Written by  :  Iron Lord (44)
Written on  :  Mar 25, 2016
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars

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One of the seven wonders of gaming

The Good

"The flesh is weak, Johnny. Only the soul is immortal." (You know what I'm talking about, right?)

The Bad

"I got a thing about chickens" :-P

The Bottom Line

It was the time when Sierra’s classic series had started to lose their splendor and brightness. Lacking the necessary originality and innovation, they somehow repeated themselves without offering something progressive. It was then that Jane Jensen, already an employee of the company, was given the chance to make her designing debut. The result was “Gabriel Knight”, an adventure that took the world of gaming by surprise and arguably is the genre’s finest hour.

The game casts us as Gabriel Knight, an unsuccessful writer who lives in his bookshop in the French Quarter of New Orleans, striving for a breakthrough in his career. He is not the kind of person who takes life very seriously. Also, he often displays laziness, bad manners and a bit of eccentricity. But he definitely has a charming personality to save him. His assistant, Grace, is the exact opposite of him. She is serious, organized and methodical. Very often their strong personalities come to disagreement, but undoubtedly there is an interesting chemistry between them. One of Gabriel’s few and greatest concerns are the inexplicable and horrible nightmares that haunt him and deeply depress him. He is currently working on a book inspired by the so-called ‘Voodoo Murders’ that are taking place in the city during the recent weeks. His best friend, Police Detective Mosely, provides him with some useful ‘inside-information’. In the coming days, Gabriel will meet his destiny. Day by day, a chain of supernatural events will change him forever. The scenario draws elements from the ‘neo-gothic’ lore. It is dark, mysterious, erotic, thrilling and dramatic. It could as well be the script of an actual film. “Gabriel Knight” is a ‘pseudo-3d’ adventure that utilizes the icon-based system. Specifically, it makes a new approach to this system. First of all, the game introduces a new way of making conversations with other people. Except for the ‘TALK’ one, we now have the ‘ASK’ icon. The first is used for interactions of a more open and general nature. Now the second one brings us in the ‘interrogation mode’. There, between the portraits of Gabriel and of the interviewed person, is a list of subjects for discussion. Most of them apply to all the people we interact with, but there are some that solely concern certain individuals. Talking will usually lead to other subjects that will arise. The immensity and the depth of this procedure are simply remarkable. Apart from giving us clues on how to continue our investigation, it nicely outlines the richly designed personalities of the characters we interact with. We can later hear all the dialogues through the ‘RECORDER’ option. The typical ‘HAND’ icon is here divided in four different ones. There are the ‘PICK UP’, ‘OPEN/CLOSE’, ‘OPERATE’ and ‘MOVE’ icons. This separation makes for more demanding playing, as the player must have a clear idea of what he needs to do rather than randomly clicking on things.

Visually, the title reaches excellence. It is not only that its graphics are brilliantly designed. Above all, it is how successfully they fit its environment. Their dark style, coloring and shading strongly grasp the ‘film-noir’ concept. There are many places to visit. All of them are designed in great detail and with a certain ‘dim’ effect that makes them mystifying and enigmatic. That ‘dark detail’ is present everywhere, in the sprites, in the character-portraits, in the foregrounds and the backgrounds. In some places, like the cemetery, we constantly have the feeling that something unexpected is about to suddenly take place. The graphics include several superb cut-scenes. There are two kinds of them, the first are the ones that appear every night, during Gabriel’s tormenting dreams. They consist of series of still images that succeed each other very fast, radiating a terrifying and sometimes paranoid feeling. The other ones take place during the actual playing time. They are made of small graphical strips that emerge from the left of the screen moving to the right, in a comics-like fashion. The sound aspect of the game is also superior. The musical score is simply an outstanding classic. It contains distinctive themes for every location and occasion of the game, all wisely chosen to amplify the impact and the sensation. Relaxed pieces of music and more powerful ones appropriately. Also, several high-quality sound effects support the experience.

There are all kinds of puzzles in this adventure. Some of them require the correct use of items. Others are about being in the right place in the right moment. A few are based on close observation of factors. And finally there are those of a larger scale that involve more than one location. They are all based on logic and reason and are made with respect and care for the player and his entertainment. During playing we will also encounter several, full of agony, time-sequences* where swift moving and acting is essential. The game is generally of high difficulty and lasts for many intriguing hours.

Some months after its release in floppy disks, the game became available in CD format. The CD version has two major updates compared with the diskettes one. Firstly, it has full speech support for every person in the game. All the voices are convincing and sound right in terms of acting performance. The voice-cast even includes two quite known actors, Tim Curry and Mark Hamill as Gabriel and Detective Mosely respectively. Tim Curry satisfactorily captures the accent and the mentality of the stereotyped Southerner, overdoing it only in a couple of instances. The second important improvement is that, thanks to the CD’s capacity, the cut-scenes of the dreams now have animation that makes them much more fluid. Needless to say, anyone who wants to play this game is encouraged to prefer the enhanced CD edition.

“Gabriel Knight” had two great sequels. Each one had drastic changes in the technology and method it used. But both of them are inferior to their predecessor. It seems that they could not reach the unrepeatable atmosphere and feel of it. This timeless masterpiece is unlike anything we have ever seen. Recommended to every self-respecting gamer “Gabriel Knight” is, especially for us passionate adventurers, an experience of a lifetime.

* In the sixth day of the game, the use of a slow-down utility (e.g. Turbo) is needed for passing the time-sequence in the police station.