Written by  :  jTrippy (63)
Written on  :  Dec 27, 2008
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.8 Stars4.8 Stars4.8 Stars4.8 Stars4.8 Stars

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A gripping story and a true achievement

The Good

Jane Jensen proves herself to be one of the interactive fiction authors to grace the business with the second entry in her supernatural suspense series. Reprising the role of reluctant paranormal investigator Gabriel Knight and eventually his assistant Grace, the player unveils a serial killing coverup involving escaped zoo wolves and historical lore.

Jensen does an amazing job of blending the supernatural in with thoroughly researched local flavor to make otherwise cheesy concepts (werewolves, in this case) terrifyingly believable.

GK2 ditches the original's hand-painted backdrops, rotoscope animation and cut-panel cinematics for the then-trendy "interactive movie" approach. Where almost every other game in the subgenre failed spectacularly, The Beast Within remains the definitive FMV game. The acting, while still sub-par for Hollywood, is tolerable at worst enthralling at best. While Dean Erickson leaves some to be desired as the titular hero, famous Polish actor Peter Lucas delivers an outstanding performance as the charismatic Baron von Glower.

While the blend of green-screened actors and photo-backdrops can at times be cheesy, the gorgeous Bavarian countryside makes a melancholy and atmospheric backdrop for the story, which incorporates centuries old political intrigue, psychosis and legitimate historical mysteries into its modern gothic core.

The two-character dynamic adds a level of depth and variety to the game. While Gabriel intuitively stumbles through the modern, empirical aspect of the mystery in the big city, Grace handles the metaphysical research end in the countryside, visiting museums, libraries and castles while uncovering historical parallels. Each subplot adds to the character development and movie-pacing of the game which other adventures lack.

As with the first, or perhaps more than, the music is a beautiful standout. Robert Holmes' moody piano anthems and suspenseful incidental pieces compliment the visual style perfectly, climaxing in a thoroughly-convincing Wagnerian opera, complete with German libretto.

The Bad

While it remains a prime example of the FMV genre, it still retains some of the inevitable cheese that comes with hiring D-list actors. Dean Erickson is unrecognizable as the character introduced in the first game. Gone is the sexist machismo and rakish Southern charm, replaced with an all-purpose perpetually-confused expression and an abysmal (and high-pitched) attempt at drawl. As an original character, Erickson does an admirable job, but he clearly has no idea what the character of Gabriel Knight entails. Same goes from Joanne Takahashi as Grace. For the first half of the game, Grace is bitterly disagreeable, but Takahashi's pass at cattiness isn't even passable for a soap opera. The performance picks up stride later on, but the two leads are the most cringe-worthy performances throughout the game.

The game is entirely linear. Probably because of the budget and technological constraints inherent with trying to coincide two opposing art forms, there are virtually no alternative solutions to puzzles or superfluous subplots. The game plays pretty much exactly the same each time, which means it really only artfully masks the core problem with the interactive movie genre -- it's better suited as a movie.

The Bottom Line

Ok, so there are flaws, and some of them might typically be considered to be critical, but in this case, they get a pass. The Beast Within is the best-written adventure game of all time. The story, pacing, music and atmosphere make this a must-play, and and it's certainly worthy of its contention for greatest adventure game of all time.