Syberia has clearly been one of the most popular and beloved franchises among Point & Click fans, as well as anyone who enjoys an immersive adventure. The third game, released back in 2017 wasn’t that well received due to its gameplay mechanics, and I actually thought it would make the series fall into oblivion.
Surprisingly, Microids announced on their Social Media channels a new upcoming title, and not so long after, a Prologue demo has arrived. Although it does not fully reflect what might be the final product, we may end up having some clues of what awaits us in terms of gameplay mechanics and narrative, not to mention the visual presentation.
Syberia: The World Before starts right after the end of Syberia 3, pushing the storyline one chapter ahead, but there’s also a different timeline at play. It’s 1937 and we’re in the shoes of young Dana Rose, a talented young woman who’s about to complete her final exam at the music academy.
For classic enthusiasts of the two original games, it’s well known that Syberia created a universe of its own, with original locations and characters. However, when playing as Dana a few things stand out. Apparently, she is a Vageran, and like many others, are being slowly oppressed by a fascist group named The National Socialist Party of Osterthal, or also known as “Black Shadow”.
I don’t need to mention anything else, as we all see where this is going. I believe this is one of the reasons why so many Steam users are criticizing the game’s plot, and for good reason. Not that is contextually wrong of course, it’s just that at this point, it’s beating a dead horse. Like my friend says “When Developers don’t know what to do, they add nazis, or zombies. Sometimes both.”
Back to the 2004 timeline, we finally play as Kate Walker, who is undoubtedly unrecognizable. Taken to be a slave by a still active group of fascists in the salt mines somewhere in Syberia, our beloved protagonist now digs for ivory in hopes to one day escape such torment. With her, a new character is introduced, named Katyusha, an equally enslaved young woman whose dreams of escaping are only matched by her despair.
Playing with both characters will let us explore bits of information about the world lore, although it’s still vague, we can already assume they are tangled together, despite the different timelines. When it comes to this narrative, it will most likely turn out to be a good mix, as it’s already pleasant in this Prologue.
Thankfully the gameplay has improved tremendously from the previous installment. It’s still a traditional Point & Click, but this time with a semi-fixed camera. It’s not fixed as the first two games, since it allows players to slightly move each scene a little to help exploration, and the camera follows characters in a dynamic overview. It’s by far an improvement, but still not as fluid as one would wish.
I understand that going back to fixed cameras may not be a modern approach, but I also hope till the end of the final game, the studio manages to polish the game even more, so characters feel more fluid when walking. That is pretty much the only feature that's in need of improvement. Some other mechanics included aim to deliver a much interactive experience, which is fine by me.
There’s a present vibe of the original design at work, one that can easily be seen during the segment where Dana plays her piano concert, accompanied by automatons in a beautiful sequence of melodies and mechanical enthusiasm. This felt like a love letter to the fans, and I genuinely got chills down my body. This is what we love, a Benoît Sokal’s design with the modern refinement of technology to deliver authentic and genuine scenes.
Both worlds have a strong contrast but are symbolically identical. While Dana is in a beautiful, charming town, it’s just like Kate, oppressed by a shadow, the same shadow through different times. A remarkable representation taking in consideration the meaning and design.
Both locations are in their own way, beautiful to look at. Vaghen reminds me of a golden city, with beautiful sunlight, charming cozy houses, familiar neighbors and just a rustic little town with an idyllic atmosphere. The mines on the other hand, are dark, bleak and lack any positive vibe, but still, fantastically well designed with shadows and reflections.
Character design is a very Hit-or-Miss situation. Dana looks beautiful, but why is Kate so stylish? I personally don’t understand how slaves forced to work in the mines can access make-up, hairstyles, and cool clothes. It just doesn’t add up, and feels like it was forcefully placed to deliver a cool look on purpose.
I believe many of the common opinions on the web reinforce my thoughts, in which the new style for Kate is unfitting. Unless this is Syberia 2077, there could have been better styles, especially when considered how everything else looks absolutely gorgeous.
The soundtrack seems once again preparing itself to become a reference OST among fans and everyone else who really likes a classical tune, with a strong selection of ambient and symphonic tracks. I can only hope the good taste in music keeps on active for the upcoming full game, and something tells me it will be even better.
When it comes to optimization, the developers released an update which improved it, but we’re still limited in settings. Quality goes from Low to High, and that’s about it. As if it wasn't strange enough to be developed on Unity, (Although when well optimized it can be a quite powerful engine) basic lighting, shadows, and other optional screen effects such as chromatic aberration can’t be turned off. All of these affect the performance, but alas, we cannot change anything.
All in all this Prologue is a very pleasant game, it adds a lot of interesting things and a fantastic atmosphere, unfortunately it dives into already overly explored themes. Other than that it does indeed look promising, and I for one can't wait for the final game.
(Walkthrough video on YouTube by MinPin Games)