It’s hard to believe that the adventures of American Lawyer turned European investigator Kate Walker have been stagnant since the release of Syberia 3’s predecessor in 2004.
It’s even harder to believe that with her latest outing, what should have been a rollicking re-introduction to the adventure game genre is anything but due to severe technical glitches and framerate hiccups.
When I previewed an early build of the game in March, I by and large expressed my excitement for the Syberia franchise’s return. Though I had never played entries one or two, it was refreshing to have an upcoming adventure game cut from the same point-and-click cloth as the many Telltale games that placed emphasis on “narrative and mystery rather than gameplay or mechanics”. And while the former two factors are prominent, it’s the latter two that hold Syberia 3 back from greatness.
As Kate, your journey begins soon after washing up on shore after finding yourself adrift from the abandoned mythological island of Syberia. It’s the kind of blank slate opening that works well for what I have to assume will be many newcomers to the series (myself included). Upon eventually being rescued and waking up in an institute you’d expect to see in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, it isn’t long before your objective is given to you and the mystery of the Youkal tribe starts to unravel. Kate is the kind of headstrong female character I yearn to play as in this kind of game, but once immediately being handed control of her, things start to fall to pieces at a quick pace.
Simply put, the PS4 version of Syberia 3 is poorly optimised. What should typically run smooth at a steady frame rate frequently suffers from constant stutters and audio stumbles, resulting in an experience that continually failed to engross me in the game’s genuinely intriguing narrative. Such technical issues are made all the more surprising when you consider that graphically, Syberia 3 is by no means testing the full power of the platforms its releasing on. Normally I’d separate technical hiccups from the core of the base game, but when they’re intertwined in such a “make or break” fashion that affects the overall experience, it’s simply impossible to ignore both from a critical or enjoyment perspective.
Simply walking from one side of the environment to the other will see Kate attempt her very own rendition of the robot in glorious slow-motion, while character dialogue either will clip out momentarily or the subtitles won’t match up. Admittedly, the latter is likely a localisation error that if taken on its own wouldn’t break the game, but it’s this overall lack of polish that makes what should at least be a good and engaging adventure game into one that makes a very bad impression – not just initially but throughout as a result.
I can’t help but feel that Microids’ decision to render Syberia 3’s world fully in 3D (a first for the series) hasn’t helped these issues, especially when considering that this game would be a case for art style over graphical power. Other technical issues on the seemingly unending list include consistent lip-syncing errors and intermittent slow-down when the inventory menu is accessed. With such a lengthy development period problems like these are hard to forgive, and it genuinely is a shame considering that the story overall can be very enthralling.
So, technical difficulties aside, what have we got? Well in general, a pretty decent point-and-click adventure narrative with an eclectic cast of characters that each exude charm and personality. From the very first Youkal tribe member you see upon opening your eyes to the private detective who finds himself constantly on Kate’s tale making for a quite intriguing sub-plot, dialogue with others is always worth seeking out. In typical adventure game fashion, Kate can choose to respond in any one of up to four pre-packaged retorts, letting you inform the overall story of escorting the Youkals to a seasonal migration if not directly change it.
The game features two distinct gameplay difficulties selectable at the very beginning of the game, hiding away certain hints and clues that would normally appear when undertaking any one of Syberia 3’s approachable and inventive puzzles. At one point you might be required to fake your way past a police officer to enter the next section, while other times will see Kate needing to be a little more inventive. An underground section in which bats appear for example can only be resolved when venturing above the surface. All of the game’s obstacles/puzzles have been well thought out and feel fair if nothing else, which is appreciated considering how easy it can be for a game like this to feel obtuse.
In any way you look at it, the story of Syberia 3 cannot be described as anything other than heart-breaking. Not only for the player or the characters themselves – if ever they were capable of realising the technical mess they were a part of – but for developer Microids. So long have they been working on this game with an ambitious attitude hoping to satisfy long-time Syberia fans after an excruciating 13 year wait. There is a great adventure game here just begging to be broken out, however for now as Syberia 3 stands, Kate Walker’s story is one best left washed ashore.