Shadow of Memories: that familiar sense of déjà vu

How do you feel about timed scenarios in video games? Not necessarily quick-time events (QTEs) but those situations where you only have so many minutes to complete a task. They may be ok if they’re used sparingly, but what about a whole title full of them?

For example, take 2006’s Dead Rising where Frank West attempts to discover the reason behind a zombie outbreak while surviving for three days in a mall as he waits for the rescue helicopter to arrive. Or even further back in 2000, when Link tried to save the world and its inhabitants from a falling moon within 72-hours in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Or earlier still in 1997’s The Last Express, where Robert Case investigates the death of his friend aboard the Orient Express and must find the murderer before the train reaches its destination.

While searching online for a retro game to send to Luke from Hundstrasse as part of our game-swap last year, I came across Shadow of Memories (also known as Shadow of Destiny). Released for the PlayStation 2 in 2001 by Konami, it tells the story of Eike Kusch who is brutally murdered – but then given a second chance by a mysterious character called Homunculus in the form of a Digipad. Can he use this time-travelling device to discover who killed him and change his fate?

You know that sense of déjà vu you get sometimes, where something feels strangely familiar? After finding a trailer on YouTube, I felt as though I knew this title and had even experienced some of the sections I’d just watched in the video; but I couldn’t remember ever owning or playing it. I forgot about it until I had to track down a copy of The X-Files: Resist or Serve for our GameBlast21 marathon stream last month, at which point I decided to add a few other old games to my order including Shadow of Memories.

The title starts after a blade is plunged into Eike’s back as he leaves a coffee shop in the German town of Lebensbaum. Instead of going straight to the underworld, he’s transported to a weird limbo area where his meets Homunculus for the first time and gets his hands on the Digipad. It’s explained to him here that even if he can prevent the stabbing and avoid death once, it doesn’t mean he’s free of the threat: unless he’s brave enough to tear it out at its very root, destiny can’t be cheated.

At the beginning of each of the following eight chapters, the protagonist will die in some way. He’ll then have to travel back in time and make a change to thwart the killer before returning to the present day, where his enemy will change tactics and then try again. For example, how do you stop an ambush by a murderer who’s hiding behind a tree in the town square? You travel back to medieval times and convince the guy who planted it that some pretty flowers would look much better, obviously.

Shadow of Memories, Shadow of Destiny, video game, Dana, Eike, man, woman, coffee shop

This isn’t the only bewildering moment in Shadow of Memories. The plot gets off to a good start and, even though it’s not exactly a well-written game, seeing how the stories in each period intertwine when Eike begins time-travelling is interesting. But the more changes he makes in the past, the more complicated the narrative gets and it eventually turns into a bit of a cause-and-effect mess. Several things that happened towards the end of the title had me asking ‘But why though?’

On top of this, Eike has no personality other than being a douchebag. When the waitress tracks him down in Lebensbaum to return the lighter he left in the coffee shop and she says she feels tired, he replies that she can’t be weary from such a simple errand – and there are many people out there who’s lives are a lot tougher, like him. And that’s before he transports her back to 1580 by accident, then leaves her there to survive and make a life for herself in this strange time. What a great guy.

So looking back over those past few paragraphs, why on earth would I recommend Shadow of Memories to anyone? There’s one element which makes up for some of its many weaknesses: the way it uses time as a gameplay mechanic. You can visit a fortune-teller at the start of each chapter and she will reveal the hour at which the killer is going to strike. Eike must set out to change his fate before then, otherwise his enemy will be successful in their murder attempt.

Two digital clocks are shown on-screen when you travel back to the past, the seconds on both passing by in tandem. One shows the time in the present day so you can keep an eye on how many minutes you’ve got left until the hour confirmed by the fortune-teller; the other shows the time in the era you’re currently visiting. The Homunculus will give you the opportunity to try again if you fail to change your fate but can make it back to 2001, but it’s game-over if you get stuck in the past without any energy units for the Digipad.

You could describe Shadow of Memories as creepy but there’s nothing overtly frightening about it at first glance. There are no jump-scares, no blood and gore, and no monsters other than a murderer who’s obviously a human. But that ticking clock adds an element of pressure which increases the fear factor and gives you that same feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you’re late for an important appointment. The scariest thing about this game are those moments when you realise you may not have enough time left.

