Inside Pulse 12

Review: Syberia (Nintendo DS)

Syberia
Developer: Tetraedge Games
Publisher: The Adventure Company
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 11/25/2008

If there’s anything we learned from the DS remake of Myst, it’s that PC games do not work that well on the DS. I love the little system, but it just isn’t nearly powerful enough to run these games. Still, I’ll play anything they send me, and a classic adventure game seemed just the ticket.

Sadly, as it turns out, this is not actually a remake of the PC classic. This is a port of a cell phone game that was a hacked up PC port. Add in some touch screen “controls” and you’ve got the recipe for a mind blowing experience, but probably not in the sense that the developer was going for.

Story

You play as Kate Walker. She’s an American lawyer on assignment to the East European town of Valadilene. Her job is to get the owner of a factory to sign the necessary documents in order to finalize the sale of the factory. This isn’t just any ordinary factory however. The town once held great fame because of the automatons that were birthed from its conveyer belts. These metallic works of art were basically full grown versions of those little wind-up toys you played with as a kid. Some of them could even speak and had personalities. Sadly, the world didn’t need these creations anymore and the factory was starting to pick up dust.

Anyway, when Kate gets there, she discovers that the owner has passed away. Before her death, she disclosed a previously unknown heir that would have to be the one to sign the documents. Spurred by curiosity and the unyielding demand of her New York bosses, Kate sets out to find this heir and finish the job.

Now, what’s supposed to happen from here on is we delve deeper into the mind of the heir, who also happens to be the designer of the automatons that you meet in the game, while also finding out what makes Kate tick thanks to some phone conversations with the important people in her life. Also, there’s supposed to be an interesting world to explore.

All of this has been excised. There are integral characters, such as Kate’s fiancé, who are missing entirely. There are huge sections of plot that have been removed so the game could fit on the cartridge. There are missing puzzles. There’s no voice acting to breathe life into the characters. The missing pieces create huge plot holes. Kate knows things she shouldn’t. Characters act apologetic for fights that never happened. Kate’s decision at the end comes out of nowhere and you can’t possibly understand why she would decide to do what she does.

Everything I’ve seen or heard about the PC game leads me to believe it is a charming game in an immersive atmosphere. This is not that game. This is a poorly copied version of the CLIFFNOTES of that game.

Graphics

There’s nothing quite like pre-rendered graphics is there? Every screen in the game is like a piece of art full of life and color. The design of the backdrops and building are all unique and interesting. From rusting mechanical giants to a crumbling building, Syberia delivers a fascinating world to look at.

The cut scenes are top notch as well. I’ve played a ton of DS games that utilize video, and each one has been full of compression artifacts that destroy the art and make it that much harder to appreciate. Here, the artifacts are so scarce that you can truly just sit back and watch the nifty animations. There are about a dozen of these in the game, and they are definitely the cream of the crop as far as DS games go.

The only graphical problem I had with the game was the character models during gameplay. The developers really lowered the quality from the PC version in ways I haven’t seen since Insecticide. The characters are blocky and un-detailed to the point where it isn’t always clear they are supposed to be human. During conversations, you’ll get a static character portrait that looks better, but still doesn’t do the original design justice. Worst of all, the portraits never change no matter what the situation, so you get no visible emotion from anybody. (Yet another reason the characters don’t hold any charm.)

Still, the environments are beautiful and highly detailed and represent some of the best looking backgrounds you can find for the DS.

Audio

I’m not entirely familiar with the music of the original game, but if it’s as repetitive as it is here, I don’t know how anyone ever played it. There’s one song for each of the game’s four primary locations. While in a location, that song will play on loop endlessly. These songs never stopped annoying the crap out of me. I would have turned off the sound, but I waned to see if there was any voice acting.

There isn’t. Whereas every line was voiced in the original, the DS game has almost none. There are in fact three cut scenes with voice acting. These are absolutely fantastic. To me, it makes the voiced character of Anna the most interesting in the game thanks to her lovely voice. I understand you can’t have every scene voiced on the DS, but the occasional spoken word would have really spruced things up.

There are also not as many sound effects as I would like. All FMVs have them, but during gameplay I didn’t notice much at all. At one point, Kate remarks about how many birds there are around. I never saw any. I never heard any. Was there supposed to be the sound of birds? I don’t know, but it feels like another aspect of the game that was removed in order to cram what was left on the DS cart. As a result, the world loses another important piece that could have really added to the charm.

Gameplay

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a shoddier example of touch screen controls. When it comes to moving Kate, you’re supposed to just tap the area you want her to move to. A great deal of the time; she’ll go somewhere else instead. I once clicked on the bottom left of the screen and she went to the right. I wanted her to walk forward, and she moved back. I wanted her to leave an area, and she walked to the right and just missed the exit. She was in the way of the exit, so tapping that same spot caused her to spin like a retarded ballerina. It was frustrating and left me going back and forth between screens far more often than I should have.

When she did move as intended, I still had to deal with yet another problem. Kate moves slower than the government aid to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. It can take several minutes to travel back and forth between a few screens between how slow she is and how often the stylus command gets misread. A simple run button could have fixed this right up, but I guess that was too much to ask.

