Syberia: Entering Barrockstadt

Having reached Syberia‘s second chapter, my chief experience is one of relief: suddenly, I’m not treading the same ground any more. Every room is new. Of course, this only lasts so long, and by now I’m back to hunting for hotspots again. Or perhaps not: just thinking about the game as I write this, I’ve had a flash of insight about how a certain feature might be used. I’ll find out later how that pans out.

Still, I spent most of my last session either exploring new ground or deliberately pursuing known goals. The latter consisted mainly of talking to a series of people: person A tells me to talk to person B, person B tells me to talk to person C, person C sends me back to person B who has different dialogue this time, etc. In short, they gave me the runaround, and most of the time spent on this was in fact spent running around. Is this so very different from walking from one end of the map to another, hunting for hotspots in a self-directed way? I think so, because it at least provides some reason to think that every step you take is taking you towards something. All the backtracking did, however, make me annoyed at all the stairs involved. This is a game where you normally have two gaits: clicking makes you walk, double-clicking makes you run. But stairs have their own special movement animation, which means you can’t run on them.

Barrockstadt is a university town — in fact, it seems to consist entirely of a university and a train station, and the train station is pretty much part of the university facilities, serving as a greenhouse and aviary. For just as Valadilène’s automaton factory filled the place with fanciful contraptions, Barrockstadt University’s famous biology department seems to be an excuse to theme the place around exotic wildlife. There are still touches of clockwork, though. Hans Voralberg, contraption auteur, did pass this way at one point, and gave the town the only sort of gift he could give: an automated eagle, a no-man band. But also, the way the birds move when they’re on the ground seems extremely mechanical to me. As with the automaton-nature of the NPC dialogue, I’m assuming that this isn’t deliberate, that the animators were just trying to imitate the motions of birds, which have a certain amount in common with the motions of robots to begin with, that an accidental lack of fluidity in the motions made them seem a bit more mechanical and that context takes it the rest of the way. But I could be wrong about this. I suppose that by the end I’ll know enough about the game’s intent to see if such suggestions of mechanicality in the organic reinforce it or not.

The most important of the birds in the train station, and the only species I’ve seen identified by name so far, is the Amerzone Cuckoo, a callback to Sokal’s previous game, Amerzone. Just as Syberia conerns a voyage to Siberia, Amerzone was about a journey by river through the jungles of South America. However, in both cases, the title seems to refer to something more specific than its homophone. In particular, the scholars of Barrockstadt dismiss Syberia as a myth, but accept the news that Hans is thought to be in Siberia without batting an eye. I imagine this would be confusing if I didn’t have subtitles on. How the characters are supposed to be telling the difference, I don’t know. Perhaps there’s more of a difference in pronunciation in French. Or maybe it’s just a cartoonist’s typographical joke.