Written by  :  Unicorn Lynx (181357)
Written on  :  Sep 01, 2003
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  3.83 Stars3.83 Stars3.83 Stars3.83 Stars3.83 Stars

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Summary

Grandma, why are your teeth so big?..

The Good

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers was a landmark achievement even for a venerable developer like Sierra: a "serious" adventure in the vein of their own Laura Bow games, it was better scripted, better written, and thick with atmosphere.

From that point of view, The Beast Within is most certainly a worthy sequel. Like the first game, it boasts a suspenseful story, involving and credible with its meticulous attention to detail. Werewolves and obscure details about Bavarian kings hardly attracted me when I first heard about the game; I don't always enjoy Wagner's music and I certainly don't like Wagner himself. But Jane Jensen did her homework as a storyteller: she managed to present the quirky melange of low mythology and pseudo-historical material in such a way that I couldn't put the game down.

I must admit I have a weakness for the lost art of FMV with live actors in games The joy of seeing your favorite adventure game being treated like a movie was among the strongest sensations of the time. Even games with handicapped gameplay (like Phantasmagoria) could create a lasting impression because, with the right tools and talent, the resulting atmosphere could be incredibly convincing. Same happens in this game, where the very first scene envelops you in a blood-chilling, yet oddly comforting ambiance of a well-told mystery.

Much of the scenery can be interacted with. Some objects have detailed descriptions and elicit comments from our heroes. You'll gather evidence, spy on people, read old documents, interrogate suspects, and solve puzzles. There are long conversations, careful examination of clues, and original elements such as a certain change of perspective late in the game.

The Bad

It would be, however, wrong to state that the series hasn't lost anything from the transition to FMV technology. For me, the most alarming flaw was the simplification of the interface. I generally think that the "smart cursor" was one of the worst things to happen to adventure games. I understand that the traditionally verbose interface might have possibly diminished the cinematic impact of the game, but there must have been a better way to counter that than reducing all possible actions to a default, generic "interaction".

The puzzles are, for the most part, rather forgettable, and the game fails to recreate the gradual suspense-building, the coherence of the world, and the attention to detail that were so noticeable in its predecessor. At times it almost feels inappropriately cartoony and dumbed-down, lacking not only the romantic dark edge of the first game, but also many of its gameplay features.

There are a lot of video sequences, and they play even when you perform the most mundane of tasks (such as picking up an object). I must stress that, personally, I liked that feature and thought it contributed to the immersion into a movie-like experience. But the resulting slow pace is, of course, not something everyone would enjoy. Besides, I'm not sure if the game's already rich and convincing narrative needed more dramatic help from video cutscenes depicting plain, solitary actions. Also, don't expect a good movie where there is just a good game enhanced by special presentation: the direction and the acting here are completely forgettable.

The Bottom Line

The Beast Within is neither a great cinematic achievement or a particularly good adventure game. Rather, it is an interesting experiment, but one that quickly becomes outdated. For a better treatment of the same visual technique, I recommend the Tex Murphy games.