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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.

Kim View All

Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.

23 thoughts on “The folly of Kate Walker Leave a comment

  1. I can see all your points and she truly sounds an unusual person in situations like mentioned. I never thought (realized) she was rude and after reading how she acted my first thought was “well, she’s american”. I know that’s rude to say, but it was my first idea. If the following makes someone mad, I’m sorry, but what I’ve seen aboard the americans usually acts very much like they own the planet, but in the states they are very friendly.
    I don’t know what the Kate’s creator and writer had thought when creating the character, but as a writer I see many things in Syberia being unpolished or just weakly written. I still love the Syberia I and II and the plain reason is my childhood attachment to the games. Me as a kid didn’t see her rude. I was into the “magical” world and back then the overall game collection was much narrow and Syberia was different. I haven’t played the games in a long time and I tried Syberia 3, but sadly there’s so many game-breaking random glitches and I got stuck right at the beginning. Not very good first impression, but yet again this shows the developer’s skill to execute Syberia. I believe they have good in mind, but lacking with outcome. Maybe they tried to give her some “edginess”, but made her rude instead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I have to agree with you on that. It’s clear the developer wanted to show a character who had changed her outlook and widened her horizons by the end of the game, and I can appreciate her progression. But Kate isn’t a character I warmed to and for someone who likes to think of herself as independent, there are times when she’s just too reliant on others.

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  2. I honestly get where you’re coming from. I also often found myself asking ‘why?’ on several occasions. I didn’t particularly like Kate Walker as a character, but I did enjoy the game as a whole. The second game followed on straight from the first and I really appreciated that not a single thing had been altered, it looked and played like I’d never been away. As for the third game… Don’t waste your time on it. It doesn’t feel like part of the Syberia series and it was such a buggy mess back when I experienced it – whether that has changed since, I don’t know.

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    • I made it through Syberia II after drafting this post and I have to say I’m still not sold on the series. Not only did it crash a few times and cause me to have to repeat my progress, it didn’t make me enthusiastic about the third game. I just don’t see there was a need to continue the story because it had been wrapped up – and Juril above warned me on Twitter that it was full of bugs!

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  3. Just be grateful you didn’t go into Syberia 3. It’s a lot more Kate Walkering from other characters, because really everyone just says her full name. I could break down just how bad the game is, but even though you won’t play it, I don’t want to “spoil” it without permission.

    Also, I know your article focused on Kate herself, but special mention must be made to her boss…who’s not exactly sane, is he? And the incredible detective who tracks her down despite there being no logical way for him to do so in the first place!

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    • That bit just didn’t make sense. He comes across as a total hard-arse businessman in the first game – but then goes all soft and tries to track down Kate in the second? I don’t buy it.

      Why would he do that? He hasn’t nothing to gain from getting her to come back to New York; she could have faxed or posted the documents to him to close the deal, and so he would have got what he ultimately wanted. I know her family were nagging him to do something but Kate’s decision to leave wasn’t in his hands and so he wasn’t responsible.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think she never posted the documents, which to be honest with the timeline they put in place in S1 for the deal to go through likely means that deal went bust.

        They also had that strange cutscene where Kate Walker’s (I will never again just say her name), mother calls him to threaten legal action, like she has a case. Her daughter left on her own and said she wouldn’t be coming back.

        You wanna know which part in the game makes the entire boss angle make less sense: Kate Walker’s mom calls her begging to come back and her response is “I’m not coming back, I’m doing something else with my life,” and this happens BEFORE that cutscene with the lawsuit threat. Like, she knew her daughter wouldn’t come back, so why is she threatening now? Desperation? or did the writers forget things? 😛

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  4. You know that I was very much looking forward to this article 🙂 I mignt not share you opinions, but it was still interesting to read.

    It’s funny how perceptions can be different. Yes, Kate Walker was rude and unlikable in the beginning, but I thought it was just a stereotypical depiction of a self-absorbed, “high-society” American lawyer (“I’m important!”). Also, to be successful as a lawyer, you have to be a bit ready to walk over corpses.
    Over the course of the game, I found her to become increasingly warmer and friendlier, as she realised that making money and stepping up in the world is not the only thing that matters in life.
    Syberia I and II are pretty much one game that was cut in half, so the transformation will still go on in the next game.

    Her phone calls with friends and family always struck me as the narrative element where the game shows you that she is still looked down upon as a little girl that nobody takes serious, and she gets more and more frustrated with it. Funny, enough, I perceived the final breakup completely different. To me, it was not “Shit happens, and maybe I’m to blame”. I thought it was sarcastic to some part, and she was very much disconnected from “that other world” already, and this gave her the final push to be done with “being a sheltered girl in high-society America” and set out on an Adenture all on her own.