Timed scenarios in video games exist to add a sense of urgency and make the player feel as though their actions have weight and failures have consequences. Remove the time gameplay element from the chapters in Shadow of Memories and we’d end up with a very mediocre adventure starring a protagonist you just want to punch for his lack of emotion and treatment of coffee-shop-waitresses. But those clocks mean it never reaches a point where it become boring and adrenaline increase as the minutes tick down is kind of addictive.

I’m the sort of gamer who likes to explore an environment without any kind of deadline hanging over their head. Timed sequences have the tendency of turning me off completely but I managed to reach the end of the game in one sitting and with only a few deaths (forcing Eike to meet his past self was a mistake even though it’s one I don’t regret). Instead of the time pressure making me too anxious to enjoy the game, there was something about it here which spurred me forward.

If I were reviewing Shadow of Memories with purely a cold analytical eye, I’d say it’s a PlayStation 2 relic which isn’t well-written or had aged particularly well. But there’s just something compelling about the way it uses time-travel as a mechanic and its incredibly eerie atmosphere which makes it worth a look by adventure fans at least. I’m glad I finally got the chance to play it and figure out whether it was a title I’d already experienced at some point in the past.

Although it felt as though I remembered the first chapter, I didn’t have any other previous memories of the game by the time I reached the credits. Maybe it was how Nathan from Gaming Omnivore explained it, that I’d completed a demo for it back in the day. Or maybe it was that damned Homunculus using its Digipad on me.

Project Zero: I ain’t afraid of no ghosts

Halloween is just around the corner now so here’s a question for you: what frightens you? Does the thought of playing a horror game alone in the dark terrify you, or do you laugh in the face of all things spooky and gladly pick up the controller?

It’s a mixture of both in the Later Levels’ household. As I’ve mentioned several times before on the blog, I’m a complete wimp; I don’t mind watching some else play a scary release while I’m hiding behind my cushion but there’s no way I’d want to be in the driving seat. My other-half however is the opposite. I’ve never known him to do anything more than twitch slightly at jump scares when it comes to the horror genre and he’s looking forward to playing Resident Evil 7: Biohazard in virtual reality (VR).

This explains why when Kevin from The Lawful Geek (the game-master for our fortnightly Shadowrun session) suggested last month that we play Project Zero live on stream, Pete jumped at the chance and ordered a copy for our PlayStation 2 immediately. I on the other hand felt more apprehensive. I was already aware of the history of this title: also known as Fatal Frame, the series is full of vengeful spirits you can’t fight off and is declared by many to be one of the scariest ever made.

In preparation for our first stream, I had a cushion positioned nearby in case I needed something to cower behind – but I found that wasn’t the case. The same was true for our next session. We only made it through those two streams before Pete became so frustrated with the controls that he experienced a small fit of gamer-rage on Twitch and announced that he was never picking up the game again. He’d had enough of the changes in camera angles between scenes and slow movement speed when trying to photograph the ghosts.

It got me thinking though: why was Project Zero not having any effect when watching horror playthroughs usually scared the hell out of me? Kevin had been certain I’d end up screaming on stream and that my other-half would at least be frightened, but the game had had little to no impact on either of us. This finding led me to analyse the things that scare me and why, as well as look back at some of the titles which have caused the hairs to stand up on the back of my neck.

Hearing something scuttling out of sight

Project Zero, video games, stream, Later Levels, girl, camera, flashKevin believes that the reason why we didn’t flinch at the game was because we couldn’t hear it properly. I think he might have a point: we couldn’t have our speakers up too loud during the stream in case of feedback through our microphones and I don’t like wearing headphones for extended periods of time. During one scene, we’re sure we’d vaguely heard a child laughing in a background and that’s something which is usually immediately frightening in horrors! Perhaps a release like this one is best experienced alone for full effect.

Catching a glimpse of something in the shadows

Something else that Kevin picked up on was that we were playing Project Zero with the lights turned up bright. It’s another limitation that came from streaming the game: if we’d turned off our key lights, the friends watching us would have been left seeing a black box rather than our camera and that’s no fun for anyone. Pete has been preparing for our next horror though by purchasing a night-vision camera so we can play Amnesia for Halloween in the dark. Now that’s going to be far scarier.

