The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery
Critic Reviews add missing review
Average score: 88% (based on 19 ratings)
Average score: 4.0 out of 5 (based on 71 ratings with 3 reviews)
Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers was a landmark achievement even for a venerable developer like Sierra: a "serious" adventure in the vein of their own Laura Bow games, it was better scripted, better written, and thick with atmosphere.
From that point of view, The Beast Within is most certainly a worthy sequel. Like the first game, it boasts a suspenseful story, involving and credible with its meticulous attention to detail. Werewolves and obscure details about Bavarian kings hardly attracted me when I first heard about the game; I don't always enjoy Wagner's music and I certainly don't like Wagner himself. But Jane Jensen did her homework as a storyteller: she managed to present the quirky melange of low mythology and pseudo-historical material in such a way that I couldn't put the game down.
I must admit I have a weakness for the lost art of FMV with live actors in games The joy of seeing your favorite adventure game being treated like a movie was among the strongest sensations of the time. Even games with handicapped gameplay (like Phantasmagoria) could create a lasting impression because, with the right tools and talent, the resulting atmosphere could be incredibly convincing. Same happens in this game, where the very first scene envelops you in a blood-chilling, yet oddly comforting ambiance of a well-told mystery.
Much of the scenery can be interacted with. Some objects have detailed descriptions and elicit comments from our heroes. You'll gather evidence, spy on people, read old documents, interrogate suspects, and solve puzzles. There are long conversations, careful examination of clues, and original elements such as a certain change of perspective late in the game.
It would be, however, wrong to state that the series hasn't lost anything from the transition to FMV technology. For me, the most alarming flaw was the simplification of the interface. I generally think that the "smart cursor" was one of the worst things to happen to adventure games. I understand that the traditionally verbose interface might have possibly diminished the cinematic impact of the game, but there must have been a better way to counter that than reducing all possible actions to a default, generic "interaction".
The puzzles are, for the most part, rather forgettable, and the game fails to recreate the gradual suspense-building, the coherence of the world, and the attention to detail that were so noticeable in its predecessor. At times it almost feels inappropriately cartoony and dumbed-down, lacking not only the romantic dark edge of the first game, but also many of its gameplay features.
There are a lot of video sequences, and they play even when you perform the most mundane of tasks (such as picking up an object). I must stress that, personally, I liked that feature and thought it contributed to the immersion into a movie-like experience. But the resulting slow pace is, of course, not something everyone would enjoy. Besides, I'm not sure if the game's already rich and convincing narrative needed more dramatic help from video cutscenes depicting plain, solitary actions. Also, don't expect a good movie where there is just a good game enhanced by special presentation: the direction and the acting here are completely forgettable.
The Bottom Line
The Beast Within is neither a great cinematic achievement or a particularly good adventure game. Rather, it is an interesting experiment, but one that quickly becomes outdated. For a better treatment of the same visual technique, I recommend the Tex Murphy games.
DOS · by Unicorn Lynx (180476) · 2017
The Beast Within was the first interactive movie that I played, and this was at a time when big game companies like Sierra took advantage of CD-ROM technology. It is a very good game. In fact, it's far better than the interactive movies that were on offer. The game was directed by Will Binder, who worked on a series of documentaries and short movies, and GK2 was considered his big break. I think that this is the first and only Sierra game to be directed by someone outside of Sierra.
After stopping the voodoo cult operating out of New Orleans and recovering the talisman that his great uncle sacrificed his life for, Gabriel Knight (played by Dean Erickson) is now in Schloss Ritter, working on his Blake Backlash novel about the events that occurred two years before. He hears a knock on the door and finds out it is the local townspeople who, after being told he is the new Schattenjäger, ask him to investigate a werewolf attack that claimed the life of a child. After agreeing to help them, Gabriel stays at the farm just outside Munich where the attack took place. His investigation eventually leads to a hunt club run by a charming man named Friedrich von Glower (Peter Lucas). Having found out that Gabriel is a member of the Ritter family, von Glower welcomes him with open arms.
Later on, his secretary Grace Nakimura (Joanne Takahashi) joins him in Germany, feeling that she may be of use to him. She is disappointed to find out that she just missed Gabriel. However, once she learns that Gabriel's case involves werewolves, she does some research for him and finds out that the attacks date back to the days of King Ludwig II. I like how the story of Ludwig was modified slightly so that it involves werewolfry, and that leads to some more research, this time on Richard Wagner and his lost opera. Although I found most of the research boring, I was impressed at how that all came together at the end.
The game is divided into six chapters, with the player alternating between Gabriel and Grace until the last chapter where they have to play both. Each chapter is stored on the six CDs that came with the game, and this means that you have to do some disc-swapping unless you have the version from GOG.
The Beast Within comes at a time when Sierra decided to drop the point-and-click interface we all know and love, and replace it with a simplified interface where you only have one mouse cursor to interact with the environment. Although I found this approach annoying, I think that this is much easier for players new to the adventure genre. The inventory is accessed by clicking the icon on the right that looks like a duffel bag. Both Gabriel and Grace have their own items. Among the items Gabriel has at the start of the game is the tape recorder which has the ability to isolate pieces of audio and place this audio onto a blank tape. Doing this is necessary to solve the first puzzle of the game.
