Mr. Bill's Adventureland Review
Reviewed by Mr. Bill & Lela
You can literally count them on one hand. Those games that are so good... that elicit such an emotional response in the player... that they can never be forgotten. Those few that are so innovative and unusual that they will go down in history as marking the major milestones of the gaming industry itself. Syberia is one of those rare jewels, a story... nay, an experience... that will be etched in your memory forever. What else can we say? Syberia I was our Game of the Year in 2002, and this game, the second half of the story, is even better.
Of course when famed artist and author Benoit Sokal first conceived of Syberia, it was all in one piece. But it soon became evident that he couldn't really do justice to the fantastic tale in the space of one game. So rather than compromise his vision, he divided it into two parts. A brief recap is provided of the story so far (accessed on the main menu), and then this game picks up where the first one left off. You're on the train, hurtling through the vast wastelands of the frozen north, toward the mythical land of Syberia... in search of wooly mammoths!
All of the main characters that we grew to know and love are here. There's the aged Hans Voralberg, injured and abused as a child, but nevertheless going on to create some of the most amazing automatons the world has ever seen... now in ill health and desperate to see the land of his dreams before he dies. Then there's pompous, bossy, irascible Oscar, lovable in spite of himself... who is perhaps Hans' greatest creation, an intelligent man-like automaton or robot that at times seems perilously close to developing a soul. And of course who can ever forget Kate Walker, our beautiful young displaced New York attorney... who found herself questioning our modern day values when a mundane business trip turned into a voyage of self-discovery.
For ultimately this story really is about her after all... as she gradually learns the importance of believing in yourself, and following your own dreams.
Like Syberia I, this is a 3rd person, 3D, point and click game, with a smart cursor, a small inventory, and unlimited saves. The interface is beautiful, a real treat for both the eyes and the ears, and it's very easy to use. Subtitles are available, and you can adjust sound and music volume as well as other details to suit your preferences. You can't die in the game, and all of the 'action' elements take place in the glorious cutscenes. Thankfully they can be replayed in the main menu as often as you like once you're past them in the game. You'll almost certainly want to, for they include some highly unusual and truly spectacular rides.
And the in-game graphics are absolutely mind-boggling. We honestly didn't think they could get any better, but they could and did, and are immediately noticeable even on the train itself, before you go anywhere else. You're not going to believe what you see, and the sound effects are almost hypnotic. The wind howls, the ocean roars, and both gentle snows and driving rains fall during your journey across this glacial land. It's bone-chilling cold, depicted so realistically that it makes your teeth chatter as you watch Kate's breath fog in the frozen air.
The attention to details is simply amazing. Snow slides from an overladen roof without warning, a squirrel suddenly scampers up a pole beside you, and the falling raindrops hit and only gradually wet the bench where Hans is sitting. We almost instinctively dodged as a startled bird or rabbit practically leaped at us from the screen, and we were so fascinated with the random ripples that Kate's footsteps made in a mud puddle that we kept walking her back through it just because we didn't believe our own eyes.
The realism is awesome and the beautiful music soars, this time composed and performed by Inon Zur. But as before it is heard only periodically, for emotional emphasis, so we often lingered at the main menu, with our speakers turned all the way up, just to be able to hear more of it.
You'll visit Romansbourg, a small outpost located on the edge of civilization where the people live, literally and figuratively, in the shadow of a massive dark monastery. And you'll stay in a Youkol Village, where the delightful little Eskimo-like prehistoric people have lived since their dwindling food supply forced them underground. You'll even briefly revisit the world of Syberia I, only this time as it was when Hans was a child, a poignant reminder of the rejection and psychic pain that he has silently endured.
You'll learn what has happened to some of the old characters that you knew from before, and meet some fascinating new ones. There's an adorable little orphan girl, a dangerously insane priest, and a wonderful female shaman, just to name a few... not to even mention some of the animals that you have to deal with. How do you handle an irate grizzly bear or an island full of penguins?
But our absolute favorite was the irrepressible Youki, a big-eyed rambunctious puppy-like cross between a small polar bear and a seal, that followed us everywhere. He barked and wagged his tail (in fact his whole rear end!), rolling over in glee whenever he met us, and bounded playfully after every owl or badger that he saw. We want one!
It's a long hard journey, with many problems (puzzles) to be solved along the way that are part of the story. They get increasingly difficult as the game progresses, but they all can be solved without resorting to a walkthrough if you use some common sense, have the patience (as in 'figure-out-how-this-thing-works'), and pay very close attention to the clues that you see and hear. Just make sure that you've exhausted all of the initial dialogue options with everyone, including those you can call on your cell phone, and then talk to everybody again whenever you've done something new.
But of course it's the story itself that has held us captive for the last two years, as we waited impatiently in anticipation to see how it all turned out. And we have to admit that we were afraid the sequel wouldn't be as good (sequels seldom are, right?), and that the ending wouldn't satisfy. How could it after all, with such a simple goal and well known characters? Boy, were we ever wrong! The ending is magnificent, a heart-rending testament to the power of a master storyteller, and we had already cried at least once before we even got there.
We're going to miss you, Kate Walker. We feel like we've lost a friend... Indeed, three friends...
There is no question that this is one of the greatest adventure games ever made. Make sure that you don't miss the experience. But because it is just one long story, you really should play both parts of it... Syberia I first, and then Syberia II. Very, very highly recommended!
Visit the official Syberia II Website to learn more about the game, enjoy a video trailer, and see more fantastic screenshots.
Developed (2004) by Benoit Sokal and Microids Canada. Published in North America by XS Games.
Rated: T for Teen 13+ (mild language, use of alcohol)
Minimum System Requirements:
PC: Pentium II 350 MHz (Pentium III 800 MHz Recommended); Windows 98 / 2000 / ME / XP; 16X CD-ROM Drive (24X CD-ROM Drive Recommended); 64 MB RAM (128 MB RAM Recommended); 16 MB Direct3D (DirectX 8.1) Compatible 3D Graphics Card (32 MB Recommended); DirectX 8.1 Compatible Sound Card; 400 MB of Free Hard Drive Space; Mouse
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