Add Microids to the increasing list of companies that continue to keep the adventure genre alive. Our preview of Syberia has all the details about this forthcoming adventure game.
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Contrary to popular belief, adventure gaming is not dead. Though pioneers like Sierra and LucasArts may have set aside the likes of Larry Laffer and Guybrush Threepwood for now, other game companies continue to press forward. Ubi Soft and Presto Studios had one of last summer's biggest hits with Myst III: Exile, Funcom garnered universal critical acclaim the previous winter for The Longest Journey, and DreamCatcher has been steadily building a reputation for quality, low-budget fare like Dracula Resurrection and Riddle of the Sphinx.
Now, you can add Microïds to the list of developers that are keeping the faith. The Paris-based corporation (albeit one with a strong North American footprint, courtesy of a design studio in Montreal) has created a presence in the adventure genre over the past few years with titles like Amerzone, Road to India, and Druuna. While not all those games have been hits, Microïds' successes have been strong enough to encourage the development of Syberia, a big-budget effort in the tradition of Myst. A team of more than 30 programmers and artists have been working on the game for the past 18 months, making this one of the biggest adventure releases we're likely to see in 2002. Microïds is certainly confident that the game will make a big splash in the market, both in North America and in adventure-mad Europe.
"We received so many requests for another adventure following Amerzone's international success," said Marie-Sol Beaudry, Syberia's project manager. "We are strongly convinced that this game will please adventure gamers and other gamers too because of its unique qualities. Also, the dev team is entirely based in Montreal, bringing a sweet blend of European and North American culture to the production."
Syberia in some ways represents a return to Microïds' adventure roots. The company has again teamed up with Amerzone creator Benoit Sokal, who based the 1999 game on his French comic book series, L'Amerzone. Sokal, who has a cult following on the other side of the Atlantic due to his contributions to Metal Hurlant magazine (the French originator of Heavy Metal), is working with an original story this time around. You assume the role of Kate Walker, a New York lawyer hired by the Universal Toy Company to complete the purchase of an automaton factory located in the European village of Valadilene. Her efforts immediately hit a snag when she arrives during the funeral procession of the factory's owner, Anna Voralberg. Needless to say, this puts a crimp in the negotiation plans. Instead of the routine task of getting Anna to sign on the dotted line, Kate must now engage in a scavenger hunt for the woman's mysterious brother, Hans, who hasn't been seen in years.
Of course, this isn't easy. The bulk of Syberia consists of tracking Hans through four separate "worlds" stretching from west to east across Eurasia: Valadilene, Barrockstadt, Komkhozgrad, and Aralbad. Each city is a distinct setting, connected only by an automaton train apparently designed by the Voralbergs. Valadilene is a typical European village, of the sort that might well copyright the word "quaint," and it's set before a movie-perfect Alpine backdrop. As the hometown of the Voralbergs, it is where your adventure begins. Barrockstadt is more urban, although with a similar Old World atmosphere that includes medieval cobblestones and alleyways. The final two worlds delve more into the realms of fantasy. Komkolzgrad is a "forgotten communist space station" where Hans operates an aeronautics program, and Aralbad is a strange, subtropical resort on the shore of a long-vanished sea.
These environments are rendered in true 3D, giving every scene a depth that is often absent in adventure games. Intricate detail is everywhere, from the weathered lines that give Kate's face some real-world character to the lush forests outside of Valadilene. Fantastic futuristic machinery created by Hans Voralberg shares space with ancient ruins, impressive medieval architecture, and tropical foliage. The point-and-click interface will be familiar to veterans of the genre, though they might not be so used to having so much freedom. Players will be allowed to wander off the beaten path in Syberia. Though all paths do lead in the same direction, there is a lot of room for individualistic play and exploration.
Serving as a companion and unofficial guide through these wanderings will be Oscar, a robotlike automaton abandoned by Hans in Valadilene. He should provide Kate with a little comic relief, as well as some tips on how to progress in the game. Oscar probably won't be needed too often in the latter role, however. According to Beaudry, Syberia is being designed with a conscious effort to avoid the illogical puzzles that have marred traditional adventure games since Roberta Williams thought up the first King's Quest. Although she expects that all manner of adventure gamers will enjoy Syberia, those who want brainteasers and nothing but might not be pleased.
"How many times has an adventure gamer been stuck in front of a frustrating puzzle that even a chess master like Kasparov would have had problems resolving in a decent period of time?" Beaudry asked. "That's exactly the type of situation you won't face in Syberia. The puzzles are completely integrated into each scenario. The player goes from finding a key to building an automaton that will help you along your journey--no math, no black and white squares."
In keeping with this "integrated" philosophy, many of the challenges in Syberia will involve interactions with other characters. Kate will spend a lot of time conversing with the people she meets, both in person and via a cell phone. The phone is an important part of gameplay, serving as a means of gathering information and directly solving some puzzles.
Microïds expects to wrap up work on Syberia sometime in the next two months. Look for the game to reach North American stores in late May or early June. Stay tuned for further updates on the game's progress, as well as our full review.
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