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No. of Recommendations: 3
One thing I will say for my first few play sessions with Syberia: It makes me REALLY appreciate what a good game Back to the Future has managed to be so far. I have to think, if Syberia was getting such generally outstanding reviews when it was released, the dry spell in the adventure game market before Telltale came along must have been far worse than I thought.

The positives first: Syberia is very, very pretty. It's got fantastic backgrounds, and characters move around in the 3d environment well enough. The models look reasonably convincing for a 2002 game, apart from the fact that some of their joints are a bit awkward and the protagonist's arms look oddly skinny.

The voice acting is... well, it's not abysmal, but I don't love it. The delivery is a bit wooden, and it's obvious that the dialogue was not written by native English. Certain turns of phrase don't quite sit right, and while the actors have ad libbed some slightly better phrases in some cases (you can tell because the spoken word doesn't match the subtitles), most of the time they can't be bothered to improve the job of the script writers. Also, for some reason, all the text is written in the Comic Sans font.

The game play, though, is rather infuriating, and the story itself is thus far ridiculous when it comes to character and motivation. I've commented before on adventure game author fatigue, where the puzzles and player character behavior start to get just plain crazy as the game heads towards its conclusion. This is not the case in Syberia, where the crazy starts very shortly after the beginning of the game.

You are Kate Walker, a corporate attorney trying to negotiate a buyout on behalf of a toy megacorporation. Your target is a small, whimsical family owned wind-up toy (Excuse me, AUTOMATON, must always say automaton) factory somewhere in Switzerland. Things start going wrong when the owner dies shortly before closing the deal. Although this appears at first to be a quick business trip, it turns out that the owner's crazy younger brother may still be alive, and you need his signature. Hilarity, I would assume, will ensue.

So far so good... sounds like plenty of movies I know in which the ernest good folks of a small town must win the hearts of the fast talking, wheeling dealing city slicker. Presumably Kate will eventually stop complaining about her unintentionally extended European vacation and learn to leave the rustic charm of her new digs. That particular cliche irks me already, but it's definitely a thing that stories are written about. Whatever.

The quickest way for an adventure game to drive me batty is to have a puzzle which requires exactly one solution that is so far "outside the box" that it has, in fact, hopped the nearest jet plane to a waste-disposal facility with an industrial strength box-incinerator.

Shortly into her journey, Kate discovers that the heir to the factory has, in fact, gone to Siberia. At this point, we the players say to ourselves: "Okay! Let's call our boss and get him to expense a trip from here to Siberia, then blow this place and get it over with."

Kate chooses instead to bungle around the factory, discovering a clockwork train, and the only puzzles available involve getting it up and running.

Players: "Okay, that train goes to only one location and we don't even have any good evidence that it's the right place. Leave the train alone. Head for the airport."
Kate: (Breaks and enters a church to hunt for some random object that might yield some clues about starting the train.)
The phone rings.
Boss: "Hello, Kate. It's your boss."
Player: "Thank goodness you called, boss! We need to put a flight to Siberia on our expense account, chop chop."
Kate: "Bad news, I might have to hunt down some guy's signature."
Boss: (yelling) "What? MegaToyCorporation, Inc., will have our heads if this deal isn't signed by MONDAY!"
Player: "If you'd stop yelling, boss, we could tell you the plan that involves going to Siberia."
Kate: (sigh) "Okay, I'll take care of it."
Boss: (yelling) "You do that!"
He hangs up.
Player: "WTF?"

Kate continues to bungle around looking for ways to start the train.
Player: "You could have been halfway to the airport by now."
Kate: "Hello, good hotel clerk. Can you help me find this cave that legends speak of, so I may locate this toy mammoth that I heard about in a 50 year old recording?"
Player: "And call me a cab please. I need to get to the airport."
Hotel Clerk: "Oh my, I can't leave my desk. I might miss valuable work."
Player: "I'M LIKE YOUR ONLY CUSTOMER. LOOK AT THIS PLACE. IT'S COMPLETELY EMPTY."
Kate: "Oh dear. I guess I will search for the cave at random."
Player: "I sure hope that by 'cave' you mean 'airport,' and by 'toy mammoth' you mean 'ticket.'"

It just goes on and on like that. There are, in addition, a whole lot of puzzles which are pure pixel hunts -- there is an obscurely hidden item, in a room where you have no particular reason to search it thoroughly. And this would not be quite so frustrating if the object requirements were not so completely insane. For example:

Kate sees a lock which is shaped like a simple plus sign.

Me: "Huzzah! Luckily we have a plus-shaped key, which is known as 'Valideleine key.'"

The game shows a red X, indicating "That thing doesn't go in there!"

Me: "Huh uh what?"

We bungle around for a while, finally consulting a walkthrough. We obtain another key.

Me: "Awesome. This must be the missing key."

I open my inventory to use the new key. Not only is it also plus-shaped... it is exactly the same graphic as the other key.

I mouse over it. It is called "Valideleine key."

Me: "Do these game designers understand how keys work?

I look forward to many more enjoyable hours of finishing this game. With the walkthrough. While MST3k-ing the hell out of it. As far as I can tell, that is all that Syberia deserves.
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