8 months after the last time, we dived again into the dreamy and never cloying atmospheres of the Syberia universe. A universe that, as you know, has recently been deprived of its creator, that Benoit Sokal who, already in 99, had made himself known for his Amerzone, developed together with Microids, which later became real life companions for the Belgian cartoonist and with whom, a few years later, he gave life to the long story of Syberia, focused on the journey of Kate Walker, rightfully counted among the most famous heroines in the world of video games, although she has always been distant from any stereotype imposed by the sector. Needless to say this was only good.
Now, after a while of waiting, what was Sokal's last work, before his disappearance, namely Syberia: The World Before, also known among fans as Syberia 4, is finally ready for its arrival on console, and never as in this case was the need felt, given precisely what is the long relationship that has always existed between the products of Sokal and PlayStation, given that the very first Sony console hosted the aforementioned Amerzone and it was, also thanks to titles such as Broken Sword, one of the most unexpected but useful platforms for keeping graphic adventures in vogue, before they definitively gave way to much more "direct" and less brainy genres.
Fortunately, however, there is still room for this type of experience, made up of puzzles, staid rhythms and pure storytelling, and this is why we are happy to analyze this The World Before on Game Division, even if the game was, in reality, , already widely eviscerated by my colleague Michele Pintaudi, who took charge of the original release, which took place on PC at the very beginning of this 2022.
As mentioned, Syberia: The World Before is, in essence, the direct sequel to that controversial and, in some respects disappointing, Syberia 3. Thus following up on what is the long pilgrimage of Kate Walker, now on a constant journey since those which were the events of the very first game in the series.
Now, without wanting to incense where it is not needed: I don't struggle to admit that Syberia 3 had been a disappointing title in many respects, practically unable to worthily configure the series on the occasion of its great return, and this even net of the splendid artistic characterization that has always distinguished the work of Benoit Sokal.
Syberia 3 was chaotic, incoherent, unnecessarily slow in certain passages, which is difficult to digest, even for a game like a graphic adventure which, as mentioned, makes slow and reasoned rhythms one of the cornerstones of its gameplay ( at least most of the time). In this sense, the main fear was that even The World Before could present itself as a semi-disappointment, at least from a strictly narrative point of view which, without detracting from the development team, is undoubtedly the most important aspect of the entire series.
Well, as our Michele Pintaudi had already said, in this sense Syberia 4 does not disappoint and, indeed, is perhaps proposed as the narratively more mature chapter, also thanks to the choice to make the narration a little less linear, thanks to continuous and numerous changes of perspective. The game, in fact, will see us not only in the role of the well-known Kate, but also as an unpublished character, namely Dana Roze, a European musician, fresh from the conservatory, and originally from the fictitious nation of Osterthal, whose aesthetics and culture seem to recall openly to regions such as Austria or Switzerland.
Why the two characters are connected since the very first hours of the game is the fulcrum of the plot on which, obviously, it is not worth making any spoilers even counting the months that have passed since the original release, the point is that between the two there is a time gap of at least 60 years, and if Kate's adventures are all about finding the connection that binds her to Dana, for the latter the situation will be decidedly more complex, since the game re-proposes, in fact, what was the rise of Nazism in Europe, and the beginning of the Second World War.
There is no open citation of the facts, but the use of stratagems which, perhaps for censorship reasons, or perhaps just for the desire to enjoy a certain narrative freedom, have replaced the Nazi party with the aforementioned Brown Shadow, and the Holocaust with the massacre of the Vagerian people who here make the feces of the Jewish people, victims of the barbarism of the fanatics of the shadow, with moments that openly recall some terrible events that also took place in our unfortunate world.
Therefore, there is not only Kate's continuous travel, between more or less improbable adventures and enigmas based on steampunk-looking machines, but there is an open political message and, if we like, also well told, which makes this The World Before is a decidedly different tale, and more mature, than the entire series has been up to this point. Although there are, in fact, moments of good humour, with even some fanciful and "over the top" passages (by what are the standards of this series, of course), the entire story proposed by Sokal and Microid is, in reality, adorned by a growing darkness, which reflects what is the situation of the world that Dana will have to face and, deferred, that Kate will have to discover.
