Syberia is a series that many have come to love. They may not have had the most challenging puzzles or the most intricate storylines, but that sense of adventure and travel to beautiful locations that wouldn't be possible to see in real life was something unique. But it wasn't just that, it was a combination of elements: the surreal situations we were involved in, the unique characters we encountered, and of course, Kate Walker, a heroine I believe the romantic among us could identify with.
Almost five years have passed since the release of Syberia 3 (how time flies!) and I still remember the mixed feelings that this one left me with. The atmosphere of the late Benoît Sokal's world was underwhelming in this one, but the biggest problem with that game - after the technical problems at launch - was that both the characters and the story, for the most part, didn't make you care much and get emotionally attached to them. As such, I was concerned whether Syberia: The World Before could return to a solid and interesting narrative that evoked a multitude of emotions.
The story picks up where the previous part ended: Kate has been kidnapped and is imprisoned in an illegal salt mine. There, along with her fellow inmate Katyusha, she is just trying to survive. At some point she receives a letter from her friend Olivia (do you remember her?) that will shake her up. So, she decides to hasten her escape. During her escape with her young cellmate, they discover an old World War II-era train in the tunnels and inside it a painting of a girl who bears an uncanny resemblance to Kate.
This gives impetus to a series of events revolving around the search for this particular woman. This search will lead us to Vaghen, the capital of Osterthal, and from there to the surrounding areas. In Syberia: The World Before, Hans Voralberg's influence is again felt in the reconstruction of the city after the Great War, with the mechanical orchestra outside its music academy being one of the most impressive constructions of the renowned inventor. It's curious, however, that the game changes the name of the Nazi Party to... Brown Shadow and replaces the swastika with another symbol, in an attempt to draw parallels where all other elements remain the same. Alternate history of Sokal's world or signs of our times?
As players, we know early on that the person we're looking for is Dana Roze, as we've been given control of her since the game's prologue. The gameplay as much as the main framework of the narrative have been predicated on the transition between Kate's and Dana's point of veiws. The former sees the outcome of what transpired in the past, in 2005, while the latter experiences the events in the period 1937-1945. Make no mistake, there is no time travel involved. Essentially the parts we control Dana, instead of reading about paswt events in some notes, we experience them firsthand and her actions are revealed to Kate years later. The puzzles have undergone the biggest facelift so far. Although the signs of change were evident from Part 3, they now follow the pattern we first saw there, namely manipulating various mechanical structures and contraptions, in order to find switches, levers, moving parts, etc. that will reveal secrets or items necessary to progress. Backtracking has been practically removed as the solution to puzzles can be sought in the area where they are located, and the inventory, although still present, there will never be a time when we have more than 2-3 items on us. In other words, if someone is looking forward to use monkeys on pumps or combine mops with hedgehogs, they'd better look elsewhere.
In keeping with the tradition of the series, Syberia: The World Before oozes the warmth that every adult striving to keep their inner teenager alive is looking for. Visually it's gorgeous, with plenty of detail in environments and, especially, characters with the exception of some blurry textures in close-up camera shots e.g. puzzles, which in no way detract from the overall picture. In fact, the elaborate use of the camera, combined with various effects and light shading, gives a cinematic feel to the various environments, whether they are natural landscapes or urban environments, which have a strong Central European flavour. Likewise, the sound department could not be lagging behind since the compositions were handled by Inon Zur, known from his previous works on the series, while the Budapest Scoring Orchestra carried out their performance. These are particularly elegant pieces of classical music with an emphasis on strings and piano, which perfectly colour the more emotional scenes of the title.
So this is Syberia: The World Before. Shifting emotions, quirky steampunk inventions, escaping the molds of society and heeding your call, and like the first two games, a whole greater than the sum of its parts. The game's creators have managed to do something important, reverse the discomfort of the third installment and get us excited for the possible (as indicated by the finale) sequel. The loss of Benoît Sokal, as a person and an artist, is a great one, but after the work delivered by the studio from France, we can't help but be optimistic about the future.