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SummaryA great testimony of the epoch, and a high-quality adventure game
The GoodI am not very interested in the subjects this game treats. Occultism and "low" mythology (to which werewolves belong) are not among my favorite topics. The history of Bavaria and obscure details about its kings hardly attract me. Lastly, I don't like Wagner's music and Wagner himself. I had some serious prejudices about this game before I played it. But when I finally tried it (and loved it), I realized the sheer quality of the game's storytelling and ambiance was enough to fascinate me, even though it wasn't about anything I was interested in.
Jane Jensen is an outstanding story teller. What's more, she has so much knowledge about what she writes, that whatever she writes about magically becomes real. I clearly remember how I started playing the game with a condescending smile, and how I finished it firmly believing in werewolves' existence. After that, it was difficult to realize it was only fiction. Jane Jensen does it in every Gabriel Knight game: she convinces through her knowledge, her serious approach towards what she tells, and by creating for the supernatural a background made of perfectly natural stuff.
"Beast Within" uses full-motion video and cast of live actors, a very popular technology at the time, but it's not really an "interactive movie" - it is a traditional adventure game. The interface was simplified, and interaction reduces, but there is still plenty of gameplay here, and some parts are really innovative and original (like the great final sequence viewed from "first wolf perspective").
Like in all Gabriel Knight games, there is plenty of detective work to do in "Beast Within". You'll gather evidence, examine documents, interrogate suspects. The most interesting tasks of the game involved spying on people, and the story develops as a true detective novel, with a limited circle of suspects, one of which being your ultimate enemy. The story line is absolutely brilliant, past and present are mixed together, and precise historical details support and clarify the modern mystery.
The game is a great historical testimony. It is considered by many the best example of FMV/live actors technology, which is lost art now. It was truly a great leap forwards compared to hand-painted graphics usually used in adventure games of the early 90-ies. Coming on 6 CDs, each one containing more story and more gameplay than the entire Phantasmagoria, "Beast Within" was one of those few FMV games that managed to contain the original spirit of adventure while visually belonging to a genre that offered very limited gameplay possibilities. There is no real Wagner music in the game, but the imitation is excellent. The style is unmistakeably wagnerian. The composer did a great job. If you ask me, it sounds as good as the music of Wagner himself. Then again, it is hardly a compliment... The non-wagnerian music, like the background tunes of Grace, is also fantastic. I liked the usage of piano for such melodies.
The Bad"Beast Within" doesn't really have the same atmosphere as the first game. The usage of real actors and motionless pictures-backgrounds cannot quite reach the artistic quality of hand-painted graphics. The gameplay was simplified - with only one cursor to operate and limited objects to interact with it was not as rich and as satisfying as in Sins of the Fathers.