Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. (computer game) (Entertainment Choice) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Scott A. May
Beware: This lavish adult thriller could evoke nightmares as you work through its adventure.
Early computer games relied heavily on movies for creativity and direction, often ending up as pale reflections of their celluloid inspirations. Times are changing, however, and it won't be surprising if film-makers begin looking to entertainment software for big, fresh ideas. Sierra On-Line's Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers is a prime candidate for such creative role reversal.
Writer and director Jane Jensen shines in her first solo project, a solid follow-up to last year's successful collaboration with Roberta Williams in King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow. Jensen's dark, sensuous style stands in stark contrast to Williams's light fantasy--a distinction that will delight most adventure fans and disturb others.
A parental warning label accompanies the game, cautioning that much of its material is inappropriate for young players. Indeed, the product contains a fair amount of ritualistic violence, partial nudity, and profanity. As is not the case with many other adult games, however, such explicit content is neither gratuitous nor inconsequential to the story. Sierra is to be commended for publishing an orginal thriller aimed at intelligent, mature audiences.
Immediately, a necromantic mood is established by virtue of the setting: the enigmatic, multicultural milieu of New Orleans. There, you step into the troubled life of Gabriel Knight, a young writer researching a book on voodoo.
Gabe is plagued by terrifying, violent nightmares; his psychological well-being is tested as he becomes embroiled in a string of brutal homicides known locally as the Voodoo Murders. Subsequent investigation reveals horrific secrets in his family's past. As Gabe, you learn you're the last in a long line of Schatten Jager, or Shadow Hunters, whose fate is to fight dark, supernatural powers. Suddenly, both the nightmares and the murders take on new significance, as you race to piece together clues before it's too late.
Included is a short, handsomely drawn graphic novella designed to evoke vague, but compelling, story ambiance. It tells a tragic tale of love, betrayal, and ancient evil. Written by Jensen and illustrated by Terese Nielsen, it captures the imagination, compelling players to seek the modern connection between this Faustian tale and the game's modern hero. Nielsen's dark, disturbing visions carry over to many of the game's handpainted backdrops, drawn from a gloomy palette of deep red, blue, and black. Gabe's recurring nightmare sequences are particularly well designed and smoothly animated, rendered at a higher-resolution VGA (640 x 480) than the bulk of the game's imagery (320 x 200).
Sierra continues to improve its mouse-driven icon interface, utilizing several new additions here with great success. Controlling your onscreen character is simply a matter of changing the mouse pointer to an icon representing various actions: a boot (walk), a Mardi Gras mask (look), a hand (pick up), gears (operate), and so on.
New to the Sierra interface is support for both two- and three-button mice, allowing you to move even faster through the available icon commands. A pop-up icon bar allows access to your inventory and hand-held tape recorder, an interesting innovation that automatically tapes conversations held in interrogation mode. A separate inventory of labeled cassettes lets you review the indexed topics of prior conversations. It's a fun gadget and an invaluable tool for tracking clues and reviewing character dialogue.
The game contains an intriguing number of realtime interactive puzzles. Most bizarre are the voodoo and drum code interfaces, where you must learn to interpret and construct messages from cryptic symbols and drumbeats. Such diversions add variety to gameplay and depth to the story line. Most puzzles follow standard adventure protocol, requiring you to find and use objects gathered from numerous locations. The game's adult rating also applies to its difficulty level--it's decidedly not for beginners. With few exceptions, puzzle solutions are forthright and logical, although anytime magic comes into play, you can expect a fair number of unusual twists.
Sizewise, the game spreads itself over dozens of exciting locations. It contains several paths to the story's conclusion--some direct, others far richer in atmosphere and character development.
Like most current Sierra adventures, Gabriel Knight runs equally well under either DOS or Windows. An enhanced CD-ROM edition adds optional character speech throughout the game. Though not a necessary ingredient for full enjoyment of the story, the professional-quality speech further enriches an already expressive script. Experience the all-taking version, and you'll be spoiled for anything less. Another bonus for CD gamers is the 20-minute video for Windows, The Making of Gabriel Knight, a fascinating look behind the production, including interviews with Jensen and many of the game's principal performers.
Beyond speech, however, it's discouraging to note no other audio enhancements. Given the nature of the story and its exotic locales, true audio-CD background music would've been a simple, yet dynamic, addition. At best, the program provides enhanced ten-channel sound for music devices compatible with Windows Extended MIDI.
Among the voice talents recruited for the CD version are Tim Curry in the title role and Mark Hamill as Detective Mosely. Curry affects a deep Southern drawl thicker than week-old gumbo and twice as spicy. Disconcerting at first--particularly to those unfamiliar with this unique regional accent--Curry's strong vocal characterization tends to grow on you. Other notable cast members include Michael Dorn (best known as Worf on "Star Trek: The Next Generation") as Dr. John, Leah Remini (of "Evening Shade") as the wisecracking Grace, and Hollywood veteran Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Wolfgang. The voice you hear most often is that of Tony winner Virginia Capers, whose narration absolutely drips with slow, zesty Creole flavor. Emmy winner Stuart M. Rosen directs the large ensemble of actors, as he did on Sierra's bestselling King's Quest VI CD.
The CD edition also offers a choice between full (33MB), medium (20MB), and tiny (1MB) hard disk installation, plus an additional 4MB of high-resolution segues and cut scenes. The more of the game you install to disk, the more smoothly it will run at the publisherhs minimum system configuration. The story's deliberate pace, on the other hand, allows those with an 80486-based system to run the program almost entirely from CD with no compromise in speed. Internal game controls allow you to fine-tune animation speed and detail to best suit your machine.
It would be exaggerating to claim Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers redefines its particular genre. In terms of intelligent and original adult entertainment, however, Jensen and company display creativity and style that's bound to make Hollywood sit up and take notice.