Young gamers these days won’t ever know the joy that the adventure genre gave players in the 90s and early 2000s. Series such as Broken Sword and the Monkey Island games had a profound impact on the genre and we’re still seeing the ripple effect today. Syberia is another series that made a name for itself in the early 2000s thanks to creator Bênoit Sokal’s incredibly charming world and likeable protagonist Kate Walker. Sadly, Sokal passed away last year. However, his legacy will live on for years in his works, with the series’ latest entry Syberia: The World Before a reminder of just how good this franchise can be after the disappointing Syberia 3 revived the series after a 13-year hiatus in 2017.
Syberia: The World Before is set primarily in 2005 after the events of Syberia 3 but also across multiple timelines. Players will again take control of Kate Walker, who finds herself working in Russian salt mines after being captured by the militia at the end of Syberia 3. After learning about the death of her mother Kate attempts to escape and by mere happenstance stumbles upon a painting of Dana Roze, a young woman whose resemblance to Kate is uncanny. From here, Kate makes it her mission to find out about the young woman and if there is any connection between the two. It’s a loose setup to the adventure that unfolds over the next 15 or so hours, but in some crazy Syberian way it works.
Kate Walker returns
Where The World Before differs from previous Syberia games is that players will also control Dana Roze, beginning with her formative years as a budding piano virtuoso in the 1930s, and then the years that follow. Unlike previous Syberia titles, there’s a darker, more grim tone to the narrative, with Dana’s life impacted by the events of the Second World War and the fascist group known as the Brown Shadow, better known throughout the annals of history as the Nazis. I understand why they avoided using the Nazis and their symbology given the game’s fictional setting, however plenty of games have used the Nazis in alternate realities, and a little authenticity here could have emphasised this side of the narrative more than an army that calls themselves the Brown Shadow.
It may stray from the usual path of a Syberia game, where the story’s focus is usually on Kate’s adventures exploring the mythical and ingenuity of the world, but the narrative’s more personal and heartfelt approach makes for compelling playing, even if some of the story beats and twists don’t quite hit the mark. Nevertheless, thanks to some solid voice acting and decent writing both Kate and Dana are excellent characters, and the way their journeys weave together along with the characters they meet and the masterfully composed soundtrack by Inon Zur helps carry the story even when it does slip up. As to be expected, the quality voice acting and writing varies, but there’s nothing overly bad about it. If there’s one narrative disappointment it’s that once again players are left with a cliffhanger finish, and given Sokal’s passing, there’s no guarantee we’ll get closure.
Dana Roze and Vaghen in 1937
The bulk of the game is set in the fictional European city of Vaghen and its surroundings, and as usual, the world that Bênoit Sokal has created is full of charm and intrigue. Vaghen, once buoyed by its famed musical academy, was a haven for tourists coming to the country of Ostherthal. The city may have seen better days but it’s aged with grace thanks to its automaton attractions, automaton-powered tram network and quaint European vibe. Despite all the gorgeous vistas, the game does look rough in some areas, especially when textures are up close.
While Syberia: The World Before takes a modern 3D approach to the adventure genre, it’s still got the beating heart of point-and-click classics. Players can use a controller or a mouse to control Kate, and whatever method you choose you’ll still have to interact with items within your area to push forward the narrative. Manoeuvring throughout the world can be awkward at times though, with the game’s controls a little janky and the camera occasionally fighting with you, however exploring your surroundings and chatting with the denizens will uncover more information regarding Vaghen’s history, so it’s worthwhile persisting.
Puzzles and adventure games go together like Syberia and automatons, however those hoping for some brain busters will be disappointed as most of the puzzles here are fairly tame, with only one stopping me in my tracks briefly. That’s not to say that they aren’t cleverly designed, because they are, and in classic Syberia style the majority of the puzzles task you with fixing or operating some form of machinery. The biggest addition to the puzzles is that every now and again you’ll need to switch between Kate and Dana to find the solution. For example, one puzzle required Kate to find a hidden key and flicking back to Dana’s timeline allowed players to discover where the key was located, while another tasked me with repairing an automaton orchestra using both timelines. Even though I am a sucker for a good puzzle, I enjoyed how the puzzles didn’t bog the game down.
Kate Walker’s chasing waterfalls
Fans of the Syberia series and adventure games in general will find a lot to like about Syberia: The World Before. Its heartfelt narrative allows for a much rawer Kate Walker and Dana Roze, the puzzle design is simple and clever and the city of Vaghen is full of intrigue and charm. The team at Microids should be proud of the send-off they’ve helped create for Bênoit Sokal.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher
- Microids Studio Paris
- March 19, 2022