Retrovision: Cyberia (1994), an exercise in frustration

GOG.com has a knack of locating classic old games, that have been out of sales for a long time and convincing their rights holders that it's a good idea to bring them back in a digital store. GOG also has a knack for finding old games that are not so good and despite that still convincing the rights holders to bring them back to the store.

It's even trademarked.


Cyberia (1995, Interplay) is one of those latter games. It's one of those prime examples of which can be used as a blunt weapon against anyone who claims that back in the good old days the games were so much better than anything we get today. Don't get me wrong here: not all games made today are good, far from it, but at the same time, not all games made back in the mysterious golden age of computing were that good either. In fact, I'd dare to say an even bigger percentage of them were bad, horrible and atrocious because there's a lot of things game developers were finding out the hard way (though I guess that still happens today as well). And Cyberia (not to be mixed in Benoit Sokal's Syberia) is one of those games. One of those that should have been left buried in the obscurity it so greatly deserves.

It does look surprisingly good for a 1995 pre-rendered game.

In a nutshell, Cyberia is a part interactive movie, where you steer your character clad in greyish, skin-tight uniform and RayBan's along pre-determined paths, hoping that you walk the right way, as much as it is a part short snippets of rail shooting. Neither of these parts is very taxing more than they are just annoying. You spend a lot of time watching same pieces of animation again and again. If you are lucky, you'll see a small, simple puzzle, which you can solve by either thinking really hard or just by simply clicking things randomly.

So let's tackle the interactive movie bits first. Basically, just like in many others of its kind from this particular era of gaming, you are thrown in a third person view on a pre-rendered scene. You aim the dude in some direction with left or right key and then press forward for him to, wait for it, walk forward a duration of a walk cycle that can't be skipped, but that can be changed in reverse by pressing the arrow back. This is what you do as long as you find something else to distract you, like a puzzle or a shooter bit, either on rails or on a turret. Cyberia does look a bit like an adventure game during these interactive walkabouts, but it has very little actual interaction, more than it has just "where the hell should I be walking right now" kind of action.

The most fun you've had in years

The turret bits are just boring. You swing the turret left and right and up and down and press space in order to shoot things. While out of the two shooter bits this is the one that is easier to control, it is also far more boring and just doesn't feel like it's going to end. Until it finally mercifully does and lets you do some more walking and hoping that you find something to make you advance in the game.

Then the rail shooter bits. Oh boy. Now, as such, I don't think they were difficult. But they were made more difficult by the oh so awkward mouse cursor, which was jumpy and begged for an extra amount of care in order to end up on the enemy you wanted to shoot. Each phase of these aren't long, so luckily you can go through this by sheer will and determination of trying to remember where the baddies are coming from. It wants to show you each move you make with cinematics in order to bask its own graphical glory of 90's CGI. And while the graphics are surprisingly good for 90's pre-rendered CGI, it still gets just as tiresome as watching more polished today's unskippable real-time 3D.

The freedom of flight. And there's even an enemy in sight

Now, granted, I'm playing this game as a GOG version, which means I play it through DosBox, so I have no way of knowing how well, or how poorly, the game itself is performing under it. Maybe it felt better ages back, on the original hardware, maybe it was just as bad. I reckon someone knows but does anyone care, that's an entirely different matter. The only way I noticed I actually could make the mouse control better was to jump into windowed mode. That made the controls feel much better, really, not that it improved the scenes that much.

This map has no real practical purpose. Even the location data it shows before each segment is just useless info


After each shooter segment you see your journey progress on a world map and then you get to do another shooter scene that feels just as bland as the one before it.
So this is what you do for yet another eternity until you finally get to where you were heading in order to see more interactive movie bits, but this time laced with timer, which basically just makes you die more and feel more and more frustrated by the whole thing.

Once in a while, you also encounter simple puzzles you can solve by using three different view modes you have on your special shades. You can scan the puzzle either in Infra-red, MRI or Biomass, after which you can use the hints provided to solve the puzzles, which are mostly relatively simple press the right buttons in the right order kind of things.

Welcome to puzzle, you can scan and play
Too slow and you're toast

To top this all off, Cyberia also serves some reaction based scenes, in which you need to react to something that happens way too quickly, so in order to plough through them you need to try and try again until you either are lucky enough or start seeing nightmares of the correct order of the buttons you need to press as well as how fast you need to do that.

So that's Cyberia for you. A game from an era when designer thought that interactive movies were the only way to go. Now granted, not all interactive movies are bad. Hell, Telltale games have made pretty good business in churning out well designed and mostly well written and directed interactive movies. Even some interactive movies of the 90's are pretty entertaining in their own right. But Cyberia is not that. It's frustrating piece from the history of games and as it is, there's where it should have stayed. But no, GOG had to bring it back.

If you want to experience Cyberia yourself, get it from GOG.com

(It even has a sequel, if you were left wanting more like I was)
If you want to experience it through someone else, I guess Youtube should have videos of someone playing it for you. They, just like GOG's reviews might even claim it a classic.




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