Experiencing someone else’s fear

STASIS, video game, man, John, surgery, spine, blood, computerToday’s graphics are far more advanced than those the PlayStation 2 allowed for but there was something I couldn’t get over in Project Zero: just how straight protagonist Miku Hinasaki’s face remained despite being confronted by all those ghosts. She barely even pulled a surprised expression and I think that dampened my own fear. If a character is scared, it makes me scared – take the surgery scene from STASIS for example, when John Maracheck’s screams are so horrible to hear.

Not knowing what’s stalking you

I already knew a lot about Project Zero before going into our stream and it’s explained almost immediately in-game that you’re being hunted by evil spirits. I think having the element of surprise removed in this way meant it had less impact because I’m far more frightened when I don’t know what’s coming. Look at Until Dawn as an example. The first half scared me when it was obvious something bad was happening but the characters didn’t know what was happening, but the effect was lost once it was revealed to be the Psycho.

The things you can’t see

SOMA, video game, chair, robot, bodyAlthough Project Zero’s ghosts have a habit of randomly disappearing when you’re trying to photograph them, it’s the psychological things that remain unseen which are more likely to get the hairs standing up on the back of my neck. You know what I’m talking about: those moments when your brain keeps turning the same question over and there’s a slow dawning of terrified realisation. SOMA handles this perfectly, and for weeks after playing I was left considering who the real monster in the dark was.

The ultimate horror

In terms of antagonists in video games, supernatural and spiritual enemies freak me out way more than physical monsters do. The other thing I really hate is levels which take place underwater; there’s just something about the possibility of not being able to breathe or move quickly enough which makes me shudder. So what if someone created a title which took place in a watery world where unseen ghosts were chasing you, and we could play on stream while in the dark using the night-vision camera? There’d definitely be screams on screen.

Have you played Project Zero and, if so, did it frighten you? What things in video games are likely to get you hiding behind a cushion? Pete and I will be working our way through Amnesia on Twitch on Saturday, 31 October 2020 to celebrate it now being 10-years old, so come join us if you’re in the mood for a spooky evening.

Whiplash: weasel your way out of this one

COVID-19 has meant many gaming events have been cancelled this year. EGX Rezzed has been pushed back by three months; Insomnia66 was abandoned in favour of Insomnia67; and my other-half and I made the decision to not go to the London Gaming Market in March.

This may have been the right choice but obviously we were disappointed. You see, not only were we looking forward to picking up some additional games for our PlayStation 2 and Master System collections, we were also planning to meet up with the awesome Luke from Hundstrasse at the event. We hadn’t seen him in person since the meeting for the first time at EGX Rezzed in April 2018 and so we’d all been excited about some retro-gaming talk over a coffee or two.

In addition, Luke and I had been plotting a collaboration about our time at the London Gaming Market: we were going to search the stalls to find an obscure title for each other within an agreed price limit, so we had something to take home and review. Rather than letting the coronavirus ruin our plans completely, we decided to carry on with our project using snail-mail and you can find out about the strange games I sent to him in this post on his blog (he knows how sorry I am).

One day a package landed on my doormat and opening it revealed 2004’s Whiplash for the PlayStation 2. It’s not a release I’d ever heard of before this collaboration, but at first glance it certainly seemed to fit the brief of being ‘weird’. The front of the case pictured an angry white rabbit being thrown at a pane of glass by a weasel and I was surprised to see the Crystal Dynamics logo in the bottom corner; this looked nothing like a Tomb Raider game and I wasn’t sure Lara Croft would approve.

As with all good retro games, the accompanying booklet provided a lengthy overview of the storyline and characters (I really miss those manuals). The title is set within the walls of the Genron Corporation, a high-tech laboratory where animals are used to test products for humans. Spanx is a crazy weasel once used for electro-shock testing; Redmond is a know-it-all rabbit who failed his last mascara test in the makeup lab; and they’re now due to be chained together and shoved inside the Genetic Recombinator.

The company’s diabolical plan is to fuse them together into a freaky new creature but a miracle happens: our heroes somehow escape from their cage at the last second and now they must get out of Genron together. What lies in front of them is a perilous journey through a place where chimps with afros are given extreme haircuts, hamsters are fired at walls just to see how well they stick, and a cheery announcer provides messages about new product lines and how the abuse of animals is great.

