by Joe Matar1
Eat, Prey, Jog
Originally released in early 2002, Syberia was a point-and-click adventure well-received by gamers and critics alike, probably because the genre had grown so stagnant that “basically competent” was misperceived as “wildly imaginative.” Now, it’s on the Android with its basic competency mostly intact. But with adventure games now plentiful on phones, it doesn’t stand out. Syberia is boring, simplistic, and – oh yeah – boring.
Syberia follows Kate Walker, a lawyer who’s been flown to the European boonies to sort out the acquisition of the Voralberg Toy Company for her clients, another toy company. Unfortunately, the owner of Voralberg Toys, Anna Voralberg, up and dies. The company now belongs to her brother, Hans, so Kate takes off on an alleged adventure to find him and close the deal.
The game controls like most third-person adventure games. You click, or rather tap, to move Kate or have her interact with stuff. It’s actually simpler than many adventure games as there isn’t even a dedicated button for examining things. Depending on the context, Kate automatically talks to, picks up, or manipulates whatever you’ve tapped on. You can also double-tap to make her jog, a function the game doesn’t have the decency to inform you of, but one that you’ll use a lot.
A big part of what makes Syberia so relentlessly dull is that there is nothing to do at most locations; they’re just connections to other locations. Most of your time is spent watching Kate jog. And she doesn’t jog fluidly from place to place. Instead she comes skidding to a stop, after which there’s a pause for the next screen to load, which soon becomes arduous.
Puzzles are designed to be pseudo-realistic, which means oftentimes you’ll know what you need; it’s just a matter of finding it. The Voralberg empire runs on wind-up contraptions so you generally need to locate winding keys to activate them. Then you’ll have to do an inset puzzle, flipping switches and pressing buttons to get everything running. Other puzzles are of the conversational variety: you have to talk to people until they give you necessary info, which means reading through pages of scrolling text as characters drone on and on.
Syberia is hardly brain-rending, but it does throw the occasional curveball. There are semi-weird puzzles like having to melt some hardened honey by dipping it in a hot tub. Some don’t fit the realistic-ish vibe at all, like having to go through a circuitous sequence of events just to get some berries to feed to some birds blocking your access to a ladder. Can’t Kate just − I don’t know − shout at them? One puzzle that expects way too much of the player is when you’re meant to recognize someone’s name in a sprawling document when it was previously only mentioned once in passing.
The audio is one of the brighter spots… sort of. The voice acting is professional-sounding but the writing is suspect. A posh-voiced hotel clerk randomly uses working class slang. Kate’s American voice actress is obviously working from a British-English script as she’ll say things are “dodgy” or “really not on.” The music is pleasing, orchestral stuff, but there are only a few short tracks that pipe in at specific moments. Otherwise it’s just ambient sound, which is negligible at best.
The clockwork world is charming and the pre-rendered environments are detailed, but everything feels dead. Background animation is sparse, making it obvious that characters are 3D models superimposed on static 2D images. In an odd design move, hotspots showing which objects are interactable are always on, with no option to shut them off. Although useful, they sometimes clutter up the screen. Similarly, subtitles can never be shut off either, though they’re not available at all for cut scenes, which feels like a lazy oversight.
Also strange is the inability to save anytime. You’re at the mercy of autosaving, which is stupidly tied to location rather than action. Completing a big puzzle won’t save the game, but walking out of a specific room and back in will. It’s up to the game which rooms trigger a save, so sometimes you’ll have to jog through multiple screens just to reach a save point.
Syberia is also a little buggy. It crashed on me twice and in two other cases an incredible phenomenon occurred in which the entire screen suddenly squished inwards. After a time, it reverted itself, but what a ride! Control-wise, tapping to exit a screen won’t always initially work and you’ll have to reposition Kate properly for the next screen to load. Even better, Kate will sometimes jog to a screen exit only to randomly reappear back at the entrance, thus increasing playtime!
The puzzles aren’t challenging, the dialogue is boring, and the only real action is jogging but Syberia’s true focus is the story: a story of growth. Kate Walker is someone who, back home, is trapped in a soulless job and exclusively superficial relationships, something you’re reminded of by the constant cell phone calls she receives from intolerable, yammering jerks. As the game progresses, Kate loses sight of her initial lawyering goals and exposits to her friends and family that she now wants to find Hans Voralberg “for me.” She explains how she feels like a brand new person now that she’s had a taste of adventure. But last I checked she just went for an extended jog.
Summary: An essentially competent point-and-click game that’s sort of pretty and sporadically engaging, but there are plenty of other adventure games available on Android with far more acceptable boredom-to-fun ratios. Plus, bugs and a dumb save system make this port markedly worse than the original.