“One of the great things about Sierra, was that Ken Williams really believed in the artistic vision. If he gave you the chance to do a game, that was your responsibility. Nobody told you what to do with it. If it didn’t sell, then you wouldn’t do another game for him, but he would let you have that freedom.” This is how Jane Jensen got to do her vision of Gabriel Knight and what an opportunity: freedom to create the game you wanted and it being your responsibility.
As a huge fan of point and clicks growing up, with of course Sierra being a familiar name at that point, I also remember fondly Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. I have not played the original in ages, but when my sister asked me about it, I immediately recommended it and told her it was one of my favorite games growing up. However, after some time, I discovered that she started playing the remake instead of the original. With this, let’s see if it improved upon the original and if it really stands against the test of time.
Unsettling and interesting, just like a curse
Gabriel Knight stars the titular ladies’ man and author, who is seeking out information on the ongoing voodoo-murders in New Orleans for inspiration for his upcoming book. He is one busy man, trying to get information about these murders from anyone and even trying to solve the case himself while he is at it. However, if his recurring nightmares are anything to go by, he is more connected to these events than he realizes. This is how the game basically starts and I won’t spoil anything more. The story is clearly inspired by cult-novels you would find in traditional horror-stories, but it is excellently told. The progression of each discovery and clue feels genuinely interesting and every step includes new revelations or sometimes twists that you would not see coming. A new addition to the remake is also having more focus on what to do each day, instead of filling the first day with plenty of exposition, which could easily happen in the original due to being able to go anywhere and become a mess. This makes it so the story has a good flow, with focus on how to tell a grand story, and make the clues and discoveries tied well to the overall plot.
The atmosphere the remake provides, is unsettling, yet intriguing. Each area represents a realistic location well, such as the unnerving St. Louis Cemetery or Gabriel’s own sanctuary: his bookstore. By having every area set in one town and yet give the different places their own feel, it creates a great style with tones flowing well from one to another. Adding to this, are all the characters you will meet. Each has their own personality and a clear role in Gabriel’s adventure, with the more plot important characters being especially entertaining. Gabriel is however the star of the show. He is such a casanova who has his silly remarks, but with a good heart who certainly is serious when the moment heats up. It makes him easily a character to root for and enjoy his comedic comments that at times breaks the fourth wall. The narrator is also enjoyable, with about as many witty comments as Gabriel.
The only negative part about the story, is during the last segments of the game where you will do a lot of traveling and the style becomes very different from earlier parts of the game. It is not bad, but it is just off to change the style so drastically. There is also one part that has a lot of exposition about voodoo, but you can luckily reread it in the journal if you miss any plot important elements. Even Gabriel sleeps during this event, which is admittedly humorous. With that said, the lore of voodoo and its history, is entirely based on real events and facts, with only fictional elements added to create this story. This is quite impressive and had me actually reading more about this subject. I just wish it could have been more spread out as it generally is, so you would not have to literally sit in a lecture.
This is all in all, a great horror-mystery that should not be overlooked. The small complaints are only what keeps it from being perfect as the characters and atmosphere are fantastic, and the story has a good flow for the most part. After the end-credits rolled, I began to remember why I enjoy tales truly inspired by horror.
Story Score: 8.5/10
Out with the old, in with more modern
Point and click-games often aged because of inconvenient designs and unfortunately the original Gabriel Knight is no exception. Having 8 different ways to interact with objects and people, including that you could only cycle one way through them or had to go to the menu to pick one of the options, made puzzles often take much longer than needed. Not to mention having actions sounding similar, such as talking or asking, made it more cumbersome than needed. The newer version fixes this by making it so you can choose what actions to make when you click on an object or a person, and also minimizes the amount of options to make it clearer what you can do with them. The inventory for items you have picked up is also much cleaner with every object you have collected being presented on one screen. This makes it much easier to examine an item, try them out on someone or something, or combining them.
The book will become your best friend on this journey, as it is able to copy certain illustrations and take notes. Compared to the original, you also get it at the beginning, which is a great design-choice. Throughout the game, you will have to think cleverly and logically on how to reach your objectives and try to find the best ways to do so. There are plenty of puzzles, including morse-codes, deciphering riddles, and be sly by making characters act on your behalf. The puzzles are usually very well made, with some having multiple steps to be solved. There is even a clever maze-puzzle to enjoy, which I can’t say for many games in general. Another element to these puzzles, will also be the dialogue-options that have returned. It is clearer to see what is important to ask, with other options being for humorous conversations or maybe more lore to the overall story. This gives a great atmosphere to the game, while also being a good way to get more insight on how to deal with certain puzzles.
Making it easier to see what you can interact with, the 20th-anniversary has the option to highlight all interactive items and persons on the screen, which is great. There are unfortunately 3 puzzles that are more about your reaction-time than clever thinking, and I can count only 3 times when I could die. I find it bizarre to die on only few occasions, as it does not become a main part of the game and you can feel almost cheated on if it happens. You can save about anytime, but this is still a weird choice. There is also one puzzle that was frustrating due to including backtracking if one mistake was made, and one objective needed to finish a day had no indication that I had to do so. These faults are thankfully uncommon, but noticeable.
