Syberia 3 And Continuing An Adventuring Classic After 13 Years

Coming out thirteen years after the release of the second game, it’s safe to say that Syberia 3 is long, long overdue for those who want a true sense of closure for the series. That it’s actually happening is kind of remarkable, but it’s a sign of the times, with the recent resurgence of point & click adventure games, both in the more traditional sense and in the more narrative driven approach of Telltale’s adventures. Within that, Syberia 3 is an interesting game to consider, both beholden to its past, but also having to exist in the modern day.

“For us, what we say a lot is that Syberia 1 and 2 is one whole episode. They work together, it’s one objective, one journey, but with 3 it’s a new journey,” explained Lucas Lagravette, co-writer and game designer on Syberia 3. “You don’t need that much knowledge of the two previous ones.

“Having played them is better, because you have more understanding of who Oscar is, who the Youkol are, and stuff like that, but most of the main information is given to you at the beginning of the game. The sequence where you talk to the shrink is a reminder of what you’ve done […] It’s a trick, because if you decide to lie to him in your answers, he will tell you the truth.”

The story picks up with Kate Walker being discovered comatose in a snow drift, and taken by the Youkol tribe that found her to a hospital near the city of Valsembor in Russia to recuperate. It very quickly transpires that this hospital doesn’t necessarily have her best intentions at heart, with the matron conspiring with a man in an eyepatch to keep her locked away, as the opening cutscene attempts to briskly bring players up to speed.

This opening scene in the hospital also serves to introduce you to the game’s particular brand of adventure game puzzling. There’s a certain physical presence to some of the puzzles, such as having to unscrew an electrical switch box and then manipulate wires, batteries and the front panel in a manual and analogue fashion. Though I played on PC with a mouse and keyboard, it’s something that ought to work well on a gamepad, as well.

The familiar trope of an in-game inventory is also present, but Microïds have taken an interesting approach to try and avoid the all to familiar feeling of puzzles revolving around obscure in-inventory combinations. Instead, combining items can only happen in set positions, such as creating a flaming torch to solve a puzzle only being possible at a Youkol workbench once you have all the items you require and once the Youkol smith has wandered off.

“In Syberia 3, we decided to not have the player associating or comparing items inside the inventory,” Lucas said. “What we decided was to offer the player the ability when they need it and do so within a specific puzzle […] We don’t have a generic system of crafting.”

It’s an interesting decision, but doesn’t necessarily dispel the moments that can leave you feeling hopelessly lost as for what to do. With puzzles that will force you to explore every area to the maximum, spotting things that have changed in the scene, such as two characters that have moved to different places, or simply revisit characters that you think might be able to help you. Though there’s no bespoke hints system, although you might be able to glean a clue here and there from examining items in your inventory, turning their 3D models around on the screen to see if there are any points of interest.

For the purists, you’ll be able to select a higher difficulty, which removes things like the objective display, certain dialogue notifications, and won’t automatically use the correct item with a button press, forcing you to open up the inventory and pick items manually and making you experiment a bit more. Alternatively, if you want to find a happy middle ground between the two, you can delve in and create a custom difficulty level to suit your tastes.

As someone who never played the first two games, the world is quite effectively established. It’s a rendition of Earth that’s not too unlike our own, but has taken a number of technological turns that wouldn’t be out of place in a Jules Verne novel – Around the World in 80 Days springs to mind in particular. There’s the fantastical alongside the technological, the old alongside the new, but the parallels to our own world aren’t too far from the surface. This is a version of Russia that had its own version of the Chernobyl catastrophe, for example, albeit in a fictional city and taking a rather unique approach to resolving the crisis.

There’s an interesting clash between modernity and tradition throughout, and in particular between the so-called civilised world and the more nomadic lifestyle of the short and stocky Youkol, equal parts following and guiding their Snow Ostriches across Siberia to their traditional breeding grounds. With the Youkol living in harmony with these creatures, it only makes sense to them to honour and preserve their own way of life instead of settling down in cities and towns, but for whatever reasons, that’s being viewed with mistrust and the subject of both petty and grand deception.

Lucas said, “Those themes are really important for Benoït Sokal, who wrote the first version of this story. He often says that for him Syberia is a bit about those kinds of clashes in Europe of the 20th century. You had the transition between mechanism and steam, and electricity and computers. For him, this clash is what’s really interesting.”

Importantly for fans of the series, Microïds aren’t throwing out the baby with the bath water. In fact, they’re very much trying to keep a hold of the classic feel of their game, but modernising their approach in a number of ways at the same time.

“[The new game engine] was a big change,” Lucas said. “For me, I began in 2013, and at this point Telltale was everywhere and you also had Dreamfall Chapters: The Longest Journey – The Longest Journey has always been a kind of parallel series, because they were released at around the same time.

“We had those benchmarks, with Telltale putting everything on writing and editing, but not much gameplay, and The Longest Journey with a free camera, looking like a third person shooter almost, but still having adventure set up. So for us, we went, ‘No, we are going to do our own stuff.’ 3D is for us the main change that gives everything. You have those cutscenes, you can have dynamic puzzles, dynamic music, choices during dialogue. The technical gap was actually the gameplay gap.”

It all adds up to a game that feels very much in the vein of the classics of the genre, keeping that same spirit and feel, even as it’s brought up to date in a number of other ways.

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1 Comment

  1. Worth pointing out that Syberia 2 is currently free for PC on Origin. Downloaded it but I haven’t tried it yet.

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