Syberia takes a long time to complete. However, this is not due to being a long game. Instead, the game relies on padding to inflate the game length without adding any actual gameplay, which results in a sparse, barren journey through a beautiful game without anything much to do. It might’ve been an artistic choice, as that’s how I imagine Siberia to be, but it still makes for a pretty lousy game.
Everything in Syberia takes forever. Screen transitions often take 10 seconds of real time, not because the PC is weak but because there is no way to skip the meticulous “going up stairs” or “climbing down ladder” animations. They are well-made, but as the game involves a lot of backtracking, often forced, it might’ve been nice to be able to just skip to the next screen instead of seeing a young woman slowly ascend a staircase yet again.
The forced backtracking deserves a paragraph on its own. It is often necessary to talk to a person at one end of the playable area to randomly unlock something in the opposite end. There is no rhyme or reason to it - only after trying a code that doesn’t work does suddenly someone leave a door open, or only after talking to someone can you interact with something you knew you needed to interact with, before. The game railroads you completely, which again increases play time without adding any enjoyment.
The puzzles are almost non-existent. You use items only for their intended purpose, and about 80% of the puzzles are literally “use key on lock”. The game is filled with “automatons” and other sorts of mechanical devices. However, experimentation with these wondrous creations is actively discouraged by the protagonist - instead of letting you click buttons and flip levers to figure out what would happen, Kate just flatly states “this doesn’t seem to work” without any other feedback to the player. Often you discover you just need to find a missing part somewhere, use it on automaton, press button, puzzle solved.
The “that doesn’t seem to work” approach becomes even more problematic when you factor in the fact the game doesn’t allow examination of hotspots and they have no description. The cursor becomes highlighted, but you don’t really know whether it’s an exit or an object, and there’s no way to know what objects are except based on the graphics. Experimentation of any sort is simply non-existent.
Another padding method is the lack of a hotspot highlighter. Combined with multiple screens with absolutely nothing interactive in them, a lot of the play time is spent playing a game of “hotspot hunt” - not precisely pixel-hunting, but roughly the same amount of fun. After about an hour of playing I’ve started referring to a walk-through quite often, as it became apparent that whenever it’s not 100% obvious how to proceed, it means I’ve missed a hotspot or an area, and I really didn’t feel like spending a couple of minutes of real time trudging slowly between screens and sweeping my cursor around, looking for that telltale highlight.
To give an example just how bad the above issues are, I’m going to spoil a “puzzle”, if you can call it that: within a dense area, full with non-interactive stairs, ladders and crates, there is one particular ladder that’s not a hotspot. However, there is a small area on the ladder which IS a hotspot, which when clicked zooms on some old sign. If you remove the sign from the ladder, suddenly the ladder becomes a hotspot and you can climb it to a new area. Lesser minds might question this choice - might not it have been better to have the ladder as a hotspot and have Kate say “hey, I can’t climb this, the sign is in the way”? But look, the game is so full of whimsy and wonder! Automatons! Nice graphics! Surely only people who don’t appreciate these things care about such trivialities as “being able to figure out what impedes the heroine’s progress”.
Another example, for those who lauded how “realistic” Kate’s approach to obstacles is: early in the game, you need to find the Notary in an unfamiliar village. When I find myself in such a situation, I ask people “excuse me, where’s the Notary office?”. Not Kate. She has to walk through the village, click on doors eliciting the response “there’s no need to go down there” until you find the right one - which is not marked with a sign saying “Notary” or anything, though it IS distinct from the other doors in the village. This refusal to ask simple questions leads to many hurdles that simply would not exist in real life.
Oh, and at one point she (puzzle!) refuses to get her hands dirty and at another point (puzzle!) refuses to cross a 20cm puddle. And she’s afraid of birds apparently. And the birds never move. Total puzzle realism, not to mention the enjoyment derived from walking her through these challenges.
There, I think that’s all I had in my system.
Artificially padded, hotspot hunting, no puzzles to speak of. In case that’s not enough, it’s time to dissect the plot. Kate Walker is not a person. She has no personality of her own. She doesn’t express opinions, she doesn’t offer observations, she just reacts as blandly as possible. This is probably the only way to survive in her world, which is filled with caricatures, from her ridiculously micro-managing boss, who calls her more than once an hour to yell at her constantly, to the rectors of the university, who someone manage to hold their esteemed position despite having the mentality of toddlers. Every single character in the game has idiosyncrasies bordering on serious personality disorders, and they mostly exist just as ways to impede Kate’s progress.
The plot itself is basically Kate retracing the life and work of one noble retard - based on the ending I think she was supposed to be falling in love with his simple life and mechanical designs, but it’s hard to say as she never offers any commentary to suggest as such.
The game does some things right: the graphics are quite pretty, voice acting is okay and the Russian in the game is accurate instead of being gibberish. Gameplay-wise, you can’t die and you can’t get stuck, though the latter is forced using some awful, awful writing: “this train was designed to go with two specific objects in the trophy case, go fetch the objects which coincidentally you’re going to need later on”.
So, I give the game two stars: for pretty graphics, for technical stability (no crashes or other bugs, which is good because no autosave) and for no dead ends. But there is nothing beyond that - particularly, not a game.
Time Played: 10-20 hours
Difficulty: Very Easy