After boarding a multiple trains and taking a good 3-4 hours to reach my destination, I arrived upon the legendary lands of Bristol - a good 300 miles from my home town on the outskirts of Manchester. There was a good reason, of course. The chance for some hands-on time with game that has successfully added a 3 to its title without falling off the face of the planet. Just barely. It’s Syberia III.
I say just barely because Syberia III was originally announced back in 2009 with a 2010 release date - 6 years after its predecessor. Pull out your 2016-model smartphone and you’ll notice that it’s now 2017 - a far cry from Syberia III’s initial 2010 release date.
Following a strict hands-off demonstration of one of Kate Walker’s later adventures in the story now set to release in late April, I was given a good 45-60 minute hands-on session with the beginning of the game. For those who’ve taken the time to watch Kate Walker struggle with a big red button and be strapped to a chair in a mental institution already, I was to put her through that ordeal once more.
A brief cinematic is all that separated me from controlling Kate Walker - our long-serving former New York attorney - through her short stay on the ward. Not a horrible place by any stretch of the imagination, it wasn’t one that we’d recommend keeping Aunt Judy in after her episode with the eternal moth infestation in the couch fabric. Not unless she just really gets on your nerves, anyway.
Taking place almost directly after the events of Syberia II, the short-legged Youkols find our heroine out cold - quite literally - and escort her d into what they likely assumed to be a warm bed and a caring environment for her to get better with Kurt, their young leader, taking residence on account of his missing leg.
Kate wakes from her slumber to find herself in the hospital of questionable sanity - a name we just made up - with Kurt not far off in the distance. I may have made it sound like a terrifying long intro, but you gain control of the sleuth almost immediately - sans a few more tutorials we were promised would be in the retail version.
Strolling around the bedsit has far more downs than ups. Stretching your legs might be all Kate would want to do at this point, but it soon becomes apparent that she’s not exactly free to leave at the tip of a hat. With the door to the outside not budging, you use your downtime to bounce multiple questions at Kurt as he lays bed-ridden with the promise of a prosthetic leg that may never arrive. Conversation isn’t entirely one-way, however, with a familiar dialogue wheel cropping up to inject your agenda between character’s feeding you their lines. Kurt, the young man that he is, seems to have put his full trust into some rather unorthodox treatments at the facility. Kate isn’t having it.
Choices are handled through the controllers face buttons with certain characters, conversations and interactions differing slightly depending on your choice. With Kurt, however, it’s more a case of just getting to know him, his story and picking his brains for any scraps of information pertaining to why you’re holed up there alongside him. It’s here where I noticed some instances of the subtitles not quite lining up to the dialogue being spouted from Kurt’s mouth - and he wouldn’t be the only one to run his tongue throughout the demo. While not entirely a problem in its own right, it does represent a bit of a disconnect between what the player might read and what they’ll eventually hear. A lot of people do both when it’s automatically presented that way.
After a brief introduction with Kurt and his unusually gravely tone, Kate I instructed to see Dr. Olga if she wants to walk out of the clinic. Kurt, however, had no choice but to say behind. He’s still betting on that leg, after all.
But the door won’t budge. The clinic wouldn’t just let any old mental patient walk freely around the yard. Her knock didn’t bring her the wanted attention, and the big red button on the right of the door doesn’t work. What’s a Kate to do? Well, thankfully, there’s a blunt knife by what appears to be a bowl of soup and a handy schematic on the side of the button’s casing. It’s like they just want to test their patients sanity from the get-go.
It’s here we’re presented with our first puzzle. While Syberia III might be a puzzle-adventure game through-and-through, each difficulty option presents its own subtle pointers when it comes to solving a particular part.
Play on one of the easier difficulties and you’ll find your cursor - controlled with soft and hard flicks of the right-stick - locking onto vital points of reference with Kate making it clear when a selected item has nothing to do with the task at hand. Turn it up, however, and you’ll be going it mostly alone. It should be noted that running through the game on an harder difficulty after playing on Normal mode won’t change the solutions to the puzzles. Therefore it’s suggested veteran Syberia players crank up the difficulty from the get-go if they’re looking for the authentic experience, whereas those in it purely for the story will likely get more joy from strolling through the puzzles with relative ease to avoid lengthy sessions with little progress. Some may take the form of speaking to a specific character in the right manner - else risking a different outcome - while others play in a more typical Broken Sword way with one item-based puzzle leading straight into the next.
Breaking open the door arrives with little fanfare. More impressed with her early awakening rather than her ability to effectively hotwire the only thing stopping a patient from sliding out of their room, we’re given the freedom to stroll around the yard and admiring its people before walking through the door to the Doctor’s office and being greeted by a man with a striking glare. After being strapped to a lie detector to apparently discern whether Kate is fit to leave or not, the only thing stopping her is a complicated elevator key and a stubborn bird. It’s a smart puzzle with a bizarre - and unusually handy - solution.
There’s a few things to see and do back outside for those interested in sight-seeing with the developers aiming to keep the classic Syberia feel in-tact by locking the camera to specific view-points with the right-stick doubling as a way to pan around to better admire the forced view. As made evident by the hands-off demo session, there will be ‘points of interest’ to click on that will shift the camera into a more scenic view for those looking to better admire the scenery between their puzzle-adventures or to snap a potential desktop background or two. Though it tends to lose some of its graphical fidelity between scenes for whatever reason, it’s a world stylised in a way that mixes fantasy and reality well enough to detract from its overall image quality. It’s interesting to note how checking out your surroundings before running into a puzzle commonly has your identifying potential solutions before you’ve even run into a problem.
After a good hour session with the game, we can say the voice acting - for the most part - shouldn’t be too much of a concern when it comes to the performance of the game’s cast. Whether they’re native speakers of the accents in play or not, they do a good enough job at portraying their respective scene. But the same can’t be said about the voice direction, as a whole. Though some character’s voices fit them just fine, others seem to fall far from the looks of the people they’re portraying.
Take the folks playing chess in the corner of the room as fine example.While the larger character rattling a rough. almost New York ‘Bronx’ style accent with slight hints of a stereotypical Italian-American mannerisms blended in, his friend just sounds like a young man in his mid 20s - despite them both being fairly aged gents who’ve been at the establishment for around 20 years already. Kurt, given the game even touches on how young he is for a leader, still sports the voice of a matured man similar to how Dr. Olga sounds much younger than her looks would suggest.
Without playing one of the past Syberia games, it’s difficult to pin-point exactly how existing fans will feel. Given the length of time between games, they’re likely just excited to see it return and will take anything so long as Kate has the staring role. Those yet to walk a day in her shoes, however, might be turned off by its somewhat dated looks, questionable animations and miss-matched voice acting.
It’s saving grace, however, is certainly the points that truly matter. The puzzles come across as interesting yet not too difficult as to hinder regular progress while teasing a story that should captivate those into mixing modern-day environments with some light storybook fantasy. If you’re exhausted from the triple-A releases coming thick and fast this year, Syberia III could offer up something of similar worth at a more relaxed pace. Having only see the very beginning of the game and a point said to be around 1/4 the way through, I was certainly left feeling the need to know exactly how the two event would link together; and that’s a good enough sign coming from someone with very limited experience with the adventure genre.
Syberia 3 launches across Europe on April 20 with UK following suite one day later. America, however, will need to wait until the 25 at the earliest. Watch out for spoilers!