Syberia II

Developer:  Benoît Sokal
Publisher:  Microids
Year Released:  2004

Review by Steve Ramsey (May, 2004)
Kate Walker's journey of personal growth and discovery continues in Syberia II. "My dreams are now your dreams" Hans tells her. It must be true, because nothing less than that would account for what drives Kate on.

A shared dream is a bigger dream, and in Kate's case it's also a more burdensome one. But it's a burden to which she is unshakeably committed, no matter how far it takes her and no matter the trials placed before her. As the detective now in pursuit of Kate reports, the Kate Walker sought by Marston in New York is not the Kate Walker he is chasing.

Syberia II is a true Part 2, picking up where Syberia finished. You can play a short recap at the opening screen, to remind you how Kate has come to be who and where she is, but those who haven't played the first game should do so. I have no doubt Syberia II stands up better as the second half of a single story than it would as a stand alone game. It can be played that way, and you would still be impressed, but I don't think it should be.

Moving on
The train on which Hans and Kate and Oscar the automaton are travelling in search of the mystical world of Syberia and its mammoths is now in Romansbourg. It is in need of winding and coal, but very quickly they are the least of the needs. The monastery beckons, and the task falls to Kate. Oscar tells her "my place is here in my place Kate Walker".

But Oscar too is changing, and his part in the story is a significant one. Even his most ardent critics will have warmed to Oscar come the finale.

I was not as enamoured of Syberia as some people, but Syberia II is simply stunning. It is beautiful to look at, to listen to, and to play. The cinematics are of exceptional quality, the equal of anything I have seen in an adventure game. There is in fact, a cinematic feel about much of the game. Camera angles change during conversations, and whilst there isn't a constant soundtrack, soaring and at times inspiring compositions will accompany and embellish certain events and parts of the game.

All of the scenes are crafted with a huge attention to visual and auditory detail. Realism abounds; watch and listen as Kate runs from a metal path into the snow, and past a puddle. Quite wonderful.

I thought the whole thing was more "alive" than the first game. There was an almost sterile feel to some of the scenes in Syberia, and whilst the Youkol village left me feeling a bit that way here, many little things lifted the game as a whole. Being outside a lot more helped, and so too did the animals and people that flit in and out of the scenes.

Animals are not just there for decoration either. They play important and integral parts in the game. Don't forget, Mr Sokal also made Amerzone. Indeed, the environment itself plays a part, including in some of the puzzles.

The presence of a few more characters added to the mix as well, including some who would actively oppose Kate. I did think Ivan and Igor were a bit goofy, but their presence provided both substance and some challenges.

Hans too is present, and it's his visions and creations that drive this episode. Is his quest a quaint last wish of an aged man, or a selfish quixotic folly? Whichever, it is clearly what he has prepared for most of his life, as events reveal.

Kate though is the central character, and it's she who drags the train and its passengers ever northward. No fluttering eyelashes, no twisted ankles, no resorting to feminine charms. She is strong, resourceful, and unflinching, like many real women. If there really are mammoths, there is no doubt Kate will find them.

Trials and tribulations
The puzzles and conundrums are fairly well integrated into the circumstances, if a little fanciful at times. Yet what isn't fanciful about a wind-up train driven by an automaton heading into the tundra in search of a legendary tribe and living mammoths? Just go along, don't over analyse. There are some puzzles though, that seemed to be a little too much trial and error.

There are more puzzles than in the earlier game as well. Some are situational (find something to start a fire, use the correct lure to catch a fish) others more "puzzling" (which are the correct candles to pull in the monastery, what is the correct order for the stone fragments). Some are a combination of both (and more) ... obtaining the fruit of the laughing tree is a good example and one of my favourites.

There are subtle and not so subtle clues contained in some of the writings and other things you find and observe, and Kate will occasionally turn her head to look at something of interest as you pass by. It isn't a difficult game, but it kept me occupied for many hours, and captivated for almost all of those.

The dialogue choices are occasionally a bit clunky. Kate will ask a question, or react with surprise, to something she already knows or has been told. The conversation topics, though, appear to be greater, and there are more people to talk to. Also, as with the first game there are subtitles throughout.

What else? Some big issues rear their heads. Class, for instance, and whilst I have never spoken to Mr Sokal, I suspect he has some strong views on religion.

Syberia II comes on 2 CDs but I chose the full install option and there was no disk swapping. Game saves are seemingly unlimited, and game mechanics are point and click simplicity itself. Some of the screens scroll, but the majority are self contained. A small load, with a black screen accompanies a scene change.

You will be delighted by Syberia II. It isn't perfect, but no game is. You can tell it has been created with passion and feeling. It didn't simply meander to the finishing line, but stayed strong and surprising. Like the final part of The Lord of the Rings, the completion of the journey of Hans and Kate deserves the highest marks.

See the Syberia II walkthrough. rating:  

Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2004. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, PII 350 MHz processor (PIII 800 MHz recommended) 16 MB Direct3D (DirectX 8.1) compatible 3D video card (32 MB recommended) 64 MB RAM (128 MB recommended) 16X CD-ROM drive (24X recommended) 400 MB disk space DirectX 7 compatible sound card.