Adventure games don’t get much stranger than the Syberia series. Born from the early 2000s point and click gold rush that swept Europe, it proffered a uniquely bizarre plot matched only by its eccentric cast of characters and menagerie of wonderful creatures. Despite being a fairly typical voyage into the unknown, Kate Walker’s journey was still somehow compelling. Compelling enough to earn a sequel and now, in 2017, the closing part in a trilogy.
Picking up where the previous game left us in its rather abrupt finale, Kate Walker almost succumbs to the frozen wilderness, luckily being rescued by the nomadic Youkol tribe. Eventually coming to, she finds herself in a prison-like hospital alongside Kurk, the Youkol’s scout. Having wrapped up her previous quest, she agrees to help the tribe in their pilgrimage to Syberia – a journey that will take her through a series of strange events and locales.
Where Syberia 3 impresses most is in its hauntingly cavernous environments, depicting an eerie mosaic of snow swept hinterlands and rundown industrial facilities. There’s a wonderful contrast at play throughout, juxtaposing myth and spiritualism against the crumbling carcass of the Soviet Union. Somehow, using a palette of washed out greys and muddy browns, the art team have created a setting that is equal parts wondrous and depressing.
Having been missing in action since 2004, Syberia was left on the sidelines as the point and click adventure genre underwent somewhat of a mini renaissance. Championed by Telltale Games, they became more streamlined in a way, focusing more on narrative depth and flow as opposed to clever puzzle solving. While Microids has clearly been taking notes, Syberia 3 hasn’t adapted well to these sweeping trends.
Interactions between characters are generally more engaging and cinematic with fully animated cutscenes and the occasional choice in how Kate responds in conversations. and the way players go about solving certain puzzles also has a greater sense of interactivity that goes beyond simply clicking on different points of interest. It may sound trivial, but forcing players to make certain gestures with the mouse or controller’s analogue stick make the puzzles that little bit more immersive, as if you’re actually fiddling with the parts of an actual machine.
Elsewhere, however, Syberia 3 continues the exhausting trends of its forebears. Quite often the game will need you to find certain objects strewn about the environment. These objects are usually well hidden and fairly inconspicuous unless you know exactly what you’re looking for. Having a large play area and some tricky camera angles doesn’t exactly help, either. Backtracking is another pressing issue, and one that highlights some poor level design. Certain key objects will only appear in the environment once a certain story event has been triggered, creating an uneasy sense of linearity.
One of the things I love most about early adventure games (including the original Syberia) is stumbling upon items, only to discover their purpose as the game unfolds. Syberia 3 lacks that same essence of discovery, becoming somewhat of a scavenger hunt at times as players yo-yo between areas they’ve already spent minutes searching.
Having made the transition to full 3D with Unity, Syberia 3 suffers from a litany of performance issues, at least on consoles. Framerate dips are pretty much constant regardless of what’s happening on-screen, character animations also have a tendency to bug out and lip syncing is pretty bad. In one particular sequence, I also found a recurring game-breaking glitch and level geometry that simply wouldn’t load.
The performance of Syberia 3’s voice cast can also be called into question. While Sharon Mann does a fine job reprising her role as Kate Walker, many of the side characters are poorly voiced in what seems to be a very small group of voice actors.
Flawed and often out of touch, Syberia 3 only serves a dedicated clutch of fans that have spent the past decade looking for closure to a beloved series. To anyone else, it will come across as a bizarre and mostly impenetrable relic that feels out of place among 2017’s slate of releases.
Version tested: PlayStation 4