Development hell rarely ends well. Game development doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and taking too long to ship a product can mean that said product runs the risk of feeling like a relic as opposed to a new title—just ask Duke Nukem. It’s been 13 years since Syberia II’s emotionally harsh tease of a conclusion, and around seven since its follow-up was originally supposed to be published. A lot has changed since the mid-2000s, though, and adventure games just aren’t what they used to be. It’s clear, unfortunately, that Microids wasn’t paying much attention to the changes happening in the genre. This leads to the long-awaited Syberia 3 feeling like a game released several years too late, and even then, one that would’ve felt unfinished had it been released in 2010 or so.
Players once again take control of immensely likeable protagonist Kate Walker. After helping her travelling partner fulfil his dream of finding living mammoths deep in the Russian wilderness, she became lost at sea and was found by the nomadic Youkal tribe. She wakes up in a mental institution with a several month gap in her memory and a secret agency hot on her trail, on top of being accused of the murder of aforementioned companion. The brunt of Syberia 3 involves Kate trying to piece together what, exactly, happened to her and her robotic companion—on top of lending a hand to the oppressed Youkals.
The narrative here isn’t bad at all, and in fits and starts, it shows a potential for greatness. It tries to make some interesting points on discrimination with the Youkal’s struggles, and sometimes manages to be legitimately unnerving with the antagonists’ dogged pursuit of Kate. I had a definite interest in seeing the story from start to finish—the writers managed to sufficiently invest me in their world and the characters that inhabited it.
It’s unfortunate, then, that the way Syberia 3 tells its story actively fights against player enjoyment. The very rough French-to-English translation rivals Persona 5 in how downright awkward it is, with stilted exchanges that don’t sound anywhere close to how actual human beings talk. Characters talk in bizarro backwards-speak that simultaneously feels overwrought yet not descriptive enough—simple and unclear in its intent, unnecessarily coded in its phrasing. It’s so bad, in fact, that the voice actors often go off the actual on-screen script to properly read basic phrases that have been butchered.
Not that the voice acting is necessarily good, though. Most of it is pretty awful, in fact. To give credit where it’s due, though, Sharon Mann absolutely slays as Kate Walker again. She brings an emotional intensity and plainspoken charm to the role, acting as a large contributing factor to why I loved the character so much. Practically everyone else, however, is horrible or horribly miscast. Characters either sound nothing like how they look to the point of comical cognitive dissonance or speak with such passive woodenness that it feels like they’re half-heartedly reading from a script while browsing Twitter. It doesn’t help that the recording quality is lacklustre across the board, in some cases making me painfully aware of the actors’ mic location or quality. The real kicker is the dialogue’s tendency to just cut out of existence entirely, leaving lines hanging or interrupting sentences.
Which reminds me that Syberia 3 is a bit of a mess on the technical side of things. Textures popping in and out of existence, NPCs clipping through each other, the camera losing focus of Kate, random frame stuttering, the cursor refusing to highlight the right object, and one instance of freezing that magically fixed itself after ten seconds. That’s not even mentioning that the controls to this game are pretty terrible – the simple act of walking up to an object and looking at it feels like a chore. Whether you’re using a mouse/keyboard combo or a controller doesn’t matter, because either way something’s going to feel off.
What also feels off is the logic behind most of the puzzles. One very early puzzle made me burst out laughing in the stupidity of its logic. Kate has to break a chain to a boat to escape the mental institution through a waterway. How does she do this? Pouring corrosive acid on it. What does she pour the corrosive acid into? A plastic gas can. This acid can melt through solid metal, but somehow doesn’t completely destroy a flimsy piece of plastic. Because that makes perfect sense. It only gets worse, too, with Kate being completely ignorant of inventory items that could help her out of certain predicaments, or there being a stupid, counterintuitive order to solving puzzles. Coupled with controls that hate the player, this grates on the nerves early on and just doesn’t let up.
These issues are unfortunate because Syberia 3 is honestly a gorgeous game from an aesthetic standpoint. There’s a brilliant art direction at work here, enough to make one ignore the awkward character movement and occasional muddy textures. Set pieces are gorgeous, character designs are top-notch, and everything has a unique style that’s the best 3D evocation of Benoît Sokal’s artwork we could ever hope to get. Microids also has a clear grasp on how to bring out the best of all their characters and environments, through evocative fixed camera angles that rival the technical prowess of Team Silent in terms of staging a scene. It’s all accompanied by a score that’s one of the prettiest I’ve heard in a hot second, one that would be right at home in a big-budget high-fantasy film. With the visual and auditory experience of Syberia 3 being this gorgeous, I found myself getting lost in the game simply to experience more of it.
But unfortunately, the game itself kept me from ever attaining full immersion. Truth be told, I do like what Syberia 3 is trying to accomplish, and would gladly revisit its world in a more polished build. But as of right now, that polished build isn’t what players are getting for $40. They’re getting several hours of counterintuitive logic, awful controls, and bugs galore. Maybe Microids can patch this game into something better—we saw it happen with Mass Effect: Andromeda, after all. It wouldn’t fix the voice acting or weird puzzles, but it would go a long towards making this a game I can love.
Until then— despite some resounding strengths— Syberia III has too many issues to recommend to anyone but the most patient, forgiving players.
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