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Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers (DOS)

84
MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
4.1
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  אולג 小奥 (168678)
Written on  :  Aug 20, 2003
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  4.8 Stars4.8 Stars4.8 Stars4.8 Stars4.8 Stars

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Summary

Nobody does voodoo like you do

The Good

When we say "adventure", we often think "comedy adventure", and the reason for that is simple: the greatest classic adventure games are comedies. "Serious" adventure games have always been much less popular. Sins of the Father is not the first attempt on this field, but it is the first one that takes hardcore puzzle-solving gameplay and charming humor that made comedy adventures great, and uses it to create an amazingly intense, atmospheric experience with touches of horror, an intricate narrative, and an unprecedented (for adventure games) degree of realism.

Sins of the Fathers succeeds where most others failed, before and after. How to make an adventure with puzzles that are hard enough, yet do not distract from the realistic setting of the game? How to combine humor with horror? How to write a story that is supernatural and natural at the same time? How to create lovable characters that resemble real people in everything they do, without becoming dull? This game solves all these problems.

The unique atmosphere of New Orleans fascinates the player from the very beginning. Every corner of the city oozes mystery, yet at the same time the city is so realistic. You'll meet typical inhabitants, old French catholics, Haitian voodoo specialists, black people who talk with that wonderful Southern accent, and many others.

The heroes of the game, Gabriel and Grace, belong to the most charismatic and memorable characters the adventure genre has ever produced. Their witty dialogue provide the necessary comic relief and give the game a wonderfully light personality, despite all the horrors that occur in it. By the way, be sure to get the CD version of the game - the voice-overs are fantastic.

A deeply involving story develops in New Orleans, written by Jane Jensen, the master story-teller. Detective mystery, educational trip into the realm of occult sciences, information about a region and its inhabitants, religious fable of sin and redemption - it is hard to say to what style this story belongs, but one thing is sure: it is good in everything it does.

The outlines of the plot follow a classic detective/mystery pattern: a crime takes place in the beginning of the game, and you have to find out who committed it and why. But of course, this is not just a regular crime, and soon you'll plunge into the world of ancient cults, superstitions, and magic. What is so great about this story and about Jane Jensen's style in general is not the abundance of supernatural effects to stun the player; it is rather the extremely natural approach to everything that happens, which makes it so credible, no matter how incredible it actually is. All the supernatural things grow out of a realistic setting, so that the player never feels they are forced. One of the techniques Jane Jensen uses to reach this high level of credibility is the correctness of the cultural material used in the game. She gathers historical details to meticulously reconstruct the picture of voodoo cult, and because of this scientific approach, the player is convinced the whole thing is real.

This is the background for a game that was developed by a company that already had years of experience in making quality adventure games. But even for Sierra, the gameplay of Sins of the Fathers was a rare achievement. The biggest problem that creators of serious adventure games have to face is the fact tricky puzzles aren't realistic and usually don't fit in an involving story. Either you fill your game with hilarious item combinations and get a comedy; fill it with mind-breaking puzzles, stop the action and make it a dull Myst clone; or reduce the gameplay to a minimum and get a shallow "interactive movie".

Sierra chose a different approach. I believe their early games like Colonel's Bequest employed the method of "detective simulation" - and probably there were text adventures that did it even much earlier. In any case, this is the path Sins of the Fathers followed. It is based mainly on investigation and dialogues: you talk to people to find out more about the topics you are interested in, then ask other people about the new topics you learn in process, etc. But at the same time, the game is full of hardcore puzzles that are very creative and that are equally far from Myst-style riddles and insane inventory orgies of comic adventures.

When playing a semi-serious adventure such as Fate of Atlantis, I still felt very strongly I was in a game. Sins of the Fathers never evoked in me this feeling. One of the greatest achievements of its gameplay is the fact it is a challenging game with real puzzles and serious detective work, yet it is not a collection of brilliant puzzles that are there just for their own sake.

Sins of the Fathers is also one of the last masterpieces of hand-painted graphic style. If you want to see how beautiful a 2D game can look without resembling a cartoon, take a look at this game. That was the "serious" graphics style that matched the game perfectly. There are many dark colors, especially brown, to make the game world look more mysterious and sinister, yet very cosy at the same time. Character portraits that appear during the dialogues are excellent. In addition to that, the game is accompanied by one of the best MIDI music scores I have ever heard.

The Bad

Not all the puzzles in the game are great; some just made me scratch my head, wondering why they were inserted into this game. Worse are the dreadful moments of "irreversible" situations: I believe that there are a few instances where you can get irrevocably stuck in the game because you forgot to do something before. This still reminded me that it was a Sierra game, after all.

There is also a bit too much of "triggering" - walking around and talking to people over and over again, going through all the locations in circles, clicking on everything on the screen, etc., in hope of triggering a scripted event and being able to advance the story.

The Bottom Line

I don't know what kind of voodoo magic they did here, but Sins of the Fathers proved that adventure games could, in fact, tell serious, involving stories, create dark, atmospheric worlds, and even throw at you educational material without boring you to death - all without sacrificing the gameplay. Truly a timeless classic, Sins of the Fathers is required gaming for those who care for the genre.