First released on PC way back in 2002, the French-developed Syberia series has gathered a quiet cult following over the years. You play as American lawyer Kate Walker, who leaves a stressful life in New York City behind (and her fiance) to go on an adventure. The titular Syberia is a supposedly mythical island where mammoths are said to live, and the first two games follow Walker and her robot friend Oscar as she tries to find it. At the end of the second game Walker discovers the island, and that was the last we saw of the Syberia series for thirteen years—until now, with the imminent release of a third game.
The story begins with Walker adrift on a raft, having left Syberia behind. She’s rescued by a diminutive race of nomads called the Youkol, with whom she shares a common enemy, and decides to accompany them on a seasonal migration across Europe and Russia. The Youkol travel with enormous snow ostriches, and it’s these creatures that their pilgrimage revolves around. Syberia’s world is familiar in some ways, sharing many aspects of our own, but it also comfortably drifts into the fantastical. Magic realism is perhaps the best way to describe it, with a dash of steampunk.
In my demo, Walker finds herself trapped in an asylum of some kind. She’s in a locked room with Kirk, one of the Youkol, who’s missing a leg and stuck in a wheelchair. Syberia 3 is an adventure game, meaning a creative solution to escaping this prison will be required. The first two games featured pre-rendered backgrounds, while the third is fully 3D. But I like how developer Microïds has kept the fixed cameras—albeit allowing you to move them just a little with the mouse or analogue stick. It feels like a Syberia game, but is a hell of a lot prettier and much more detailed.
The door to is locked, and the call button doesn’t seem to be working, which means it’s puzzle time. I interact with the button and the camera zooms in. Then I spin it around and reveal instructions on the side about how to repair it. The only problem is, the box is sealed. I need something to open it up. I scour the room for the solution, noticing a steaming bowl of stew with a knife on the side. I slide the knife into four screws, rotating the analogue stick to loosen them, and pop the box open, revealing a loose wire that I reconnect to a power source.
This kind of seamless interaction with the environment is a benefit of the shift to 3D, and there are even rudimentary physics. Later I find a drawer and a key item is hidden beneath a pile of books and papers, which I have to brush aside. It makes the world feel nicely tactile. I press the call button and someone lets me out into a large communal area with a murky water fountain in the middle, and other patients roaming around it. Whatever this asylum is for, it’s pretty run down. I see flaking paint, cracked tiles, and vines crawling up the walls, as well as a few intimidating looking orderlies.
While exploring the area I stumble into the office to the guy in charge of the institution, who couldn’t look more sinister if he tried. He has wild, evil eyes and a scraggly black beard, with a questionable bedside manner. “Ah, you’re finally awake, number 10,” he says to Walker. “What can I do for you?” Walker explains that she feels fine and wants to leave the asylum, but the doctor has other ideas. “That would be somewhat premature,” he says. “You were in a coma for quite some time. And even if you seem well physically, there might be serious psychological after effects.”
I get the feeling this guy is trying to keep me here for some reason. He motions towards a scary looking chair hooked up to a machine and asks me to prove I’m fit to be discharged. Walker reluctantly sits down and the doctor begins asking a series of personal questions about. Her name, age, place of birth, and so on. She gives a false answer and the machine buzzes with a red light, implying that it’s some kind of lie detector. The questions keep coming, and Walker is forced to answer truthfully. And, surprisingly, the doctor says she can go, handing her a strange key and saying she can leave as soon as she figures out how to use it, which is, yes, another puzzle.
But I’ll stop there, because this is the first really challenging puzzle, and you’ll probably want to solve it yourself if you play the game. This is also where my demo ended, although developer Lucas Lagravette did show me a section from later in the game. In the battered ruins of a city destroyed by a nuclear explosion, Walker’s pal Oscar looks for a way to help her solve an elaborate puzzle elsewhere. She can’t access the city because of the radiation, but he’s immune to it, being made of metal and all. It’s a dramatic change of scenery, and the eerily lifeless city has a haunting atmosphere. One puzzle in this location involves dealing with a pair of angry robot dogs using an old fire engine, but I’ll leave you to figure that one out too.
The biggest problem for Syberia 3 will be getting new players on board. It’s a direct continuation of an old game that a lot of people won’t have ever played, which may make the story fairly baffling. But Syberia 2 began with a recap of the first game’s story, so I expect Microïds will do the same here. Syberia 3 will be released in the EU on April 20, and in the US on April 25, which gives you just over a week to catch up on the first two games if you really want to go in knowing everything.