “delightfully french”…or maybe delightfully Belgian if we’re treating Sokal like he’s Hercule Poirot.  Kate herself is a likeable character, and as the story progresses she becomes more and more sarcastic and accepting of the absurdity of her adventure.  Oscar has his C3PO moments, and part of the humour between him and Kate comes from him indicating that he isn’t designed for anything other than what he’s designed to do..and has moments of double standards.  Their relationship is very like Captain Kirk and Spock in Star Trek, which adds a nice touch.  It’s also intriguing how Kate grows while so far away from home.  Just by the phone calls from her fiancé, her co-worker, her boss and her mother, you learn a lot about her – and as it all progresses, you notice the dilemma she’s experiencing.  This 1 job is costing her home life, her relationships, and she might get fired, and at the same time she is experiencing an adventure that she didn’t think would be possible when she arrived in France…it’s pretty well executed.

The Story is that of the quest – Kate is searching for Hans after finding out that he’s alive, and is doing everything she can to finish her job (her skills as a lawyer make her a strong persuader and negotiator), which also leads her on a journey of personal discovery and development.  Throughout the trip, she experiences sacrifice – mostly in the form of her home life back in New York.  It brings up the question of whether you should take the personal decisions and accept the risks, or go through the motions of what others expect you to do (in this case, all the time).

The Music is wonderful, and memorable, and capable of setting the scene while having a whimsical aura about it.  I’m even listening to it now as I write this.

Would I recommend Syberia?…Yup!  It has its flaws, and it has aged in several different areas.  But there are other areas that make for a timeless experience, and since it’s set in 2002, we can argue that it’s more of a period piece that mixes realism with surrealism.  Highly recommended if you want something different, and also recommended if you want a very good adventure game.  Syberia 2 is proving to be as interesting and fun, so you’ll hear more about that soon.  So, if you have a PC, PS3, Xbox 360, PS2, Xbox, Mac or Nintendo DS…consider a look.

Art Style: *****

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

Gameplay Animation: *1/2

Cutscene animation: ****

Gameplay: ****

Voice Acting: ****

Characters: ****1/2

Story: ****1/2

Music: ****1/2

Overall: ***3/4 (2017) **** (2002)