Some games have an uncanny ability to transport me to a different time. Not because they’re always brilliantly authored and have revolutionary game design, but because they evoke memories of times long gone. Times that I can no longer go back to, whether I wish to or not. The original Syberia was one such title I encountered after a long time, perhaps the only one that came closest to my experience playing The Longest Journey. With games such as Syberia, it doesn’t matter whether the writing is up to the mark, or the plot plods along in a logical fashion. For they are more than games – depending on when you play them in your life, they could feel like utter nonsense or if you’re lucky (or old) enough, a warm feeling in your chest that reminds you of a Sunday trip to Hind Supermarket and a bag of chips and biscuits lying on the dinner table as you look forward to an afternoon of gaming on the family desktop.
The World Before plucks the wonderfully evocative Syberia franchise right out of the past and serves it up to the modern gamer with much polish and shine (I’m going to pretend Syberia 3 doesn’t exist). The graphics have undergone an astonishing makeover that doubles as a showcase for what Unity is capable of these days. Facial animations and environments look gorgeous. The game’s score, as always, is distinctive and memorable. It accomplishes a brilliant feat which is the trademark of every exceptional soundtrack – conveying the essence of the art (which, in Syberia’s case, is undoubtedly its joy of exploration and curiosity) into a near-tangible feeling for the player to marvel at. The writing is (for the most part) leagues above the previous games, though at times it has the tendency to provide excessive exposition through dialogue which only serves to make the characters sound inauthentic.
Before we go any further, the question that comes with all sequels: do I need to know what happened in the previous games? For the best experience, yes. The appeal of The World Before is based on the fact that you’re familiar with these characters and interested in the next chapter of their adventures. Without knowing their backstory, you may still be able to enjoy this game, but it’s an entirely different feeling when you see an old friend brought back to life if you’ve played the previous titles versus when you haven’t.
A Grounded Adventure
The Syberia games have always been made unique by their distinctive brand of adventure tales, which often strayed into the realm of magical realism. While this made for a fun ride, it also stopped the player from taking things seriously. You wouldn’t expect Syberia to have commentary on fascism, for example. The puzzles also went out of their way to be convoluted, so much so that looking up a walkthrough would make you shake your head in a ‘now how was I supposed to guess that?’ way.
Thankfully, The World Before builds on what came before (hah), and addresses many of the complaints leveled at the previous games. The writing, as I mentioned before, is believable and engaging, with moments of light relief thrown in the mix to bring humour to an otherwise tense, tragic tale. The story portrays the Syberian parallel of the Holocaust (my biggest complaint with this would be the ridiculous name they chose for the Nazi stand-ins, the Brown Shadow), with rich lore that draws from real-life history books. This has been the most fleshed out world the team has created out of all the games so far and I loved it.
Far more importantly, the game shows Kate Walker at her most vulnerable. For the first time in the franchise, she is shown dealing with the aftermath of her choices. Setting off on an international adventure in the first three games meant missing out on the life of some loved ones and even losing others. The World Before dares to pose a question unthinkable of other Syberia games to ask: why does Kate Walker jump from one train to the other? And what is she really running to – or away from? This introspective journey is a surprising, mature direction for the series which is a welcome change of pace.
What pleased me the most was the sheer number of features updated in this game since the last disastrous outing that shall not be discussed further. European characters no longer talk in perfect American accents (although with some characters it could be argued that they overdid the accents this time around), and the extensive use of German in notes and the environments of Vaghen felt fitting, which was something I never encountered in the previous titles. The game mechanics have also undergone a major overhaul – clunky keyboard controls are no longer supported (mouse-only title, sorry folks), and the cursor thankfully does not disappear during interactive puzzles. A new ‘hint’ feature has been added for when you get stuck, which saved me the guilt that comes from peeking at a walkthrough. There is also a diary available which has a private investigator’s notes on Kate’s journey as he attempts to track her down. However, it served little purpose other than simply retelling the events of The World Before as they happened.
The puzzles themselves have been simplified and were, in my opinion, quite straightforward compared to the earlier entries in the franchise. All they asked of the player was common sense and a willingness to explore. At times, when I found myself lost on what to do, simply toying around with the mechanism for a few minutes or walking to the other rooms in the area yielded an answer.
While this may be a point of consternation for those who enjoyed the challenge of a tough puzzle, it allows for the focus to remain on the story rather than a puzzle taking up too much game time. In the case of The World Before, this is a good thing because story matters more than it ever has before.
Full of charm, heart and enduring characters, this adventure is a delight for fans of the series and may just inspire newcomers to discover the older entries. With simple puzzles and a complicated, if somewhat predictable, tale spanning multiple locations and time periods, this is a must-play for those familiar with Kate Walker’s exploits.
In a sense, The World Before is Syberia’s coming of age tale, as it sheds itself of its carefree, easygoing adventures and takes on a mature tone while honouring the legacy of the games that made its present success possible. The perfect swan song for its late creator Benoît Sokal, who passed away during production, this game shall continue to evoke memories of times gone by in those who play it. And that’s a legacy few of us can lay claim to.
Thank you for joining us at Gamer’s Waypoint! Thoughts on the game? Or maybe you just want to vent about Syberia 3? We get it. Let us know in the comments below!
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