Whiplash, video game, box, PlayStation 2, Spanx, weasel, Redmond, rabbit

Although there are two main protagonists here, Whiplash plays like most 3D-platformers from the PlayStation 2 era and it’s clear the developers drew inspiration from releases such as Ratchet & Clank. The left analogue stick or directional buttons control Spanx (and drag Redmond along behind him on the chain) and pressing L2 gives him the ability to sprint or scurry along rails. Tapping X makes the character jump and he can interact with the world using the triangle button.

So what’s the point of Redmond if the player is controlling Spanx? Well, the testing of Genron’s super-hold hairspray means that his fur has turned into a super-tough suit of armour so he makes the perfect indestructible tool. He can be used as a whipping weapon to defeat oncoming enemies, thrown into air-purifying spheres and turned into a grapple, swung around the weasel’s head to provide a gliding skill and attached to ziplines. It seems like the rabbit got the raw end of the deal.

A selection of baddies including scientists and robotic spiders will try to prevent your escape but the combat isn’t difficult. A variety of combo moves are available including an Air Smash and Hyper Dash, but mashing the square easily deals with most of them if you can’t remember the buttons like me. It’s worth noting that enemies won’t be completely destroyed and will eventually wake up after being temporarily stunned; but if you can’t be bothered to put up a continued fight in a particular area, you can simply run around them.

Although your main objective is to get the hell out of Genron, you can do a lasting service for animals everywhere by hitting the company where it hurts the most: in the bank. Freeing creatures around the facility sees them take revenge on their captors and makes your escape slightly easier, and you can drive Genron into bankruptcy by destroying everything that isn’t nailed down. This is probably the most fun part of the gameplay mechanics and it’s great seeing Redmond enter Hyper mode once he has caused enough damage.

Sadly though, it’s not all good with Whiplash. There are a fair amount of lasers-in-corridors and fire-ducts-in-ventilation-shafts sections which feel like filler. The hub-based level system can be difficult to navigate and sometimes it’s not clear what your immediate objective is. And as with a lot of old games, bad camera angles cause unnecessary deaths and frustration when they don’t look in the right direction – so much so that I passed the controller to my other-half for a lot of our first session.

I’ve seen been back and played the game again off-stream, and I can see a certain sort of charm even though I haven’t finished it yet. The title’s absurdist humour is its highlight and I love the way the protagonist’s personalities are reflected through their movement and one-liners. Even when they’re standing still, Spanx and Redmond perform little dances or look around for enemies; and Redmond comes out with phrases such as ‘You do realise I’m a rabbit and not some sort of asbestos plush-toy, don’t you?’

But again, it’s not all positive here. The relationship between the characters is a pretty violent one and although this suits the type of humour Crystal Dynamics were going for, at times you do find yourself almost wondering whether it’s entirely appropriate. The poor bunny is electrocuted, set on fire, filled with helium, frozen in ice and dumped in radioactive waste. Pete and I couldn’t help but look at each other and grimace each time Spanx shoved Redmond into a grinder to open a door.

Whiplash appears on Wikipedia’s List of controversial video games and this references an article published on The Telegraph website on 15 February 2004. It reports concerns from several bodies about the way animal testing is depicted and Labour MP Dr Ian Gibson is quoted as saying: “It is a nasty and vicious way of prejudicing young minds for the rest of their lives… Young people with fresh minds need to be brought into an understanding of the problem with both sides of the argument being put forward in a rational and reasonable way.”

Whiplash, video game, weasel, rabbit, Spanx, Redmond, grappling hook, electricity

This is despite the whole premise of the release being against animal product testing and it not causing the same reaction when it was released in America during the previous year. In a statement, publisher Eidos Interactive said: “Whiplash is based in a fictional animal-testing laboratory where the object is to rescue all of the animals and destroy the evil testing lab. Although the video game is fictional, we hope that it raises positive awareness of animal testing among children.”

Whiplash may not be the best game I’ve ever played but it’s definitely one of the best choices Luke could have made for our collaboration. It perfectly meets our brief of being something ‘weird’ and the gameplay, artwork, voice-acting and humour encapsulate the feeling of the early 2000s. On top of all that, the stories about the controversy mentioned above are a reminder of how overreactions to video games were quite common back then and it’s a nice slice of gaming history.