This, without a doubt, is the best part of this Syberia. The one that brings into play a new maturity on the part of the development team, as well as the late author of the series, and which offers a new point of view on a world on which, except for a thin patina of melancholy, they never really facing important topics. It is clear that depth is not given by the simple presence of important themes, such as war or ethnic cleansing, it is precisely in the ways in which everything is tackled, in the delicacy, but also in the representation of the sense of oppression and growing desperation, that the game shows the best of itself, telling itself through a writing that, however poised and never really disruptive, still manages to do its job very well.
What doesn't work…
Having said that, I think it is useless to dwell on those factors that we have already extensively discussed in the original review also because this edition of Syberia: The World Before, except for the obvious porting, does not take away or add anything to the game in terms of content.
What is there is simply a complete adaptation to what the console control system is, i.e. the pad and, in the specific case of this review, the PlayStation 5 DualSense. Everything else is identical to the original game, including its compendium of puzzles which, frankly, seemed to me the simplest I've ever seen in a similar game, even net of recent, and "modern" experiences such as Frogwares' Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One, which, while presenting itself with a certain accessibility, it still presented a certain level of challenge.
The World Before is instead a very simple game, in which the puzzles often concern more than anything else the movement of a series of levers or other components of the complex devices that, since the beginning, have animated the imagination of the game world.
In this sense, the Microids team has tried to integrate certain movements with the natural movements of the pad sticks, but the result is quite uncertain and, overall, unsatisfactory. Even gestures that could be integrated thanks, for example, to the DualSense touchpad, or to its motion sensors, have been completely ignored, and the only really sensible feedback offered by the splendid PlayStation pad is that of the vibration, always very pleasant in returning certain movements, especially when they concern the triggering of certain mechanisms.
For the rest we are faced with the most total nothing and, indeed, to be honest, often the use of the pad is even uncomfortable to regulate the movements of Kate and Dana in the game space. In its mix of two-dimensional backgrounds (and three-dimensional environments, Syberia: The World Before in fact offers an uncomfortable camera, even net of the absence of any "action" moment which would justify a slightly faster and more dynamic movement.
In this almost persistent discomfort, the team appears to have been unable to adequately adapt the control system, with the result that it often seems to be dealing with a character governed by a "tank" movement system, or rather like those that could be found in titles such as the old Tomb Raider and Resident Evil. This is obviously not the case, but the point is that making Kate/Dana rotate on its axis, or even just making them curve along a lane, is often stressful, if not exactly inclusive, not to mention how much the unhealthy idea of trying to pass into certain points on the map where there is a bottleneck, an object (cursed tables!) or in any case something that can be an obstacle.
There, irrevocably, whatever our avatar we will always collide with an unpleasant invisible joint, forcing us to a large number of curses and, at least in my very personal case, even to load from a checkpoint.
What doesn't work, in short, is the way, perhaps a little rough and hasty, with which the game was converted for consoles: without taking full advantage of the control system, without looking for a minimum of adaptability. Which are then the basis of a porting, even before considering whether it is less worthwhile to insert some extra content / bonuses for the use and consumption of sofa players.
At this point, you will understand, it is not even worth talking about factors such as details, textures or animations. The game is practically a 1:1 version of the PC edition, save perhaps for some minor improvements to certain textures, and a general loading speed which, however, may not only be the prerogative of the high-performance PS5 hardware. For the rest, as far as Syberia; The Workd Before is certainly a cut above its past (even the most recent one), it remains a game that enjoys a budget that is obviously far from what is the standard of the most modern and noble productions. Very clear: that's perfectly fine, that the purpose is another, and even the writer doesn't care much if the models aren't as beautiful as those of a great Triple A title or if, say, there aren't different facial expressions from those a bit 'haggard that you see in the game.
Here the gist is anything but.