Syberia places you in a believable situation, then adds whimsical wonders to spark the imagination.
The game starts off in the fictional village of Valadilene, located somewhere in the French Alps. You play Kate Walker, a New York City lawyer who has come to finalize the purchase deal of an old toy factory that catered to children and nobility alike during its heyday. However, your stay gets extended by the unexpected death of the owner just before you arrive. This is followed by the surprise revelation that there was a long-lost heir to the factory's founding family who may still be alive. This sets you (Kate) off on a surreal adventure across eastern Europe on the trail of the mysterious Hans Voralberg and the legacy of his family.
What I found most compelling about this game was that while it introduces some truly whimsical notions with its wind-up automatons and mechanical wonders, it maintains a level of believability that made me wonder how much of it could actually be done, and then wish that it had been. In addition to this, Hans Voralberg's goal to find living woolly mammoths creates a dream-within-a-dream sensation that only adds to the whimsy.
There is a heavy sense of history to all the areas you explore throughout your adventure. At times, it feels like you are only playing a minor role in the continuing stories of the people and places you come across. This is complimented by an underlying theme of isolation, which increases to a sense of complete disconnection from the "real world" by the finale.
All of the areas are beautifully rendered in pre-drawn backgrounds, enhanced at times with the addition of appropriately placed minor animations. The village of Valadilene has traditional European architecture surrounded by majestic pine forests. The Barrockstadt University grounds has fortress-like battlements for the campus buildings and delicate glass domes for the lush rainforest aviary. The abandoned Soviet industrial town is dark, sooty, and intimidating. They all feel just right and you'll likely spend as much time admiring the visuals as you will following the plot.
The voice acting is also very well done. Each is appropriate for his or her character and they speak in hushed, often carefree tones and their dialogue conveys a general lack of concern for the world outside their purview. The music ranges from calm and serene to strong and foreboding, though is used sparingly throughout the game - often adding to the feeling of isolation.
The gameplay itself is the standard fare for point-and-click adventures. Explore your surroundings, pick up key items, and use them at the appropriate time. The game keeps it interesting though with its clever puzzles. One of the only real downsides is that, too often, you'll have to go from one end of a map to the other over and over to complete a puzzle, which gets annoying quickly.
All in all, Syberia will serve as a warm treat to your imagination and perhaps even instill some of the mystery Europe used to hold for the rest of the world.
**DISCLAIMER: This review was originally posted on 1 September 2007 under the user name TheSergeant. I have since closed that account in favour of my current one and re-posted my earlier contributions with minor spelling and informational edits.**