The next London Gaming Market is due to take place on 19 July 2020 and who knows, maybe Luke and I will get to do a follow-up on our project in person there. Until then, stay safe everybody.

London Gaming Market March 2020: a virtual round-up

The London Gaming Market takes place every four months at the Royal National Hotel in Russell Square. I last attended in July 2019 and managed to find copies of Herdy Gerdy (a game I think only I have ever heard of) along with Syberia (damn Kate Walker and her silly ways).

Last weekend’s event was different to the previous ones we’d been to for two big reasons. First, Luke from Hundstrasse had planned to meet us there for coffee and retro-gaming talk. I was really looking forward to seeing him again because, although we talk regularly, I hadn’t seen him in person since the first time we’d met at EGX Rezzed in April 2018. Back then we’d sneakily edged him into the queue we were waiting in for a developer session by Tim Schafer – good times.

Secondly, CORVID-19 is currently making its way across the UK. Almost 800 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed here at the time of writing and, with that figure rapidly growing every day, people are understandably concerned. The organisers released a statement on their Facebook page during the week before the event confirming that March’s market was still going ahead, to give customers ‘the power to decide whether they would like to attend or not’.

With that in mind, Pete and I made the decision not to go this time. I’m rather disappointed because it means I didn’t get to meet Luke or find more games for the PlayStation 2 I picked up there last year; but with a young stepson and elderly parents, we realised it just wasn’t worth the risk. News about the postponement of EGX Rezzed at the end of the month and the cancellation of Insomnia66 in April arrived recently, and it’s likely we’ll see a similar fate for other upcoming gaming events.

So what’s a blogger to do? Well, attend the London Gaming Market virtually! Instead of travelling to Russell Square on Sunday, I sat down at my laptop with a cup of tea and checked out the websites of the traders that were due to be there. That got me thinking about the items I would have kept an eye out for if we’d been there and I may have made a few purchases online. Don’t be surprised if you see some of the following games streamed on the Later Levels’ Twitch channel very soon.

Frank Herbert’s Dune

Pete arrived home from work while I was watching the trailer for this one, and it’s an addition to our shopping list after he looked over my shoulder and said: “Cracking game. Cracking film too.” I’m curious about why he thinks it was so good when it was a critical flop that received bad reviews for poor storytelling, interface and controls. Apparently, it was one of the last titles developed by Cryo Interactive before their shares plummeted and they had to file for bankruptcy.

Shadow of Memories

I don’t recall ever playing this game but, after watching a video of the gameplay, it seems weirdly familiar. The user interface and Homunculus character with its red eyes feel as though they’re things I’ve experienced before. Maybe I had it on my original PS2 and have simply forgotten? I’d need to pick up Shadow of Memories and give it a try to see if it brought back any recollections. This adventure title about a time-travelling young man trying to prevent his death does sound as though it would be something I’d enjoy.

The X-Files: Resist or Serve

Luke was playing through The X-Files Game on his PlayStation towards the end of last year, and told me in one of our conversations that he thought it would be one I’d enjoy. It could therefore be worth picking up The X-Files: Resist or Serve for my PS2. Although it’s a different genre and I’d probably end up getting Pete to play this survival-horror while I watched from behind my hands, I’m kind of intrigued about investigating a ‘string of unusual murders linked to ghost sightings’.

Bonus game: Shinobi for the Master System

Following on from the first title above, Pete couldn’t resist getting in on the action and wanted me to add Shinobi to our shopping list. It was his favourite arcade game as a kid and the reason he pestered his parents to buy him a Master System all those years ago, which he still owns. He never managed to complete this side-scrolling action title back then because it was far too difficult; he thinks he’ll have better luck now that he’s an adult and more experienced in the ways of ninja (apparently).

Hopefully we’ll make it to the next London Gaming Market on 19 July 2020 in person. In the meantime, stay safe and well everybody.

Herdy Gerdy: my little gaming secret

The schedule for our 50-day challenge for GameBlast20 made use of a theme for each day of the week. For example, Indie Mondays gave us as chance to play some gems viewers might not have come across before; and All-Action Wednesdays treated us to Grand Theft Auto V chaos.