The game is broken up into 10 days, each ending automatically when you have done what you needed to do. In the original, this was terribly hard to do, as you could go anywhere at any time, but might be overwhelmed with plenty of stories to follow, causing uncertainty on what you had to do to progress. The remake is much more focused on essential parts and making it more clear on what you should do, by for example closing off certain areas. With a journal to give you insight on what happened and also providing a hint-button should you need it, you get much better flow in the game. Having always access to the map, also helps making the adventure more fast paced. The jingle for when you made a discovery or progression, is also present and helpful for realizing that you are getting closer to solving the cases.
The more streamlined approach to the original is welcome and a better take on the gameplay. It still has flaws carried over from the original, which is a shame they could not be without. I suppose fans would cry out if they were not kept in tact, but nostalgia is a seductive liar. The takes to make the game more accessible, makes it not dumbed down like many feared, but rather more fast paced and logical. With most puzzles being enjoyable and clever, you will certainly have your brain scratched and feel accomplished when you figure out what you need to do.
Gameplay Score: 7.5/10
Great style and quality, despite missing Tim Curry
There are huge updates to the original and all are actually for the better. While the pixelart will certainly be missed, the updated presentation is much better, with easier to see objects to interact with, and beautiful backgrounds. Each area is filled with details and strong color, and some locations are recreated from real places with brilliant results. The end-part is unfortunately a bit too drastic a change in style, but it is only for a short part. The minor pictures for interacting with objects are just as well made and the more disturbing images will send a shivers down your spine. The character-models blend in well with the new backgrounds. Taking a 2D-sprite and making them into 3D worked greatly, as they are detailed and have good animations to them.
The original conversation-parts, with black backgrounds and heads of those in the dialogue, are now gone. Now we have much nicer looking comic-book cutouts, with minor backgrounds and impressive lip syncing. While the animations are stiff, they are certainly good cutouts and the facial-animations work well. Unfortunately, there are some graphical glitches that occurred on 4 occasions, with one spinning head being the most unsettling one. However, these are rare and it did not even occur the second time I played through, so it might be unfortunate events.
We get some new and updated CG and comic book style cutscenes and these are incredible. They work well with the new artstyle the game has gone for, by being a close representation to the in-game presentation, with well use of colors and minor animations. The CG-scenes could use more animations, similar to the conversations, but they create a nice atmosphere to the game and fit well with the comic-book style. The updated soundtrack is however the best part. It has much more strength to it, with stronger instruments and some include different rhythms to them. For example, I love the original tune for Gabriel’s bookstore, but the newer version creates a much more unsettling, yet comforting atmosphere. It works beautifully in a game about murders where you are still in a place that you want to call home. Each area has a great music-piece to them, with all updates being welcome and varied in genre, from Jazz to African-music.
Many might miss the cheese from the old voice-actors, but again: the new cast does such a fantastic job. Tim Curry is a clear favorite of mine, but Jason Victor is even better as Gabriel Knight, with his voice being darker and more sly in his delivery, making it an enjoyable character to listen to. Every voice actor from the original has gotten suitable replacements or even better actors. Especially the minor cast has seen a major upgrade. If you paid attention, just about any upgrade to the presentation is welcome and holds up better today. Even on its own, the visuals and soundtrack still are fantastic despite the end-segment being a bit off and the odd glitches.
Presentation score: 9/10
A fantastic driving force
Let me just get to the original “extras” first, since they are still present in the remake. The 2 endings you can get are only affected by your last choice, so I found them very hard to almost bother with. You also have the possibility to get a certain amount of points for a full score, but I never got this. Should it not be enough that I beat the game to get a full score or at the very least get a hint on what I missed?
This would have lowered the score dramatically, as they are poor reasons for a second playthrough. However, while the newer one does not add much in the replay value, it has a graphical novel implemented with the game that is certainly an enjoyable read. Even better, is that in each area you are in, you can unlock trivia as you play. These range from concept arts, facts on making the game, comparison images and similar. This is a fantastic way of adding another motivation outside of the game itself. By giving you small extras that are interesting, it will make you want to be knowledgeable in every area and is a great way to experience the game on a different level.
Extra Score: 8.5/10
While giving the original as high praise as I did was over-complementing it, it is certainly a tale worth experiencing. The remake has so many smart design-choices in its gameplay, includes a great journal fans will enjoy, and the presentation is stellar. These make it the definitive version and one standing against the test of time. The original has its charm, but is rather a frustrating experience nowadays, which makes it easy to remember the many reasons why the adventure-genre decayed. The biggest issue that is still present, is towards the end-part of the game, but it is luckily a small one. Hopefully, with this and newer entries, such as Dropsy and Order of Thorne, the adventure-genre can stay as strong as FPS-games did in 2000’s sooner than expected.