We thought Kate Walker’s journey was over after bringing Hans to meet with the Mammoths, but after a rough time, she’s embarking on another quest, to help the Youkols reach their promised land in Syberia 3.
Release Date: April 2017
Played Main Story
Purchase At: Steam
I remember my lasting impressions of Syberia 2, those being disappointment at its very open ending, which resolved very little in terms of the storyline threads it had spun, particularly relating to Kate Walker and her family and employers in the US and their incessant pursuit of her.
Syberia 3 opens very soon after those events, with the Youkols, the nomadic tribe that helped Kate on the last leg of her journey, finding her unconscious in the snowy fields. They nurse her back from the brink of hypothermic death but eventually leave her in the care of the doctors at the Valsembor clinic, a small town the tribe approaches on their way to the sacred mating grounds for their Snow Ostriches.
When Kate wakes up she finds herself in a grimy room in the clinic, with only the Youkol sacred guide with her. He’s been injured, an attack by the local militia took his leg and he’s waiting for a mechanical replacement. But something’s off about the clinic and the staff seems unusually unfriendly and the doctors downright vicious, and it’s soon clear they’re keeping the spirit guide and Kate prisoner. It’s now Kate’s turn to repay their kindness and help them reach their destination.
Syberia 3’s plot is about the modernisation of the world and the viability of ancient cultures and traditions in the face of it. The problem is that Syberia 3’s writers aren’t exactly subtle about it and pretty much hammer this point down in the most heavy-handed way possible about every five minutes of the game. Villains even state they want the Youkols to return to the north and abandon their nomadic ways because, “such things have no place in the modern world.” Yet there is no sign as to what sort of problem their migration might mean for them, making their cause vague at best and frankly nonsensical at worst. It’s almost as if the game needed villains but no one bothered to give them something reasonable to pursue.
One of the key lessons in writing fiction is “show, don’t tell,” and in a video game you can use the environment, character animations and even the voice acting to give players important information without drowning them in minutes-long blocks of exposition…which is exactly what Syberia 3 does, the English voice cast not even keeping the emotional intensity throughout, resulting in a monotone that shows just how bored the performers were.
There is a scene where the daughter of the local clockwork engineer tells you about a nuclear disaster that happened on another town and how the drunkard captain of the large ferry you see rusting at port left hundreds to die there. It could’ve been a simple short conversation giving you the important bits and perhaps even use some camera work to show the state of the captain, but instead you must listen to her drone on, everyone getting increasingly bored.
But to be honest, my greatest complaints when it comes to Syberia 3’s writing are with the characterisation of the Youkols and the wasted story potential.
On the first one, I’m used to dealing with bumbling companions and useless NPCs, but the Youkols take that to a suicidal level of stupidity, often willing to take courses of action that would ensure their demise if it weren’t for the main character taking charge. How did these people do their migrations before?
In Syberia 2 they were skilled and wise and when you read of past Youkols in the Olympia journal in Syberia 3, you read of some amazing members of the tribe which constructed secret tunnels and hid them from the authorities all while being overworked to death in the construction of a new Olympic stadium.
Where is that ingenuity? It doesn’t add up. There is a clear difference between the Youkol of the past game, those you hear of and the Youkols while trading and crafting, and the Youkol when travelling on their migration. It’s almost as if riding drained their intellect. They are morons.
On the other point, even if we skip the purposeless villains, we still have so many threads open and discarded for no reason. A detective shows up at the beginning, intent on taking Kate back, but after a quick escape, her vanishes from the plot, even though he mentions people are looking for Kate for a variety of crimes, up to and including embezzlement.
While Kate is getting the Youkol transportation, they show the villainous Doctor Olga using hypnosis to plant suggestions in the spirit guide’s mind, particularly on giving up on the quest and taking their tribe back north and settle, because “nomad bad” apparently. Yet, this never plays out, he never acts out and purposely tries to derail the migration. He simply does what they all do, point to the player character and ask you to fix things, because they know it’s a video game and thus they must be useless.