For Retro Fridays we revisited releases we’d played when we were younger. Some of these were modern-day remakes, such as Golden Axe from the SEGA Mega Drive & Genesis Classics collection and Battletoads from Rare Replay. Others were the original copies we’d purchased for the Xbox 360 back in the day such as Catherine. And the remaining were titles for the PlayStation 2, either found in Pete’s box of old games or purchased at the London Gaming Market.

One such game in that last category was Herdy Gerdy by Core Design. I’d picked it up at the event in July last year after seeing it on a stand and being reminded of playing it in February 2002. I can’t recall what attracted me to it back then and only have a vague recollection of coming across it for the first time in a GAME store all those years ago. If I had to hazard a guess now, I’d say it was because it was completely different to the typical shooters being released for the console.

You see, Herdy Gerdy is puzzle game about… wait for it… a young apprentice herder named Gerdy. He discovers his father has been placed under a spell by the evil wizard Sadorf when trying to wake him for the annual herding competition, in an attempt to prevent his dark rule over Magical Island from ending. To exact revenge on his dad’s nemesis and restore goodness to the land, our hero must embark on a journey to hone his skills and compete in the tournament to become Master Herder.

The gameplay takes place over 20 or so locations in which Gerdy must learn the relationships between creatures. There are around ten different species, each with its own personality and behavioral patterns, and puzzles arise when trying to figure out how to successfully herd each animal into the appropriate pen. For example, the cute little Doops will huddle around the Herding Stick, enabling you to easily group them together; but the pink Gromps will snack on the Doops, and give you a smack in the face while they’re at it.

I loved Herdy Gerdy at the time of its release. As mentioned above, it was completely different from other titles being published for the PlayStation 2 back then and, as someone who has never really enjoyed the FPS genre, that appealed to me. Here was a game which didn’t involve any guns or explosions, didn’t contain any violence – other than a kick from the bigger creatures when they were able to catch you – and it felt innocent. I remember chilling out with it every night after work until I’d manage to complete it.

Playing it again for our 50-days of streaming for GameBlast20 did make new see how much it has aged in the past 18 years though. As with a lot of older games, the controller buttons feel as though they’re the wrong way round and it’s easy to perform an action when you actually mean to jump. The camera is also a tricky thing: we’re so used to being able to pan around using the right-joystick nowadays that being told you have access to only three views feels rather constricting.

But that didn’t stop me from enjoying the couple of hours I spent with the game that night. It’s hard to pinpoint why I look back on it so fondly but I think it has something to do with the same elements I love about Fable. There’s something magical about the storyline in a fairy-tale kind of way and, although they contain elements which obviously aren’t from the real world, they aren’t so fantastical that they’re completely removed. There’s just something charming about them.

Our stream audience weren’t so entertained however. Although I was aware that Herdy Gerdy wasn’t a well-known title and had received mixed reviews from critics back in 2002, I was still surprised to hear that nobody who joined us in Twitch chat that evening had ever heard of it before. I appreciated how they were kind enough to indulge my nostalgia; but after a while we changed to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City so Pete could indulge in some nostalgia of his own.

It just goes to show you that you can’t please everybody – but there’s a game out there to appeal to every individual, regardless of how strange the choice seems to others. nostalgia has a funny way of making you assume that everyone is going to love an old one as much as you do so it can be a shock to find out they don’t, or aren’t even aware of it. But somehow, that makes those titles even more special: they’re like a little secret which gives you a warm feeling inside.

Is there a game you have fond memories of that very few other people know of? Why not tell us all about it.

The folly of Kate Walker

At the last London Gaming Market in July, I managed to pick up copies of Syberia and Syberia II for my PlayStation 2. The first game in the series is hailed by many as a classic and Adventure Gamers named it the fifteenth best adventure in 2011.

Personally though, it’s never been a release that has made it onto my favourites list. I first played it back in 2003 on my old console and I’ve repeated it a couple of times since on PC but it’s always struck me as being rather odd. I understand video games are meant to be creative works of fantasy, designed to transport us to all sorts of magical places, but Syberia’s storyline contains several elements that just make me scratch my head in confusion and think ‘Why?’

Not least of all is the title’s protagonist Kate Walker, an American lawyer sent by her firm to the fictional French village of Valadilène to oversee the buy-out of a automaton factory. After finding out that the owner had recently died, she’s advised by the village notary that her brother Hans Voralberg may still be alive and so ensues a journey around a steampunkish version of Europe to track him down. I was reminded of just how much I don’t like this character when I streamed the game last month.

