Hello all! So, last time I was here, I talked about Dark Void, a kind of okay game that I like, bizarrely because of its mediocrity.
Today brings us to a quieter adventure title from the 90's. It’s a classic Sierra adventure, and it rocks for a variety of reasons.
Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers is the first in a trilogy of point-and-click adventure games starring the titular Gabriel Knight. Gabriel is the owner of a rare book store and aspiring (read:struggling) novelist, who begins investigating what comes to be known as the “Voodoo Murders” in order to use them as inspiration for his next book. This being an adventure game (and a fantastically written one at that), the plot dives deeper into Voodoo, minor globetrotting, and Gabriel’s family history; Gabriel’s destiny is to become a Schattenjäger, or Shadow Hunter, which is...well, it’s tough to explain, given my habit of generally not spoiling plots in these articles, but basically, it’s a great time.
That’s because unlike adventure games of the era, such as other Sierra adventure titles like Space Quest, King’s Quest, or LucasArts fare like Maniac Mansion, Gabriel Knight opts for a more mature, serious vibe. Generally. I mean, I love the games I just listed just as much, but Gabriel Knight, despite its supernatural trappings, feels at its core like a story about real people doing real things. For example, in something of a rarity for gaming in the early 90's, you aren’t playing as a super terrific hero. Gabriel isn’t only flawed, he’s also kind of an ass. He routinely manipulates people for personal gain and makes increasingly lewd comments towards the female cast, though Grace, his assistant at the bookstore, doesn’t take his crap. He’s a lovable jerk, in other words; Gabriel is a good person who goes about it in a somewhat snarky, sometimes annoying way.
Speaking of how Gabriel interacts with people, there’s a rapport between Gabriel and Grace that feels authentic; you really get the feel that these two have known each other for a long time before the game starts, hence the light bickering. None of their dialog feels forced or weirdly scripted. They feel like two people talking. The choice of voice actors helps immensely, with Leah Remini being a perfect fit for the sarcastic Grace and the legendary Tim Curry himself as Gabriel Knight, doing a Louisiana accent so perfect you don’t realize it’s even Curry. Mark Hamill, Jim Cummings, and the late Mary Kay Bergman fill out the terrific cast.
I spend a lot of time talking about the plot and dialog, because Gabriel Knight is, of course, an adventure game, and adventure games live and die by that, in addition to the puzzles. In true adventure game fashion, GK features puzzles that are as complicated as they are nebulous. That’s always a problem in classic point-and-clicks like this, and it’s no different here. Then again...I don’t know, I wonder sometimes if it’s us. If we’re more impatient than we used to be, and we don’t feel like clicking on every pixel like we used to. I think back to a clock puzzle in the first part of the game; you need to line up an icon from a set at the twelve o’ clock position and you need to adjust the clock hands to the correct time. I know this puzzle solution offhand, but the problem is, I don’t remember exactly how you learn that solution in game. And so it goes with adventure games; you often need to take enormous leaps in logic in order to progress. On the other hand, nothing quite beats that “aha!” moment when you solve a puzzle.
If there’s a complaint to be made here, it’s that GK features too many different ways of interacting with the environment. Old-school Sierra titles like this often had you switch what the mouse pointer did by clicking icons on the top of the screen. Click the shoe, for example, and your pointer becomes a shoe. Now, clicking will walk your character to the point you clicked. Change to an eye, and your character will look at whatever you clicked. Not too bad, right? Except Gabriel Knight features an annoying eight different interactivity icons, each serving a different purpose. The two dialog buttons always irritated me; one for talking and one for questioning (the two are different). Often, I’d click on a door with the hand icon to open it, forgetting that you need to use the door icon. Hand, grasping hand, and operate are three seperate, independant icons, meaning most people will likely flounder around trying to use the correct one. It can be exhausting from an adventure game standpoint, and it bugs me to this day. Far superior to typing everything out like in the really old days, but still. Between that and the puzzles, Gabriel Knight can sometimes make you growl with displeasure.
It’s worth it if you stick with it, though. Gabriel Knight tells a rich story that feels authentic as hell due to writer Jane Jensen’s perfect dialog and a top-notch voice cast. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the soundtrack; it’s phenomenal and fits the game flawlessly, far above and beyond what you expect from a game from this time and this genre. Not much else to say about it except that it’s great; seek it out on YouTube or something.
I miss this character and this world, and I hope a new game in the series comes around. There’s a remake, and it looks great, so play either one if you find the time.
Thanks always for reading! I have a Twitter and I like talking to people, so follow me!
Next week, I talk about the nature of impossibly lofty expectations vs. cold (but not really that cold) reality in this prequel to an N64 legend.