Another kickass GK game which unfortunately tones down the terror in favor of the "edutaiment" value....blah!
An adventure game that is both new and old in many aspects, Gabriel Knight manages to dazzle the mind once again as he stars in yet another perfectly crafted storyline written by series creator Jane Jensen. As usual for the series, the game puts you in the middle of a complex and genuinely interesting plot that revolves around actual facts sprinkled with some supernatural elements and with some dashes of lighthearted sexual comedy. The results are once again, as usual: magnificent.
The storyline progresses smoothly, and introduces plot-points and revelations at a pace that manages to keep you interested yet doesn't overshoot, even if it does lean heavily towards being a "Whudunnit?" plot and ditches most of the supernatural elements (more on that later). Further praise must be awarded to Mrs Jensen for finally putting a closure to one of the most annoying aspects that plagued the series: the Gabriel/Grace love/hate relationship, It always seemed like a cheap gimmick to keep ratings up and this is Gabriel Knight, not "Friends". The resolution is open to interpretation, but for the most part ends the "will they ever get toghether?" question, and lets us focus on the storyline instead of the shitty "loves me / loves me not" soap opera. I personally would have preferred it to be more final, but at least it's something.
The real innovation in the game comes of course, in the gameplay and graphics area. It seems that the GK are the only game series that have passed all the major gameplay/graphic fads of the videogame industry, first the SCUMM-ish sprite-based engine, then the FMV interactive-movie one, and now the flashy polygonal world comes to the GK franchise. As far as I'm concerned, the engine and the gameplay mechanics work perfectly with the game since nothing allows you to explore with as much leisure and freedom as a fully-polygonal world. Basically, you don't just control the characters, but you also have full control of the "camera" that serves as your pov, so you can move anywhere you want and get a good look at whatever the hell you want. The puzzles respond to this engine change, and tough there are still plenty of "typical" inventory/deduction puzzles, there are also new ones that involve visual coordination and less obvious mind skills. In all, the new engine is a marked improvement, and the puzzles and general gameplay are extremely well made.
The production values for the game are also top-notch, with great voice acting (who the hell says this game has bad acting??? The accents are a bit on the rough side, but it's still far from being Deus Ex!) fantastic music (tough a bit far too folky for my taste), and (on a more superfluous note) a kickass box and documentation. The manual is as flimsy as they get nowadays, but the game includes a wonderfully drawn (if a bit to artsy) comic as a prologue to the game just as in the original.
Well, I loved GK3 and in fact the entire GK series is one of my personal favorite adventure series, but regardless of my enjoyment, I am not fanboyish enough to ignore the game's flaws.
First of all the gameplay introduces a highly controversial addition to me: time-based puzzles. In other words, there are some actions in the game that take place in real-time whether you are there or not, and if you manage to get them good, if not it sucks to be you pal!!.... Geez, I assume this was done as a means of artificially enhancing the replayability factor, but it's a very anal way of doing so. Plus most of the time there are no logical pointers to tell you whether X thing is going to happen at Y moment, you just have to pray that you are at the right time in the right moment. None of these moments are game-stoppers if you miss them, but that doesn't mean it doesn't suck to miss them.
Furthermore, the storyline is good and all, but unfortunately ditches all the horror and suspense the previous games were known for. Jane Jensen focused on telling a tale more about conspiracies, secrets and developing her characters. So that leaves little place for the terror. In fact, if it weren't for the occasional murder the game pretty much forgets about it's "vampiric" setting and instead plays more like a whudunnit adventure with a lot of historical and occult references. There just isn't enough room between Gabriel and Grace's romantic comedy, the conspiracy theories and the historical mumbo-jumbo to jam in the terror, which leads me to believe that the series has finally turned into it's creator's fetish outlet where she just does whatever the hell she wants regardless of whether it fits the role or not. That's respectable, but Mrs Jensen would benefit from going back to the humble roots that started her road to fame instead of using GK as some sort of open mike for her historical interests. When you think about it, it's better to have the series die now instead of having to endure sequels that fully cross the border into "edutaiment" brrr.... Now THAT's terrifying!!!
Sure, the GK games were as scary as forgetting the keys to your car, but at least they had a lot of suspense, and managed to create some serious atmosphere. The game still retains the quality in writing and all, but suspense/horror-wise it doesn't hold a candle against the previous GKs. And don't get me started on the vampires!! I meet scarier anorexic black trenchcoat-wearing dumbasses on my local goth-club... mmmmh.... goth chicks.... hmmmmm!....... What? Oh yeah, the vampires on GK3 suck. And what's with the Indiana Jones ending sequence??? Let's just move on...
Last but not least there are some weird graphic issues. I don't have a monster system, yet I can perfectly run massive 3D games like the new Wolf, GTA3, etc.. yet GK3 still chugs like a bastard whenever I try to turn on full detail! Furthermore there are clipping issues and other interesting glitches that make it seem as if the engine needed another couple of hours on the Q&A program, but the main issue that I bring this up is that while far above average, the quality of the graphics never justify the problems it causes! I still laugh whenever I remember Gabriel's "cardboard" underwear or the visible joints on every character model. To be fair tough, the quality of the textures is still amazing.
The Bottom Line
GK3 is a perfect example of when an artist has waaay to much power. Even if she were on drugs and with handcuffs, Jane Jensen could still write a fantastic storyline. Yet I feel if someone had bothered to remind her aim should have been making a great game instead of "Jane Jensen's Gabriel Knight 3" the game would have been as memorable not just as a well-crafted 3D adventure but also as a horror/suspense classic. As it is now it's a great adventure, but don't let the box deceive you, this is a "conspiracy mystery placed in a history lesson". That doesn't mean it's bad, mind you, but it's far different from the "suspense thriller based on actual historical facts" that the previous games had us used to. Ask yourself what your interests are before you dive in. Regardless of that it's a fantastic game that should keep you interested for quite a while.