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SummaryProbably the finest Sierra adventure ever made.
The GoodBeing there for the original release of the first Gabriel Knight game sure was a bizarre moment in videogame history, sure, at my age I wasn't fully aware of what was going on behind the scenes, but even a kid of my age couldn't help but wonder about Sierra's newest franchise. After all, most of the games Sierra was famous for were the kid friendly King Quests and their assorted collection of comedic games. Heck! Jane Jensen's previous work as full-blown designer was that thumb-suckingly sweet acid trip known as King's Quest 6! So what gives? A SERIOUS game? (before you start annoying me let me note that I don't even bother counting the Police Quest series).
Yes, a serious game. And not only that, but remember this were the days when cds and interactive movies were all the rage, so Sierra released GK1 not just as another floppy title, but also in a cd version complete with a funky box that seems to be some sort of ninja weapon, slapped fully professional voice acting for all characters on it, and even included a self-congratulatory making-of video! Obviously Sierra placed all the chips on their golden boy not only with the hopes of getting ahead in the multimedia adventure race, but also to firmly establish another franchise from which to reap profits ad infinitum by churning out endless sequels as usual. A part of me always will delight in the tought of Sierra fucking the whole thing up and self-imploding from the failure, just because I'm that kind of sick sob that loves watching dreams crash and burn, but quite frankly I have to admit that the result was much more fulfilling for the gaming community as not only things worked out like a charm for Sierra, but us gamers got rewarded with one of the best and most original adventure games ever conceived.
Establishing itself as the first in a (hopefully) long-living series of games, "Sins of the Fathers" introduces us to the life of Gabriel Knight, your typical suave, charming and witty adventure game hero that barely makes ends meet by running one of those chic specialty bookstores in New Orleans's French Quarter (the kind cooky university professors with bushy beards and fuzzy sweaters love to get themselves lost into). Meanwhile he tries to cook up a novel about voodo stuff and somehow puts up with her clerk/assistant Grace, the typical serious and controlled female counterpart that in turn, somehow manages to put up with Gabe's annoying attitude (but secretly we all know they both want to jump in the sack -Ho HO HOW CLEVER!! ARE WE STILL IN HIGH SCHOOL??)... Anyway, par for the course I guess, but everything changes from the moment Gabe's police buddy Luke Skywalker, er... I mean Mosely (voiced by Luke himself) tips him off to a strange ritualistic murder that could serve as material for his book. From that point on Gabe will traverse the city looking for clues trying to uncover the strange voodo murders and taking the player into a downspiral ride into the underground cults and lore that have populated New Orleans since colonial times. Rich in urban legends and mysteries, New Orleans's african lore proves to be a tremendously fertile ground for Ms. Jensen to stretch out her writing legs, and thus she sets the grounds for what would become the staple of the series: meticulously researched historical facts and supernatural events as a means to carefully construct a world in which the player has no problem immersing himself and which also manages to craft a believable context that makes the action that takes place in it much more frightening and appealing.
These settings aren't constructed with lame expositions however, as Gabe is just as versed in the voodo lore as we are and takes you around New Orleans gathering facts and myths about the ancient religion, uncovering a pretty real underworld in which simple charms and rituals are everyday occurrences for some social circles, and other groups that deal with much more frighteningly deadly occurrences such as human sacrifices and assorted weirdness. By visiting scholars, cultists, shop owners, wealthy socialites and several other characters using the classic Sierra adventure gaming template, Gabe helps you construct the game world and it's inhabitants effectively immersing yourself into the mystery at hand without turning things into bland "The more you Know!..." moments as the sequels eventually developed into. It may sound cliché to say that the original is better than it's sequels, but at least on this account it's true: GK1 never lost that sense of urgency and "fuckedup-ness" that drove you forward, meaning the exposition and historic accounts were a part of the action and not just a pet-peeve of it's creator. Save for at least one sequence, the game's historic and "educational" background was firmly integrated into the issues at hand. Be it because of the carefully constructed murder conspiracy, the romantic interest involved in the middle of it, the search for Gabe's own relation to the murders, the bloody trail left by the many victims in the game, etc. The story and it's carefully researched background moves you forward and never lets down.
As I mentioned earlier, Sierra also made this game quite an event in terms of production values, and it remains as one of the best produced titles of the classic point'n click adventure genre. A class act of style that features a streamlined interface (based on the classic Sierra top tool-bar but done completely anew for the game with new actions and options [such as dialogue replaying] and it's own gloomy look), beautiful (but unfortunately pixellated) hand-drawn graphics that don't stop at illustrating the game's surroundings in vivid detail, but also incorporate rotoscoped animation for smoothly natural character movements as well as uniquely drawn character art that take the center stage whenever you trigger one of the many cinematic cutscenes that slice the screen up into edgy comic-book panels and that just ooze coolness.
Also as advertised , the CD version is a fully "talkie" product, but unlike the "recorded in the toilet and starring the programmer's parents" talkie "enhancements" of other multimedia products of it's time, Gabriel Knight features a full ensemble cast of professional figures, including Luke, Worf, King of Queen's Leah Remini, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., and even Darkness himself: Tim Curry! Furthermore, the moody soundtrack of Robert Holmes is amongst the most memorable collection of tunes ever assembled for an adventure game of that era and not only fits the game like a glove but also delivers a compelling experience on it's own.
Plus the game comes with an artsy printed graphic novel that serves as a prelude for the game! Don't you miss the days when developers did that? Now you are lucky if they remember to include the manual in pdf form...
The BadI can only note two problems with Gabriel Knight. First of all, regardless of the nice collection of credible, well-integrated puzzles there are some that are really out there and put the game into that classic adventure gaming mode known as "clicking on everything until you stumble into what the designer wanted you to do". Particularly interesting is reading the novelized adaptations of the GK games written by Jane Jensen herself, as one gets to see that even she has problems justifying some of the more far-out puzzles in a coherent way.
The other issue I have with the game, as another reviewer commented is with the "European adventures" portion of the game. I don't have a particular problem with the story developments or the dragon's dream, but I do feel the art director lost the concept of the game there and trying to make up a cold stony castle ended up crafting the most boring location in the game, and uh... well yeah, the plot developments there seem to be extremely rushed as if Mrs. Jensen herself were always behind a wall telling Gabe to speed things up and get back to the main story "Yeah, Yeah you are a Schattenjäger now get your ass moving!" and the whole sequence has a "wham, bang, thank you m'am" feel to it.