Review – Gabriel Knight : Sins of the Fathers (PC, 1993)

Aside from the RPG there is one genre of games that have always managed to stimulate my imagination better than any other. The point and click adventure has been a regular part of my diet since King’s Quest 7 which introduced me to the genre soon after it first came out.

Usually, puzzles that stump me for hours are the intimidating factor that keeps me from jumping between adventure games regularly, but some more user-friendly games such as Telltale’s fantastic Tales of Monkey Island and Sam & Max alleviated my fears and I felt that I could survive just about any adventure game without seeking help from hints or guides.

Gabriel Knight : Sins of The Fathers beat my pride into the ground.

How did I even get started with playing Gabriel Knight, a game that I’ve always seen as an obscure corner of the Sierra library? Well it all started back with the rise of Kickstarter. When Wasteland 2 and Shadowrun Returns showed that games can be successfully funded on the platform, a whole bunch of former Sierra figures saw opportunity to return to adventure games. Al Lowe was the first, bringing back Leisure Suit Larry, a project that I couldn’t not fund. The Space Quest guys and Jane Jensen, creator of Gabriel Knight also started successful projects.

Jensen’s project spurred my interest for two reasons. First, that it’s one of few studios near the east coast. Second, that the project was to help lead to multiple games, including the upcoming Moebius and a yet to be announced project that some seem to be speculating might be a new Gabriel Knight title. I want the scoop on both, maybe try to interview the developers if I can, and for me the original game would provide necessary background information so that I can be familiar with her work when I eventually go in.

Depending on your puzzle solving skills, and tolerance before running for a hint site, the game can either be long or really long. I think I’ve been playing periodically for about a month before finishing it off. There were certainly those nights where I would dread loading the game especially toward the end when the areas feel a bit overwhelming in size. Most of the areas in the game are 1 – 3 screens of content. The last dungeons in contrast are over 12 screens, a little less packed with content, but still quite the surprise in scope.

The pacing of GK also takes a turn midway through. From the beginning, the world is relatively safe and there are no ways for Gabriel to die. In the second half he can, and survival usually requires precise timing to figure out what item needs to be used on what object before he dies. I’ve reloaded some of the game’s encounters dozens of times before either looking the solution up or accidentally doing the right thing. I would have preferred to have solved them myself, but constantly reloading and dying 3 seconds later gets old.

The only thing faster than a speeding bullet : a thrown knife.

Despite this, from beginning to end I was absorbed in the story and atmosphere. Just listen to the title theme and a few others :

The soundtrack is beautiful, at times both relaxing and creepy. The backgrounds have great detail and the animation looks complex for its time. I also like how some of the backgrounds were drawn in such a way as to give an illusion of depth to the room.

Here, you have an average bar scene, with the large bottles and a statue in the foreground adding to visual depth.

Voice acting was the first thing that struck me when starting the game, and my first impression was that it’s terrible. Later I found out that Gabriel is voiced by Tim Curry and his best friend by Mark Hamill. There is a lot of dialogue, either spoken by one of the characters or a mysterious female narrator. It was hard at first to take some of these voices seriously, but after getting into it, even the voices take on an unexpected charm and when combined with the music and visuals. It’s almost like Police Quest, taking place (mostly) in an urban American city with a theme of crime investigation. Of course, Police Quest always felt a little more rigid and too focused on feeling “Policey” by calling code numbers and following the right protocol, Gabriel Knight in contrast is more laid back and typically lets you screw around without fear of a game over situation.

A part of me wants to hate Gabriel Knight just because of the many hours I spent confused trying to solve its strange puzzles and its “Figure out what to do in 3 seconds or prepare to reload” action scenes. Fortunately, this is also one of those rare games that I can’t help but think about fondly after finishing it, and even maintained my attention despite a backlog of games that would make the rest of The Wired Fish shit their pants.