It’s not always clear what you can and can’t interact with. To deal with this, the dev team included a magnifying glass that you could use. If you scroll over an exit, you will see a little arrow. If you scroll over something you can interact with, you will see a gear. This isn’t as useful as it sounds because the point of the stylus will often block your view and you’ll miss something vital. Also, if you can pick the item up, you won’t get any sort of read out at all. If you can zoom in for a closer view, there will again be no read out. Also, the hit detection for interacting with items is a sham. There was one puzzle where I had to place some items in a machine in order to make a special drink. The little gear let me know I needed to place a bottle of vodka in one section. Sadly, this section was up at the top of the screen and partially obscured by the little toolbar that allowed me to drag the vodka down below. This meant I spent nearly a full minute dragging the bottle down before I got it to stick, despite the game telling me I could place it any where in that general area. Oh yeah.

Apart from moving and interacting, there are four buttons at the top of the touch screen. One allows you to save at any point in the game. The second allows you bring up the aforementioned magnifying glass. The third allows you to use your cell phone. Finally, the fourth icon will bring down the tool bar that contains your items you need to use for the puzzles. If you EVER need to click near the top of the screen, you’ll find you’ll just as often click one of these icons. I accidentally saved the game dozens of times. I brought up the cell phone even more. (Even though you only need to use it two or three times.) It’s just another subject of shoddy touch screen controls.

Also on the toolbar is the option to bring down your menu down from the top screen down to the bottom. Here you can read any papers, books, or faxes you’ve found by dragging them over to the reading section and flipping through pages. You can also reorganize them to your heart’s content. As a funny thought, there are way more spaces than even the highest amount of items you’ll carry at once. I’ve discovered most of these are bits and pieces that were removed from the original game.

Anything good the game does with the puzzles is immediately taken aback by the fact that you’ll have to solve those using horrible controls. At one point, I had to maneuver a platform under a pipe and then spray the man aboard with freezing water in order to wake him from his drunken slumber. This should have been fun, but instead it was boring and frustrating because it took forever to fiddle with the controls. That about sums up the whole playing experience.

Replayability

Are you kidding me?

This is as much of a one and done game as I’ve seen. The story is linear. There are no unlockables, secret endings, new game plus, etc. Once you’ve played the game once, you’ve seen all there is to see. You can’t even jump to your favorite level.

Balance

Because of how much they cut out of the game, it’s hard to properly gauge balance. Entire puzzles have been removed, leaving you with nothing more than a few buttons to press to move forward. Some puzzles are a bit more out there than I’d like, but for the most part logic and exploration is what moves your forward. If you don’t have what you need to move on, look around a bit and click on every thing. You’ll find it eventually.

The dev team decided to add some extra linearity to the proceedings. For instance, in the first town, you can’t enter the factory until you’ve fully explored the church. This doesn’t make any sense, given that you’ve already got the key to the factory and no need to enter the church except mild curiosity. This isn’t the only example of this. There are certain locations that Kate will simply refuse to go to because you haven’t done something or another yet.

That being said, you can’t die. You can save any time. This is an adventure game about exploration and puzzles. The only way you’ll get too lost is if you try to use the PC walkthroughs to help you out and discover that the book you need to progress in the PC version has been cut out of the DS version. Instead, you skip all the detective work and get out of dodge as soon as possible. Don’t try reading ahead, and you’ll be ok.

Originality

This is a slightly modded port of a two year old hack job of a six year old PC game.

What did you expect I’d give this section?

Addictiveness

The story occasionally found ways to interest me. However, because of Kate’s insanely slow movement, the piss poor controls, and the knowledge that I was missing a substantial amount of content, the only reason I played this game was to finish it for this review.

If for some reason you don’t realize how much you’re missing, you might feel a little pressed to continue, but I doubt it. Without the charm of the original version, there’s nothing to keep you going.

Appeal Factor

Is there anywhere a group of people this isn’t going to piss off? The game already exists for the PC, PS2, Xbox, and even high end cell phones. Chances are most people who’ve ever wanted to play it already have.

If you’ve played past iterations and are looking to rekindle the magic, you’ll find out what I’ve been saying all along to ring all to true. They butchered the crap out of this game.

Even if you’re an adventure fan looking for a new portable fix, you’ll want to skip this game. Myst taught us these remakes just don’t work. Gamers will naturally be more skeptical if they’ve been burned before. There’s no reason to buy this when games like Theresia are still only niche titles.

Miscellaneous

I don’t know if there is anything left to say about this game. It controls like crap. So much has been removed that the story has lost all charm. The game is available in full for other consoles already. It isn’t worth the plastic case it sits in.

Don’t buy this game!

The Scores
Story: Poor
Graphics: Good
Audio: Poor
Gameplay: Very Poor
Replayability: Worthless
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Worthless
Addictiveness: Bad
Appeal Factor: Worthless
Miscellaneous: Worthless
Final Score: Bad Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

Allow me to paraphrase from Billy Madison.

“The Adventure Company, what you’ve just published is one of the most insanely idiotic games I have ever played. At no point in its broken, incoherent mess was it even close to anything that could be considered a decent game. Everyone in this world is now dumber for having played it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”

That about covers it.

Tags: , , ,