    As for snacks and a charger: well, yes, but isn’t that probably just some “conservation of detail”? The game is from 2002, so not every detail can be integrated. Also, I “explained” it to myself as that the adventure was not really planned. Kate Walker (yes, I will call her by her full name, too) was supposed to meet with the owner, get his signature and be done with it. The solution always seemed to be just around the edge. But I agree, no matter how short a trip is, you should pack to be able to survive for at least 3 days.

    I think you should play the second game as well, just to complete her journey (although the ending is just dumb as beans…). Do yourself a favour and skip the third one though. It’s a buggy mess, the control scheme is horrible (at least on PC), the voice acting is bad, and the narrative pacing completely garbage. The graphics and music are pretty nice, though.

    One more thing: I wasn’t bothered by everyone calling Kate Walker by her full name. In the beginning, she was condescending and bratty, so I took it as people making fun of her. Oscar is a robo…sorry, automaton, and is programmed to use the name he is given (also, it was funny, and probably intended as such). As she continues on her journey, she visits stranger and stranger countries (yes, Russia is a strange country), where an English name is a curiosity, and people like using it, almost as a title.

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    • I managed to complete Syberia II not long after this post was originally drafted so, even though it only covers the first game, I finally managed to see how Hans’ story ended. And I have to agree with you: Kate *did* become warmer as the titles progressed. I’m scared to say that she even grew on me a little.

      Admittedly, a lot of this article is tongue-in-cheek; but Kate really does need to sort out her snack situation (ha ha) and she’s never going to be one of my favourite characters. Those final conversations with Olivia and Dan just didn’t feel natural and it would have been good to see her display even a little bit of anger. It’s quite surprising that they’re never even mentioned in the sequel – the betrayal and breakup surely would have affected her in some way!

      Everyone I’ve spoken to about Syberia has said not to bother with the third instalment, so I think I’ll give it a miss for now. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree, there are a few things in the second game that feel a bit disconnected, given that the games so seamlessly feed into each other.

        I’m happy that you admitted that she grew on you, then we have at least some common ground on her^^ But I understand that people might not like her all that much.

        What did you think of the ending?

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        • Hmm… it’s a bit of a tough one.

          (For anyone else reading this: spoilers will follow!)

          I was glad Hans finally found his mammoths and understand it was his dream to do this, not Kate’s. But at the same time it was weird that she’d just let him go off on his own into the wild; after all that time and effort, would you not want to go with him and see what the island was like? I’ve read a little about the plot of the third game and I’m not sure how I feel about it. It seems almost ‘stuck on’, as though it’s not entirely necessary because the Syberia story had already been wrapped up.

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          • Okay, I have pretty much the same feelings. It was nice to see Hans finally happy. I didn’t really worry about him going into the wilderness, it always seemed to me that he had only days, if not hours to live, and he only clinged onto his life to see the mammoths.

            What struck me as totally dumb was the fact that Syberia was built up to be a mysterious locations, and only the special ship could reach it. Kate Walker was effectively stranded on Syberia. And since she didn’t bring any snacks (that HAS to be her biggest fault…), and probably no real survival skills, she would have died soon after.

            And yes, Syberia 3 was completely tacked on, and Syberia suddenly was only a few days away from a fairly big town…

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  5. I hated the way Momo was referred to in that game, and I chalk it up to being the early ’00’s when such terms were more common. It’s definitely cringe-worthy. I’d say play the second one if you can stomach more of Kate Walker, but under NO circumstances should you play the third. It was not good at all. It’s like every good from the first two were left by the wayside and the charm of them was nonexistent. I thought the way Kate responded to Olivia was weird, too. Yeah, it’s fine to understand people grow apart, but if my BFF did that with my fiance, we wouldn’t be BFFs or even Fs anymore.

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    • I have to admit that I don’t remember how I responded to the Momo situation when I played the game in 2003. But going through it again recently… yes, it made me really uncomfortable. I guess the positive thing to take from it is how much opinions have changed since that time.

      I’ve now played through Syberia II and wasn’t overly impressed, although it was good to see how Hans’ story ended and that he finally got to fulfil his dream. But Kate? I don’t particularly care what happened to her afterwards – I wouldn’t be surprised if she ended up back in New York, apologising to Dan and Olivia for her disappearance. Everyone has been telling me to stay away from the third title so I’ll definitely be giving it a miss for as long as possible! 😂

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      • The third game is SO bad. I watched a Let’s Play of it, and it was just awful. I enjoyed the first two games and thought they should’ve just ended after that, maybe with a coda about what happened to Kate for those who cared, but they decided to continue on with Kate going on a journey with the Youkals. Not only that they didn’t even finish the narrative for sequel bait, but they haven’t made one, and I honestly hope they don’t. They should’ve stopped with two.

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