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Review by: Bob Mandel
Published: September 17, 2002
Every once in a while a computer game comes along that knocks the socks off even the most seasoned reviewer. Perhaps the last source from which one would expect such a blockbuster would be a comic book writer. Yet Benoat Sokal, the graphic novelist who gave us Amerzone back in 1999, has accomplished just that feat under the guidance of Microads with the recently issued title Syberia. While the location Amerzone is referenced several times in Syberia, this new release utilizes a third-person rather than a first-person perspective, has more character interaction, and is a much more polished effort.
The story in Syberia is unbelievably fascinating. At the very beginning, you witness a funeral procession made up of wind-up toys outside the small French village Valadilane, immediately stimulating your curiosity. It turns out the person who died is Anna Voralberg, the proprietor of an unusual toy factory specializing in mechanical automatons. You play the role of Kate Walker, a young American lawyer who arrives on the scene from New York to seal the sale of that toy company to a major American multinational corporation. You quickly discover that the elder brother of the deceased, Hans Voralberg, is not dead as suspected, but very much alive and heir to the business. So, you must try to find him to complete your assignment. The storyline is original, easily as absorbing as best-selling novels, and full of unexpected twists that will keep you wondering what will happen next.
The female lead character, Walker, undergoes significant transformation in the course of this quest. Initially, she is obsessed simply with her immediate assignment, which is getting a signature on the certificate of sale. Constantly nagged through her mobile phone by her repulsive and self-centered boyfriend and her nasty and demanding boss, she nonetheless slowly begins to question the vacuous, fast-paced lifestyle she used to live. She gradually starts to trust her own initiative and judgment rather than relying on those who previously directed her life. This self-awareness about her own values leads to a shocking decision by Walker at the very end of the game. It’s rare that any recreational title charts such subtle and yet dramatic changes over time in a central character.
The other human characters in the story are not just NPC placeholders, but deep and captivating individuals that evoke either sympathy or pity on your part. For example, even though you do not actually meet Hans Voralberg until near the end of the story, you learn about his brain damaged childlike state stemming from an accident in his youth, his genius at mechanical creation and his love of mammoths. Everyone with whom you interact, from three supercilious university administrators, to a passionate factory director, to a still talented but forgotten former singer, has something dysfunctional about them. To tell the truth, this makes the adventure far more interesting than if everyone were normal.
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