Now that I mention all of this, I think of something else. What happened to the setting? Syberia 1 & 2 are clockwork steampunk wonders. It’s an industrial world, where the greatest advance are clockwork automatons. Hell, Hans’ train is another technological marvel. Yet in Syberia 3, the detective has a cellphone, he uses zip-ties to hold Kate for a microsecond and the villains have Helicopters and AK-47s. What the hell happened to this setting between Syberia 2 and 3? Did Kate sleep for 50 years in her coma? Have some consistency please!
The first two games in the series are point & click adventure games but Syberia 3 is a 3rd person adventure where you control the character directly, be it with mouse & keyboard or as they recommend, as Gamepad. I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to PC games and tend to play them all in Keyboard & Mouse configuration, but I gave up with Syberia 3, as all puzzles and interactions feature gestures, such as pulling or turning wheels, and they’re so badly implemented on the mouse that in some cases they become impossible if you don’t have the gamepad, and in some really bad ones, even the gamepad will have you struggling.
At one instance, I was using the gamepad to pull on some levers, shifting gears for an ice-breaker to avoid stalling the engine, and it took me many retries because on pulling down the stick, the game didn’t properly recognise the action and slid left and right before ever considering I wanted it to go down, adding to my frustration.
Puzzles for the most part are of the inventory variety and very straightforward, without many curveballs to be honest. If I didn’t know the solution of a puzzle at any given moment, it was only due to not having the right item, not because I missed the logic. While it does take from the difficulty of the puzzles, it does prevent the usual issues of trying everything with everything else, which is something I remember doing in the first two instalments of the Syberia series.
My favourite puzzle is one on reflecting light sources to different destinations and I absolutely adored it and wished the game had spent more time with this kind of challenge rather than depending on inventory-based puzzles. This one puzzle is the most memorable of the entire game.
Visually it’s a mixed bag. The character models are ugly and stiff. If you’ve read my reviews before, you know visuals aren’t ever a point of much criticism as I don’t really care that much about them, but it really struck me just how stiffly the characters moved and how low the quality of the character models was, except for their faces. Faces have detail but hands, legs and fingers have such messy textures that I seriously spent five minutes staring at one of the evil doctors’ fingernails.
But as is tradition in the Syberia series, the environments are gorgeous, with intricate details that tell you so much about the world and its people that it baffles me how they still went with the heavy-handed writing. I love the dilapidated Baranour, with its radioactive zones, the homely yet troubled Valsembor and its dirty clinic with a surprisingly pristine lobby, showing you that the entrance to the building is all about keeping up appearances, to make people believe nothing is wrong.
The music is another strong point. The environmental music is strong throughout the game and the main theme is just amazing, a beautiful melody accompanied by strong harmonies. Of the entire soundtrack, I love that track the most.
I mentioned the issues with the voice cast above, but it’s not just the monotone exposition dump issue. There is also a severe lack of consistency when it comes to accents. They’re all over the place and no one speaks with a regional accent save for the Youkols, and only because they speak in broken English. Unless we assume they’re all speaking in Russian and the game just plays it in English—or the original French—it marks a severe flaw in voice direction.
Having said so, Kate Walker’s performer Sharon Mann is the strongest part of it all, never missing a beat and pretty much slipping comfortably back into character. I just wish she and her character had a better ending to their adventure rather than another open one that leaves most plot threads open, particularly Kate’s fate.
I had big hopes for Syberia 3, but what I found was a messy game that doesn’t seem sure of what story it’s trying to tell and struggles to tell what it has. Characterisation is clumsy and uneven, the ending leaves you disappointed and even the setting seems to have undergone a transformation, and not a welcome one. The gameplay is good enough, but even one great puzzle can’t make up for all its conceptual issues.
2.5/5 – Average!