Back in 2009 – some eight years ago – French developer Microïds announced that they were working on pulling their popular graphical adventure series Syberia into a real-time 3D world and that the new game – Syberia 3 – was set to launch in 2010 for PlayStation 3 and PC. After being stuck in what appears to have been some sort of contractual and development hell, Benoît Sokal’s game has finally staggered across the finish line here in 2017.
It was always going to be a bit of a challenge to bring Sokal’s beautiful artwork into the 3D space, but it would have been hard to imagine how it could have been carried off any worse than this. Lead character Kate Walker shuffles unconvincingly through a game engine that constantly wheezes and groans as if it was running on a system that doesn’t have the power to keep up with it.
That clearly isn’t the case though, with the flat, uninspired, dated, and occasionally ugly game world looking like it would have been relatively easy to get running on the original target platform back in the last generation. Unfortunately, the development team don’t appear to have kept up with the times. There’s barely a single second where Syberia 3 runs at the framerate that it intends to. Even the title screen – just the static game logo over a snow and fog background – jumps and stutters.
But Syberia 3 doesn’t fail just because the game’s technical performance isn’t up to scratch. Right off the bat, the writer throws the middle finger up to new players by failing to provide any sort of recap or lead-in, instead opting to assume that everyone has already played and completed the first two games in the series. In some ways, that adds a little bit of mystery and interest to the story which is a long and winding mess of tales, involving some which never even come close to resolving themselves, mixed in with a couple of better realized efforts.
Though in deference to the writing team, I should state that the reason the story feels overly long is mainly because of the amount of poorly executed gameplay that Syberia 3 delivers. Everything takes place in a very Resident Evil-like fashion, with the game jumping from camera to camera as you move outside of the boundaries of each one’s field of vision. This approach feels dated but could still work now, was it not for the fact that this is an adventure game that likes to hide clues and objects in places that you’re going to have to tough time seeing from fifty metres away. You can waste ages wandering around, looking for an item that you need to solve a puzzle and not be able to locate it, only to find that you walked past it a dozen times because it was behind something and you don’t have x-ray vision.
It doesn’t help that the lead character has such an horrendous time of navigating the world even when you can see what you’re trying to do. Kate has the turning circle of a small continent and takes far too long to get up to her top walking speed, which is slow as molasses and removes any sense of urgency from the slightly more important tasks. Even when she is plodding along at full tilt, there’s a good chance that she’ll have trouble negotiating even the simplest of obstacles.
Early on, a small footbridge shows the limitation of the game’s animations, as she glitches and jumps between her standard walking animation and her “climbing up three simple steps really awkwardly” one and back again. While we’re talking about breaks and glitches, sometimes when the camera view switches, the game decides that you’d like to stare at Kate’s feet, rather than let you actually see what you’re doing. You can manually adjust the view (sometimes) but when an otherwise fixed camera that can only pan about ten degrees in any direction is unable to focus on the player in a static scene, that says quite a lot.
Sometimes the dialogue is cut off, repeated, factually incorrect (facts are usually pretty important in an adventure game) or entirely different to the subtitles. The game was designed to be voiced in French of course, so the lip-syncing when playing in English is obviously and understandably all over the place. That can be ignored – though it will bother some – but the English-language acting performance of most characters is atrocious at best. From the lead character’s breathy and constantly overstated delivery where she’s surprised by apparently everything that ever happens, right down to even the single lines panickingly raced out by the smallest bit-part NPCs, the vocal performances are consistent in their mediocrity.
If there’s one high point in Syberia 3, it would be the puzzles. Some of the challenges that you’re asked to overcome are real thinkers and often involve a limited amount of manual control, as opposed to just being straight point and click tests. They’re not all winners and – much as with the rest of the game – some are buggy to the point of frustration, but there are some real gems to be found. There are also some interesting options in the menu that allow you to make the game more or less challenging depending on your preference, such as the ability to hide selectable points in the game that relate to items in your inventory.
As an example, the first puzzle in the game’s opening scene involves unscrewing a wall plate with a knife. With the highlighting turned off, you don’t know that you can select the screw until you open your inventory and select the knife. It might sound like insanity on paper, but it means that there’s extra thinking to be done with the more complex puzzles and tasks that feature later on, since there’s less to point you directly toward the thing that you have to do.
For players who like to use their grey matter, the puzzles would almost be reward enough in even a mediocre game, but they do very little for an awful one. Slower-paced adventure games with great stories that are well told will always be welcomed with open arms, but Syberia 3’s dated visuals and diabolical technical failings don’t mix well with its almost static speed and sub-standard tales. Without a doubt, your money would be better spent on either of the first two games.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version, which we were provided with.
Syberia 3 has been stuck in development hell for seven years, and the final product is a technical shamble that delivers next to no enjoyment, playing as if it needed to be there for three times as long.