Written by: Rik

Date posted: January 8, 2012

This chap is called Dr. John and he's into Voodoo. He’s also voiced by Michael Dorn off of that Star Trek.

Until recently, my only prior experience with the Gabriel Knight series was more than ten years ago, when a friend of mine lent me his copy of the second game, The Beast Within (which, er, I seem to still have in my possession, come to think of it). Myself and fellow adventurer Jo sat down to play it together but made very little progress, and to this day the only clear memory either of us have of it is a section in a German market where we attempted to make conversation with an elderly purveyor of local meat produce, only for the language barrier and her unhealthy enthusiasm for weisswurst to prevent our conversation progressing further, with Gabriel rejecting our direction to speak to her again with the immortal line, “I think she only wants to talk about white sausage.”

(Incidentally, I checked this on YouTube just to make sure I wasn’t making it up, only to be reminded that the initial encounter is backed by some ridiculous German oompah music, and that the wurst in question is inexplicably held aloft like a flaccid penis, just to maximise the potential for childish sniggering.)

Anyway, we were never all that taken with it, for whatever reason, but the series does seem to be highly regarded by fans of reasonably-ancient adventures, so for some time now I’d resolved to return to it. Now that I’ve played Sins of the Fathers, the scene described above does now make slightly more sense to me (the setting and context at least, if not the sausage-waving) but I’m still not sure I want to return to that market and continue Gabriel’s adventures anytime soon.

You switch to this close-up for longer conversations.

While the series would later make use of green-screen video (The Beast Within) before progressing to polygons and 3D worlds (1999’s Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned) the first chapter is a fairly standard point-and-click adventure, the structure and design of which will be familiar to anyone who knows what a point-and-click adventure is. You are Gabriel Knight, a bookseller and writer who tags along when a police detective buddy is assigned to investigate a series of grisly killings known as ‘the Voodoo murders’ in the hope of using some of the material for a novel. Inevitably, Gabriel’s involvement doesn’t stop there, as he gets increasingly drawn into all kinds of strange and dangerous situations that seem to come along with being associated with the case.

There’s much to admire about Sins of the Fathers. It’s always refreshing when an adventure has a darker, more serious storyline, and it shows more ambition than simply cranking out a cartoony and light-hearted staple of the genre. That’s not to say it takes itself too seriously – there’s a light peppering of humour throughout (none of it sausage related) – but ultimately it’s a game about some people being killed in a particularly gruesome manner, and the investigation into that, set in the real-life city of New Orleans, rather than a zany knockabout caper featuring wisecracking talking animals [Thanks for pointing that out – FFG reader]. New Orleans is an interesting and relatively unconventional setting, too, and there does seem to have been a genuine and significant attempt to recreate a sense of the city’s cultural heritage.

It’s a fairly dialogue-heavy game, which I like, allowing you to chat with most characters about non-essential details as well as those that advance the plot. There are some strong performances, too – with Gabriel’s assistant Grace (played by Leah Remini, who snogged Zack Morris in an episode of Saved by the Bell before starring in King of Queens) and his police buddy Mosely (voiced by Mr Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill) being particularly impressive. The relationship between Grace and Gabriel is permeated by some witty verbal interplay, with the former seemingly equal parts repulsed and charmed by her roguish employer.

Gabriel and Grace get better acquainted. (My sincere apologies).

Puzzles include some memorable and unusual examples – I particularly enjoyed one involving a mime and a motorbike cop – and elsewhere, there are a few little touches that aren’t strictly necessary but which are always nice to come across in a game like this. I liked the fact that you score points just for reading the newspaper each morning, for example, and that you can use the telephone to dial any number, not just the one you need to dial at that particular time, to be rewarded with a whole host of intermittently-amusing ‘wrong number’ conversations. I enjoy solving the next puzzle, and making progress through a game, as much as anyone else, but I also like to be given some interesting distractions along the way, and you just can’t beat a good crank-call set-piece for some incidental fun.

Overall, though, I’m afraid Sins of the Fathers didn’t really do it for me. There’s clearly been a lot of time invested in researching voodoo culture, and certainly the idea of investigating a series of voodoo-related murders sounds like a decent enough premise, but I found it all a bit dull and difficult to follow. I wasn’t a great fan of Gabriel as a protagonist, either: he’s laid-back, he’s a womaniser, he wears denim and rides a Harley – he’s basically a lead character from a deservedly unaired TV pilot. To be fair, though, he might have been slightly more bearable had Tim Curry not saddled him with a voice that sounds like Forrest Gump doing an impression of Johnny Cash (or vice-versa). And on top of that, there’s also your usual Sierra adventure nonsense – an unwieldy interface with far too many similar commands (operate, open, pick up, move) represented by indecipherable icons; getting horribly stuck because you forgot to do something earlier in the game; having to avoid death with swift mouse-work – to put up with.

Yep, it’s a talking dragon.

The graphics are fine, although there’s a general lack of definition which causes characters to blend in with the background, and useable objects and items are occasionally difficult to pick out. Cut-scene animations appear in a tiny window, reducing their dramatic impact, although some of them are rather unintentionally comical anyway. There are also a number of sound glitches – the background music always seems to be at maximum volume when you first start, even if the options screen says it isn’t, and speech is occasionally patchy and sometimes cuts out altogether. To be fair, I’m not sure whether it’s the original game or the GOG.com/DOSBox version that’s to blame, but seeing as the latter is likely to be the one that you’re going to be able to play in this day and age, I guess these issues are worth mentioning.

Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within is a perfectly competent adventure which eventually builds to a tense and reasonably exciting crescendo. Had I not been playing it for the purposes of this review, though, I’m not sure whether I’d have stayed the distance in order to see it. If you look around the internet, you’ll be able to read plenty of positive reviews which would indicate other people quite enjoyed it, so there’s a chance you will too. As it turns out, it didn’t particularly grab me, but that was just my particular experience, albeit one that makes it difficult for me to recommend the game here.