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SummaryCan you say 'cat mustache'?
The GoodI'm a big fan of the Gabriel Knight series. I admire Jane Jensen, the creative talent behind them, and all the designers and programmers who managed to turn deep and complex stories into engrossing and fascinating games.
Gabriel Knight 3 is no exception. The two previous games did wonders in combining the natural and the supernatural, or, better to say, in making the supernatural look completely natural, feeding the player information on history, religions, philosophy, and occult sciences without becoming boring. In the third game, the story goes even deeper, into the heart of Judaism and Christianity, and shocks you with unconventional ideas about their origins and historical development. If you are, like myself, interested in this kind of stuff, you will be amazed at what Jane Jensen has achieved in this story. Of course, she didn't invent the most shocking revelations; she took them from the same sources Dan Brown later did for his poorly written and overrated Da Vinci Code. The alternate history of Christianity and speculations about apocryphal biographies of Jesus are not new; but it is commendable that Jane Jensen was not afraid of treating such stuff in a video game narrative.
What's more, she treats the material much better than Brown; she doesn't engage in cheap and badly motivated attacks on the Catholic church, or presents fictional accounts of Gnostic philosophy which anyone who has some knowledge about the matter will immediately deem ridiculous. She also adds some cool plot twists which are most probably fruits of her own fantasy. For what it's worth, Gabriel Knight 3 is a great and rare example of a very ambitious narrative that actually passes the test for credibility.
But don't think the story is all about Jesus and the Masons. As much as the historical part of the game is interesting, there are also plenty of more "earthy" moments, mostly involving the relationship between Gabriel and Grace. The new supporting cast is perhaps more interesting than in both previous games; but for the sake of nostalgia, you also meet an old pal from first game's New Orleans.
The gameplay is for the most part even deeper and more varied than it was in the previous games. The game lets you perform many actions which are not necessary to complete it. In fact, it is possible to finish the game and miss a good deal of non-vital, but interesting information. You can really play the detective in this game, spy on everybody, lurk at places that you know will be visited by somebody, take pictures and fingerprints, work with data on your laptop, and so on. The amount of pure adventuring here is huge, from tricky inventory-based puzzles to logical detective work and clue-gathering. Many puzzles need to be solved with the help of your special computer, using all the data you managed to gather. Some puzzles are extremely tough and are sure to give you a headache, but most are fascinating and unusual - such as, for example, connecting particular locations on the map to create a hexagram.
The game is divided into small time periods, that will end and begin according to the actions you performed in order to trigger this change. Although it is not real-time in sense of Last Express, it is quite refreshing and makes the game more realistic.
The game's world is done entirely in 3D, with great graphics and a fantastic engine that allows you explore the world with the camera, and also move Gabriel around - so to say, a combination of first-person exploring and third-person navigation. This works really great, allowing more immersion into the game world and also more interesting gameplay possibilities, such as being able to examine from different distance and angles everything you see on the screen. I could never understand why adventure games kept stubbornly refusing to incorporate real-time 3D. Under a Killing Moon clearly showed the way, but only few followed it; this game is one of those few.
The BadThe game's biggest weakness are its so-called "traditional" puzzles. The detective/spying work and all the stuff you could do with the computer was really cool. On such background, the few "classical" puzzles, taken directly out of old-fashioned comedy adventures, looked completely out of place. The obvious example is the infamous "cat mustache puzzle" - I won't give you the details for fear of spoiling you this product of mastermind puzzle design, but if you imagine a kind of a weird, illogical, and downright silly action you would normally avoid even in Day of the Tentacle, you'll get the idea. Now imagine you'll have to solve such a puzzle in a game with a highly serious, detailed narrative that deals with religion, mythology, horror, and vampires. This is the equivalent of being kicked out of the story for the duration of the exercise.
This is unfortunately not the only inappropriate puzzle in the game, though probably the most notorious one. There were some other tasks that just made me shrug my shoulders. On the other hand, some of the more clever, narrative-influenced puzzles were extremely hard. The work with the computer was fascinating, but often I was simply overwhelmed by the research possibilities, without always knowing exactly how to conduct this research.
The narrative has some problems with the pacing. Sometimes days pass before you are able to learn anything interesting; at another time, plot twists are thrown at you from all the sides. In particular, the final confrontation felt rushed and not fully satisfying.