Syberia: The World Before‘s legacy began with Benoît Sokal, a Belgian comic artist. His work in the Euro comic scene focused on pulpy adventure stories with elaborate and virtuoso art. His work was often lumped in with the likes of François Schuiten and Jean Giraud Mœbius; all having highly technical and realistic art with strong fantasy elements.
Sokal saw the potential in storytelling with the video game medium and after learning the ropes with 1999’s Amerizone; 2002’s Syberia would be his magnum opus in game directing. Syberia was the story about Kate Walker, a New York lawyer who gets caught up in a mystery that involves a ton of automatons, a lost island, and the last of the mammoths.
Syberia would get two sequels in 2004 and 2017, but only Syberia II had Sokal return as director. By the time it came for Syberia: The World Before in 2022, Benoît Sokal passed away during development and could not complete his directorial duties. Does this latest sequel honor Sokal’s vision? Find out in our Syberia: The World Before review!
Syberia: The World Before
Developer: Koalabs, Microids Studio Paris
Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (reviewed)
Release Date: November 15, 2022, March 18, 2022
Price: $39.99 USD
When Syberia: The World Before begins, it makes a strong first impression. The visuals are beautiful and the town of Vaghen is introduced in an alternate 1937. This prologue establishes that an impending variation of World War II is about to take place and automatons are a major aspect of the culture.
The swirling Art Nouveau architecture and old-world accents suggest that Vaghen is possibly inspired by Vienna’s style. The ornate and intricate automaton designs are almost fantasy-like. Their mechanisms are more advanced than anything that would exist in the real 1937. The fixed camera POV always guarantees that you can only see the best angles.
Character models are also pleasant and easy on the eyes for an indie game made with Unity. Everyone has a real-time skin rendering for when light passes through extremities like ears. The effect is convincing and helps make characters feel fleshy. Lighting is also diffused and mixed with static prebaked light maps to paint scenes with a comforting glow.
After Syberia: The World Before puts its best foot forward, it starts to trip up and stumble- falling backward and awkwardly sliding down the stairs, taint first. Regretfully, this game’s strongest asset is its graphics and ambiance, not its story or adventuring gameplay.
Syberia: The World Before is an adventure game split between two eras: 1937 where the player assumes the role of Dana Roze and Kate Walker in 2005. Kate is the regular Syberia protagonist; she’s a savvy and adventurous lawyer who has a penchant for puzzles.
Kate’s scenario begins with her rotting in a Russian Gulag. Syberia: The World Before wastes no time retconning Kate as a homosexual and depicts her having a jail-house gay relationship with her cellmate.
This bizarre turn of events might have been forgivable if it weren’t for the absurd and stupid motivation that pushes the story forward. Kate is told she resembles a woman in old art that she finds while excavating a lost Nazi train that was festooned with stolen personal items. The entire chain of events relies on Kate’s leap of logic.
“Nazi”, is a dirty word in Syberia: The World Before. The story calls them “The Brown Shadow” in this alternate history. Dana is the lady in the piece of art that Kate finds on the train and it doesn’t take much to piece together their connection.
Syberia: The World Before has such a lame mystery and it commits some wincing character assassination to have its way. The Voralbergs and automatons play such an insignificant role in the grand scheme of things, which is frustrating because these were crucial elements to the Syberia games.
Syberia: The World Before is about Kate “finding” herself for some reason. She used to be such a pragmatic character- an avatar of the player, but now she is rewritten as an author-avatar instead.
Kate’s voice actress is the same as always, but she also sounds so old now. It has only been a few years between Syberia games, but it’s been 20 years between releases. She should have been recast because it is distracting seeing a young and attractive woman sounding like a grandma and reading dialogue that tries to sound like she’s in her 20s.
Dana is also not interesting at all. The game wants the player to care about her, but there is so little about her to work with. She can play the piano well, but that is all the personality she has. Syberia: The World Before leans hard on this character and hopes the player will connect with her, but there is nothing to her.
There is no real sense of adventure. Most of the game is set in Vaghen and there are only a few instances of venturing out. These moments are fleeting as the sparse puzzles in the game. Syberia: The World Before is more like a walking-sim than an adventure game.
Puzzles are usually self-contained on a single screen. There is no going out and looking for stuff or interacting with mechanisms. This was a major aspect of the original Syberia and why the automatons were such an important aspect of the setting.
In Syberia: The World Before, there is a lot of talking and slow walking. The experience is glacial and clocks in at about 15 hours- most of which is due to the slow animations. There is only one ending and the replay value is intensely low since the gameplay is utterly shallow.
Fans of the series will be disappointed that Syberia: The World Before strays far from what was great. It should have been like Tintin, but it’s more like a made-for-TV Lifetime movie. The visuals look awesome but the gameplay and story are vulgar steps backward in the worst ways.
Syberia: The World Before was reviewed on PlayStation 5 using a copy provided by Microids. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Syberia: The World Before is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.