The Quality FMV Game
The winning feature of Beast Within is the well crafted story. Jane Jenson's wonderful mix of history and fiction create a truly interesting world to explore. Moreover, the use of actual background shots from Germany provide a level of authenticity to the experience.
The game is also a giant step beyond Phantasmagoria, the most notable FMV game before this, regarding the technology is place. Backgrounds and character animation is much clearer. By using non-rendered backgrounds, the characters don't seem out of place. Also, numerous cut-scenes, despite a 640x480x256 resolution, are quite clear. The video compression must have been a step above.
The music is a bit disappointing. It's midi, and not very good midi at that. It certainly doesn't stand up to the original Gabriel Knight's moody standards, even when it reuses some themes. After some of the CD quality tracks from Phantasmagoria (or Return to Zork), the music really falls flat by comparison.
Many people complain that the game is extremely difficult. However, the puzzles are, for the most part, very clear. It is essential to listen carefully to all dialogue (which is time consuming) in order to know what to do next. A certain amount of game logic is abandoned in Beast Within as well. Players should be advised to think more as they would in real life.
The acting can get a little out of control at times. The actress who places Grace is especially prone to mugging and ranting. This, matched with a cinematography style that tries hard to be creative, but comes of as amaturish, can be off-putting at times.
The use of German is interesting, but perhaps inappropriate. Numerous scenes involve German-only dialogue in the backgrounds. Knowing the language really opens some doors in terms of what is happening. The use of no subtitles deprives 99% of non-German speakers of an element of the game.
There are also some humerous moments in the game revolving around the German language. When Gabriel first attempts to speak to the police commissioner, he encounters a German-only speaking receptionist. He is asked, in German, who he is looking for. He replies "Leber", which is the name of the commissioner. However, he says "Lieber", pronouncing the word incorrectly. He, in effect, tells the old receptionist that he is looking for love. Intentional or not, it was amusing.
Moreover, aside from the poor pronunciation by Grace and Gabriel, many 'natives' speak like a three-year-old.
And while not a complaint against the game, the 'M' rating does not fit for this game. The story is complex, the gameplay revolving around details... it's less a rating for violence and more for simple thematic issues. Compared to Phantasmagoria, anyone can play it.
The Bottom Line
Beast Within is definitely a game to play, if only to see that FMV games could have worked, if only they had all been created as masterfully.