SummaryThe epitome of a good full motion video game? Not even close.
The GoodSo Gabriel Knight 2 is the pinnacle of full motion video (FMV) games? Hand on heart, guys, how many FMV games have you played? Few? I thought so. Don't worry, that's nothing to be ashamed of. Most of the playable movies were trash. Among that company, Gabriel Knight 2 certainly shines. But being the one-eyed among the blind doesn't make you the eye specialist.
Gabriel Knight 2 has some pretty obvious flaws. But first, let me name the obvious strengths. Designer Jane Jensen has once again compiled ancient legends into an intriguing and pleasingly credible mix of horror and suspense. The adventure is well placed in Bavaria, Germany, an area were modern and traditional life are only a few cobblestones apart. Jensen succeeds well in tightening the plot; acting alternately as Gabriel or Grace and thus tying up the knot from both ends of the rope is a clever gameplay idea.
As a resident of Munich, the city in which a large part of the game takes place, I had the added joy of recognition. It's really nice to re-explore your home town in a computer game. And of course, the myth of king Ludwig is known to any child here in Bavaria.
The BadMuch is wrong with Gabriel Knight 2, and sadly, the mistakes spoil a lot of the otherwise quite thrilling atmosphere.
I won't elaborate on the puzzles, as any GK 2 player knows that there are a few very nasty situations. Don't know what I'm talking about? Maybe "tape splicing" or "cuckoo clock" will ring a bell. Any game that features a hide-and-seek labyrinth part has eternally lost all chances for puzzle design praise anyway.
Much more important, and much graver, is The Beast Within's lack of tempo. As anything you do is represented by video sequences, you have to watch a lot of footage. Now, if you trigger any action, what happens in the movie this:
a) Gabriel stares at object for three seconds to signify gravity of upcoming action
b) Gabriel interacts with object (i.e. picks it up, stares at it)
c) Gabriel finishes action, remains lost in thought for three seconds to ponder deed and signify mystification
A lot of staring, a lot of silence, and if you cut out all the seconds in which nothing much happens, the game would be half as long. And half as boring.
Jane Jensen is a talented writer; as such she should have known about the importance of pace and flow. Dramatic tension in due honor, but I if it takes Gabriel half a minute just to enter his car, then trust me, it's not that thrilling. In fact, it's unnerving.
Whoever cut GK 2 deserves public humiliation. Thanks to a just god, at least the actors already got it. Their incompetence is burned in silver for anyone to see. Third class at best and hired for their looks, none of the main characters (especially not the G-names) are convincing, let alone good. Good at anything but staring, that is. Oh, and smirking. Yes, definitely smirking.
Most of those flaws are of a technical nature, and they can be tracked to one source: the use of full motion video. Gabriel Knight 2 is not a good FMV game. In fact, it is even one of the prime examples on how the combination of the two media does NOT work. Sierra tried to force the new technique into an old-fashioned mold completely unsuited to it. When they should have made a movie with puzzles, they tried to make a game with video sequences. Gabriel Knight 2 was meant to be an old-school adventure. It wasn't allowed to be. I dare say it would have been a much better program in classical style.
The Bottom LineGabriel Knight 2 is an honorable attempt to merge computer game and movie, but it is ultimately a failure. Neither strong as a game due to weak puzzles, nor strong as a movie due to lack of speed and talented actors, it remains a mediocre bastard.