I know there are going to be a few shocked gasps among some of you reading that sentence. After all, Kate Walker (because almost everybody in Syberia calls her by her full name for some strange reason) is a much-loved character who’s often cited as a female protagonist we can be proud of. And while I’ll admit she’s more independent, intelligent and strong than some other leading ladies we’ve had in the past, all I can see when I look at her is someone who’s just not that nice.

She points out that nobody is around to take her bags up to her room upon arrival at her hotel in Valadilène. The manager apologies sincerely and tells her it’s a day of mourning for the whole village due to Anna Volraberg’s funeral, before taking her single case up to the next floor. The baker tells her the same thing when she asks why the bakery is closed. But she then says during a call with her best friend Olivia: ‘These people are just not very hospitable.’ Get over yourself, Kate Walker.

The hotel manager and baker aren’t the only people she’s rude to. When she needs to pick up a boat oar to use as a leaver, she says: ‘Yuuck! That oar is all dirty and wet!’. She then proceeds to let young Momo collect it for her because she doesn’t want to get her hands messy – so much for independence. It’s also worth pointing out here that the way Momo is referred to by other characters is often extremely derogatory, with words such as ‘slow’ and ‘retard’ used which makes for uncomfortable viewing.

The majority of Syberia’s plot covers what happens after Kate Walker boards a clockwork train staffed only by an automaton named Oscar, both made at the Voralberg factory. She has no idea as to its route or destination other than a hunch it might take her to Hans. As if that wasn’t foolhardy enough, she brings no supplies with her (although her case somehow her case miraculously appears in the train’s sleeper compartment later). What kind of woman goes on a long journey without at least taking a phone charger and snacks?

The biggest thing I can’t forgive her is during an event towards the end of the game. Throughout her mission, she receives several calls from her fiancé Dan who comes across as the ‘jealous type’. He’s annoyed she isn’t with him in New York to go a dinner party hosted by an important client and continuously tells her to come home. It becomes obvious to the player over the course of the title that it’s not all innocent between Dan and Olivia, and eventually they both reveal to Kate Walker that something has happened.

On one hand I can respect her for handling the situation with such grace. She doesn’t get angry; she simply realises that perhaps she and her fiancé didn’t love each other as much as they thought, and that her journey throughout Europe has changed who she is. I don’t believe calls with news like that would have been managed with so much dignity in the real world – there definitely would have been at least a small amount of screaming – but props to her for managing to stay so calm.

However, I just can’t agree with her responses to the cheating pair. When Olivia tells her she’s had the hots for Dan for ages and something happened between them when she invited him into her home for a nightcap, she says: “Don’t bust a gut over it.” And to Dan she replies: “Maybe, I’m to blame somewhere in all of this. Maybe I pushed you into Olivia’s arms. I’m well aware this trip has taken me far from New York and far from the Kate you once knew.”

What the hell, Kate Walker? A best friend is meant to be someone who you can trust, yet you simply tell her not to worry about sleeping with your fiancé as if it’s something that can just be easily forgotten. And as for Dan, he should be proud of your achievements and sticking to your mission regardless of the adverse (and ridiculous) conditions you’ve found yourself in – not using them as an excuse to end up in Olivia’s bed because you’re not there to cater to his every whim.

The fact she feels she’s partly to blame for what went on back in New York and that she essentially needs to apologise for growing as a person irritates me. I understand the reasons for infidelity are far more complicated than can be explained during a couple of short phone calls shown in a video game, but this isn’t a side of Kate Walker I wanted to see. Show me someone who’s been hurt by people she cared about and who is vulnerable – but don’t give me a woman who feels she has to say sorry for others’ mistakes.

It’s for the reasons explained within this post that I’ve never made it to Syberia II or Syberia 3, and it may seem strange then that I purchased the second title despite not particularly liking the original. It’s because I finally want to find out whether those plot elements that seem so silly are finally cleared up in a way that makes sense. I guess that also means there’s a chance that the new Kate Walker could end up growing on me if I spend a bit more time with her.

But not if she doesn’t start taking her phone charger and snacks on long train journeys.