I never played the original Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father until I received this copy to review. My knowledge of the game itself came mostly from old PC Gamer magazines I read as a child. That might actually be a boon when reviewing the 20th Anniversary remake of Gabriel Knight, as it removes the need for me to compare it to the original work.
20 years is a long time in the game industry, and many things have changed. For one thing, adventure games are making a comeback after a particularly long dry spell – games like Broken Age, despite all of its setbacks, suggest that the market is primed for revisting the old classics. Graphics are far more advanced than the pixel-messes of the 80s and 90s, so it isn’t quite fair to compare the original to the new. Likewise, just because gameplay, something that’s not quite a technology dependent, is ‘better than the original’ doesn’t mean it’s without flaw. The Gabriel Knight remake is superior to its original in both of these ways, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t flaws in the execution.
Still, comparisons will occur. There’s a major question that they will answer – is this game worth buying, when the original version is available for free online? I believe the answer to this is ‘yes’ – the new system is far superior to the old, making it easier to interact with objects, and the changes made to the story make it an altogether more accessible experience.
The game follows Gabriel Knight, a struggling author and bookstore owner living in New Orleans, right on Bourbon Street. A series of voodoo-themed killings inspire him to write a horror novel. With the help of his childhood friend and police detective, Mosely, and long-suffering personal assistant, Grace, he sets out to research the murders – and inadvertently gets drawn into the crimes, a twisted world of mysticism, and his own family history.
The story is compelling, and builds over the course of several days of discoveries and events to a rather bizarre crescendo. Gabriel’s smarmy womanizing and thick Cajun accent isn’t exactly charming, but it isn’t supposed to be, and you get used to it quite quickly. You start to feel sorry for him as the story goes on, as he visits his family tomb and talks to his dead mother and father (expressing reluctance if you attempted to go there at the beginning of the game, his tone betraying his discomfort). Strong vocal performances all around are paired with distinct personalities.
One point of comparison I’d like to mention here is that the events have been rearranged somewhat from Jane Jenson and Sierra’s original release. For example, Gabriel’s meeting with his grandmother and discovery of his grandfather’s history happens much later in the game now, rather than on the first day as in the original. Several other events and areas either close entirely or remain locked until later. These are positive changes – in the original, it seemed like information was dumped too quickly, with too many areas to visit that wouldn’t have relevance until later. It also tends to make it difficult to navigate the story, keeping track of all the disparate plot elements and where to go.
The updated graphics can be hit or miss, particularly the character models. The backgrounds are highly detailed, colourful, and most importantly, distinct. They look almost hand-painted and there were only a few exceptions where I missed a visual point (most embarrassingly, I could never find the door out of Gabriel’s bedroom, always using the quick-travel map to escape). Most times, you can locate points of interest just be scanning them. That said, objects designed to move or for interaction (including people) tend to stand out as 3D models and this can give away hints as to which objects will be relevant later. Cutscenes are shown in a ‘dynamic’ graphic novel format, and they’re one of the highlights of the game.
The game’s difficulty varies depending on the urgency and situation. Most of the ‘deaths’ occur late in the game, and allow you to retry right from where you left off. Like many adventure games, exploration and experimentation is key – you have a number of options and a wide variety of objects you can pick up, use, and combine. Obscurity varies, with some puzzles relying on remembering Voodoo lore told earlier or following subtle hints (knowing a dog lover’s pet’s name in order to get information on her, for example). This remake provides help in a comprehensive journal that keeps track of what you’ve done, and giving hints as to what you need to do – there’s also a ‘hints’ tab that will give you clues as to what you need to do to progress, with timed tabs to prevent you from spoiling if you don’t want. I admit I had to use them sometimes. Your action icons vary depending on possibilities to interact with, and holding spacebar brings up captions that show all objects you can interact with – eliminating the ever-terrible pixel hunting.
Overall, I found myself enjoying the story that played out with my investigation. None of the ‘twists’ really came out of left field, with plenty of foreshadowing as to which characters have ulterior motives. I did feel a sense of accomplishment when I discovered the solution to a troubling challenge, particularly the puzzles – this game doesn’t have any truly annoying or obtuse ones, with the only tile-shift puzzle being quite forgiving and easy to use. I did, however, have significant trouble with the movement – Gabriel would often move slowly, turning at a glacial pace, or taking a long route at a meandering pace. A double-click often lets you ‘speed-time’ to his location (skipping dialogue causes the world around you to speed up, giving a real-time sense to everything), but I found this only worked in certain areas. There was a major scripting bug near the end of the game where I simply could not interact with a major object, due to the NPC in question not triggering, but was fixed with a reload. The controls could definitely be tighter and Gabriel’s unresponsive movement complicates some of the puzzles.
There are some neat extras, as well, that I’ll mention – concept art from the original game accessible from the journal, quotes from developers, and a graphic novel detailing the backstory events (spoilers are rampant, so if you’d rather not know some critical plot points, wait until you finish the game). I felt the comic was a bit abrupt, lacking development of the primary characters. The art style is the same as the game’s, though its somewhat murkier and difficult to discern.
If you buy this game, you’ll get better graphics and an overall better gameplay experience and storytelling. It is superior to the original game at a glance, and I believe it’s a strong game in its own right. Some alteration of Gabriel’s movement rate and more consistent implementation of the ability to double-click to skip movement would remove the major flaws I have with this game.