The abundance of dialogue not only means that we get a pretty strong narrative, but those involved in the story have clearly done their share of research.  Part of the game takes place in a university where a professor goes on for a while talking about voodoo’s origins and it felt educational to the point where I could read the textbook for my Latin American anthropology class and understand what they’re talking about when they touch up on Haiti and their voodoo traditions.  From starting the game with little knowledge on the subject, by the end I feel as though I could actually tell quite a bit about voodoo.

The Mega64 crew could totally make a skit out of this single line of dialogue.

If you have enough time to dedicate, it’s only 6 bucks on GOG for a DRM free version, and I’m sure you’ll get your money’s worth if you stick it out. That is, if you’re a patient gamer like me. Folks that don’t care for atmosphere and prefer to be always in action and moving forward with as few hurdles as possible will find themselves frustrated and ultimately, bored.

Grading :  (Gameplay is worth 60% and Aesthetics is worth 40% in scaling this game)

Aesthetics (Music, Visuals, Level Design and Story all worth 10%, additive calculation)

  • Not only does the music often fit the given situation, but in all honesty, I can’t get some of these tracks out of my head such as the opening section to the main theme and the track that plays at the crime scene (see youtube link above).  I wish there were more recordings of the music so that I could share some of the later tracks which are also great.  There’s one or two annoying tracks, but for the most part I can look over those.  (9/10)
  • Back to the visual depth, the artistic attention given to the game is amazing, constantly making use of both foreground and background design.  Some of the death scenes also look great.  There are parts of a room that really take a lot of observation and clicking to come across because they blend in a little too well.   (10/10)
  • I like the areas in the game, except for the last two dungeons which were a little on the frustrating side.  My other gripe with level design is that certain areas are bigger than they appear and you would have no idea about it unless you try opening the most obscure looking doors or find an exit prompt waaaay in the corner of another section. (6/10)
  • The story is part of what makes the game so much fun.  Again, there is a ton of dialogue to keep the player immersed in New Orleans.  The second half, expanding on Gabriel’s lineage ensures that this isn’t just an adventure game about voodoo, but one covering a wide variety of themes.  (9/10)
  • Total : 34/40

Gameplay (Worth 70 points, subtractive calculation)

  • Those action scenes are a little too unforgiving and reloading over and over again really takes you out of the game.  (-7)
  • Some of the puzzles are not only brutal, but are usually given the bare minimum of hints as to what you’re supposed to do.  I’m still ashamed of how much I used a hint guide.  (-2)
  • Why is there a separate icon to operate machinery and another to operate doors, boxes and cabinets?  Also, what’s the point of two different talk icons?  It’s just a minor gripe, but I feel as though the commands could have been simplified.  (-1)
  •  Total : 50/60

Grand Total : 84/100

Here’s to surviving two more Gabriel Knight adventures.  A hint of what’s to come next :

Ohhhh boy….

2 thoughts on “Review – Gabriel Knight : Sins of the Fathers (PC, 1993)

  1. suikoinfinity Post author

    There’s one or two moments that were genuinely creepy, but it’s not the kind of sudden scares that you might see in an old school Resident Evil game where a dog suddenly jumps out at you or a sudden noise comes out of nowhere. I hesitate to call it horror.

    It’s a supernatural mystery/thriller for sure, not many people actually die in the game, but the story deaths are for the most part not bloody or gruesome. Main character deaths can get a little violent, but they’re rare and play off like action scenes. In horror, you’re usually the hunted trying to survive, but in Gabriel Knight, you don’t feel so helpless (well, maybe helpless to some of the puzzles and split second action sequences).

    RE leaves you trapped in a zombie infested mansion which you can’t leave because it’s surrounded by zombie infested wilderness. Silent Hill likewise traps the player inside a town seemingly blocked off from the outside world. I think that feeling of entrapment/helplessness is critical to the horror genre. Gabriel isn’t under such a situation and if he wanted could just get the fuck out of New Orleans.

    In short, I’m not sure if it was even intended to be scary.

    Reply

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