Syberia: The World Before (2022)

Syberia: The World Before (2022), designed by Benoît Sokal, developed and published by Microïds

After the rather abysmal Syberia 3,  I thought the series was done. Therefore, it was a surprise a 4th entry to the series was announced and the demo it had was of much higher quality in terms of art, narrative and gameplay. While it was very different from the previous games, there's a bigger emphasis on the story than the puzzles this time around, everything else that made the 1st game such a special thing was in place.

The game begins with a glimpse into the past. You get to control a young girl, Dana Roza, who lives in the country of Osterthal, a fictionalised European country resembling Austria and Switzerland during the first echoes of the 2nd World War. Dana isn't worried about war though, she is attending to her music recital for her musical academy graduation. She plays the piano wonderfully and then, we get to another place, in the early 2000s, where Kate Walker is imprisoned in a slave mine somewhere in Iron Taiga. 

As Kate is digging ore with a fellow prisoner Katyusha, they stumble through a wall and find a long-hidden WW2-era train from a cave. As they explore the place, Katyusha reckons she can get an old motorbike running and they can escape with it. They also find out, that the train is filled with riches the Brown Shadow (a nazi party stand-in) stole during the war. Among the treasure, they find a painting of a woman, who resembles Kate quite a bit, at least according to Katyusha.

But, alas, as they are to escape, a guard finds them and shoots Katyusha. As she urges Kate to escape, she also asks her to find out more about the woman before she dies. And so, Kate heads out, escaping the old soviet country to Europe and Osterthal.

One of the major flaws of Syberia 3 was, that it never felt like a proper Kate Walker story. While she was the protagonist, it wasn't really as a personal story for her as the two previous games were. The main arc of the previous games was about Kate finding out who she really was when she was mile by mile shedding her former life off her shoulders. In the 3rd game, she was more of an observer, who was there to rescue others while she slipped more into the background. It's really telling, that the only part that really had any meaning to the 4th game was the ending, where she was imprisoned by the local government, thus leading to the beginning of this game.

The World Before is all about Kate and her personal journey. She is now looking for this girl she has only an old painting of because she promised it to her dying friend. She hopes that by finding Dana, she will find some sort of closure for herself. She is also contemplating returning home and facing the music of her legal troubles, as it's looking like her European adventures are reaching their culmination point. 

Unlike the previous games, The World Before is more of a story game. There's a bigger emphasis given to story flow, but there are some puzzles on the road as well that are not quite as cakewalk as pressing the right button at the right time. There are quite a few quick time events along the way, but none where you can mess up the game. It's a relatively linear story, with some additional pieces of exploration here and there. 

If you are expecting more of a traditional point-and-click game in the vein of the 1st two games, you might be disappointed. This is more of a refined version of Syberia 3, but with a lot fewer hiccups on the way. That's not to say there aren't any hiccups. Finding the right hotspot, for example, can at times be a bit laborious especially if you play with a gamepad. The same goes for navigation as well, as there are some locations, that have seemingly open walk paths, but which are artificially barred off. But other than that, The World Before is technically a huge improvement over Syberia 3.

Syberia: The World Before is something of a new beginning for the series. While it is the last game in the series Beoît Sokal will have direct influence over, he sadly passed away in 2021, it does leave a path open for the future adventure of Kate Walker, who is now somewhat free of the old weight of the botched toy factory sales and the tale of Hans Voralberg that started in the 1st game. The Voralberg inventions are still in the background, like every place in Syberia, Osterthal is filled with the inventions of Hans'. the story just isn't tied to him and his sister Anna anymore. Kate is finally free to fully find herself before the decision to return home or not.

This isn't the definitive ending for the Syberia series, far from it. But I do hope the next game in the series would bring in more of a complete closure for Kate Walker. The way The World Before ends paves a way for more definitive self-discovery for her and I do hope Microïds uses that opportunity to bring her tale to an ending she deserves.

Syberia: The World Before can be bought from GOG and Steam. It's also available for consoles.