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Syberia: The World Before

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Microïds
Release Date: March 18, 2022


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PC Review - 'Syberia: The World Before'

by Cody Medellin on June 6, 2022 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Syberia: The World Before is a new episode in the iconic adventure game franchise that will invite us once again to follow the adventures of Kate Walker as she deals with a new investigation.

Benoit Sokal died last year at the age of 66. He was a prolific Belgian artist known for quite a few graphic novels, including his first creation in 1981, Inspector Canardo. He was also a game designer with more than a few adventure games under his belt; his most famous work is the Syberia series, which has been around for about 20 years. His final work is the fourth entry in that series, titled Syberia: The World Before. Fans will be pleased to know that it's a good final entry for Sokal's career.

The World Before tells two different, intertwined stories. You play the role of Dana Roze, a young woman living in the European city of Vaghen, and she is aspiring to become a world-famous pianist in 1937. After a performance in the town square that acts as her final test, she is accepted to a music university but takes on a summer job with a cadre of scientists to pay for schooling. Fast-forward to 2004, and you play as longtime series protagonist Kate Walker. Kate's segment takes place immediately after the events of Syberia 3, so when players take on the role of Kate, she is being held hostage in a salt mine by the militia and forced to dig through the mine to find abandoned Nazi treasure. Kate and her lover Katyusha eventually find the treasure, alongside a portrait of Dana, who looks just like Kate. After taking a bullet to save Kate's life, Katyusha urges Kate to complete the escape and learn more about Dana.

Compared to previous entries in the series, The World Before feels less whimsical and more grounded. World War II isn't a lighthearted setting, and the inherent lines of prejudice and bigotry are a constant reminder of the difficulty of that era. What diminishes some of the impact is the renaming of some elements to fit with the game's alternate world. Replacing the Jewish people with Vagerans is one thing, but replacing Nazis with Brown Shadow is ridiculous. Having said that, the tale is still intriguing, especially since this drama involves another character with whom you get to spend a decent amount of time. It also helps that you can see the automatons at their best, polished and pristine instead of unkept and in need of repair. The lack of a big bad villain group in the modern day also makes this more of a "slice of life" segment of the story rather than another grand adventure for Kate. If you haven't played any of the previous games, you'll need to watch the recap video to better appreciate the story.

If there's one knock against the narrative, it would have to be with the cliffhanger ending. Considering how these games come out so infrequently, ending the game with such a story beat seems rather cruel; that feeling is amplified by the fact that Sokal is no longer with us. The question of whether the series will continue makes the lack of resolution sting, so it's something to keep in mind if you're invested in the narrative.

The World Before is an adventure title at heart, but it follows in the vein of modern adventure offerings by focusing on the narrative. More than half of the game is spent with you watching the camera cut to character faces and pan around to provide the most dramatic possible shots. There are a few times when you'll make some dialogue choices, but don't expect something like a Telltale Game, where saying the wrong thing has sudden consequences and changes the story trajectory.

The other half of the game, puzzle-solving, is a mix of classic and modern styles. It's classic in the sense that the game relies heavily on solving puzzles to make any progress. From finding a key to opening a box requires you to solve a puzzle in a traditional adventure game manner, as you use other objects for your goal or mess with various switches and knobs to reach the next part of the game. They're also modern in that almost all of the puzzles make sense. Some are simple and others are elaborate, but only a tiny handful ask you to think outside of the box in a nonsensical way. Most puzzles can be solved with ease, and the hint system does a good job of leading you toward the solution without spelling it out.

One trick that The World Before likes to pull often in puzzles is the use of shifting time. Usually, this involves taking control of Dana to set up something or experience it in her timeline. While controlling Kate, you run across the same area and the same puzzle, so you know how to solve it, mostly by doing the reverse of what Dana did or finding a key item that Dana dealt with before. It's clever but also not overdone, so you'll enjoy these situations rather than groaning after experiencing them multiple times.

The game also likes adding side-quests to the mix. Just about every area has a side-quest, like reading all of the documents in a room or investigating how something in the area came to be. Nothing necessarily triggers different endings, but their presence helps to fill out the lore while staying well out of the way for those who are looking to conclude the main narrative.

PC players will appreciate how much the different control methods change the experience. If you're playing with a gamepad, you'll have direct movement over Kate and Dana while still using a cursor to activate hotspots, and the analog sticks mimic the necessary motions to operate a few things. If you're using a keyboard/mouse combo, you'll point and click at everything, from movement to the usual object interactions. Considering the game's roots, having both schemes is very welcome.

The presentation is excellent. The locales are thoroughly detailed, with only a few spots where some vegetation detail pops in and out infrequently. The character models are also done well, but some of the ancillary character movements can be exaggerated when you're in a conversation. It all moves with lots of nice effects at a high frame rate, so the title becomes a showcase for what the Unity engine can do in the right hands. As for the audio, the voice acting remains solid after all these years, while the music from Inon Zur provides a wealth of majesty, somberness, and intrigue in the appropriate doses, making it a must-have for those who collect video game soundtracks.

Syberia: The World Before is a very good adventure game that also serves as a touching capstone to Sokal's career. Most of the puzzles follow a sensible, logical path that is fun to figure out without making you question the solutions. The story is very well told, but the ending is frustrating for those seeking closure. The title also features a gorgeous presentation, so adventure fans who don't mind open-ended narratives will be pleased.

Score: 8.0/10

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