All the actors that appear in the game deliver good performances, and I was most impressed by Erickson's. He comes across as one of those types that tries to keep his cool even when he becomes involved in a heated argument, and he also has a sense of humor to go along with it. He said that if the rest of the GK games were interactive movies, he would star in all of them. I wish that was the case. Also, people praised him for his role via his Facebook page, but I'm not one of them.
The Beast Within uses FMV technology to display cut-scenes that are triggered when the player initiates some action or starts a conversation with one of the characters. I know that some players loathe watching the main protagonists open and close doors, write letters, walk into buildings, get in cars, etc., but this adds to the realism. There are movies at the beginning and ending of each chapter, and it's good that Sierra gives you the option of watching them again.
The locations that Gabriel and Grace visit in the game are actual locations, which also adds to the realism. The Munich Zoo (Thalkirchen) even has a wolf enclosure. When a game uses locations based on real-life ones, the gamer has to go over and see it for themselves. Just ask YouTuber IPKISS4LIFE.
The CD-quality soundtrack by Robert Holmes is excellent. Most of the soundtracks are unique to each chapter, and they blend in with the situations the player will deal with. I enjoyed listening to the orchestral versions of the music from the first game, as well as the music for the chase sequence at the end of the game. In fact, it is used as my ringtone. It makes you hurry up and answer the damn phone!
Speaking of the chase sequence, the whole thing is just one maze where you have to lure the antagonist into a certain room, done by closing certain doors. This is too difficult because once you close a door, you cannot open it back up. Furthermore, it is too easy to die by making a wrong decision.
The quality of the FMV is not that great. It uses QuickTime compression, and I have noticed audio static in some of the movies.
The Bottom Line
You don't have to play the last game in order to enjoy this one; there are hardly any references to it. As an interactive movie, it is very good. The excellent script helped cement Jane Jensen as the most high-profile storyteller on the planet. The soundtrack is also excellent, and the ability to play both Gabriel and Grace is a welcome relief, and this is carried over to the next game. The puzzles are not that hard to solve once you know what to do. If you’re a Gabriel Knight fan, then you’ll like this one. As an interactive movie, it is far better than Phantasmagoria and its sequel.
DOS · by Katakis | カタキス (43051) · 2017
So Gabriel Knight 2 is the pinnacle of full motion video (FMV) games? Hand on heart, guys, how many FMV games have you played? Few? I thought so. Don't worry, that's nothing to be ashamed of. Most of the playable movies were trash. Among that company, Gabriel Knight 2 certainly shines. But being the one-eyed among the blind doesn't make you the eye specialist.
Gabriel Knight 2 has some pretty obvious flaws. But first, let me name the obvious strengths. Designer Jane Jensen has once again compiled ancient legends into an intriguing and pleasingly credible mix of horror and suspense. The adventure is well placed in Bavaria, Germany, an area were modern and traditional life are only a few cobblestones apart. Jensen succeeds well in tightening the plot; acting alternately as Gabriel or Grace and thus tying up the knot from both ends of the rope is a clever gameplay idea.
As a resident of Munich, the city in which a large part of the game takes place, I had the added joy of recognition. It's really nice to re-explore your home town in a computer game. And of course, the myth of king Ludwig is known to any child here in Bavaria.
Much is wrong with Gabriel Knight 2, and sadly, the mistakes spoil a lot of the otherwise quite thrilling atmosphere.
I won't elaborate on the puzzles, as any GK 2 player knows that there are a few very nasty situations. Don't know what I'm talking about? Maybe "tape splicing" or "cuckoo clock" will ring a bell. Any game that features a hide-and-seek labyrinth part has eternally lost all chances for puzzle design praise anyway.
Much more important, and much graver, is The Beast Within's lack of tempo. As anything you do is represented by video sequences, you have to watch a lot of footage. Now, if you trigger any action, what happens in the movie this:
a) Gabriel stares at object for three seconds to signify gravity of upcoming action
b) Gabriel interacts with object (i.e. picks it up, stares at it)
c) Gabriel finishes action, remains lost in thought for three seconds to ponder deed and signify mystification
A lot of staring, a lot of silence, and if you cut out all the seconds in which nothing much happens, the game would be half as long. And half as boring.
Jane Jensen is a talented writer; as such she should have known about the importance of pace and flow. Dramatic tension in due honor, but I if it takes Gabriel half a minute just to enter his car, then trust me, it's not that thrilling. In fact, it's unnerving.
Whoever cut GK 2 deserves public humiliation. Thanks to a just god, at least the actors already got it. Their incompetence is burned in silver for anyone to see. Third class at best and hired for their looks, none of the main characters (especially not the G-names) are convincing, let alone good. Good at anything but staring, that is. Oh, and smirking. Yes, definitely smirking.
Most of those flaws are of a technical nature, and they can be tracked to one source: the use of full motion video. Gabriel Knight 2 is not a good FMV game. In fact, it is even one of the prime examples on how the combination of the two media does NOT work. Sierra tried to force the new technique into an old-fashioned mold completely unsuited to it. When they should have made a movie with puzzles, they tried to make a game with video sequences. Gabriel Knight 2 was meant to be an old-school adventure. It wasn't allowed to be. I dare say it would have been a much better program in classical style.
The Bottom Line
Gabriel Knight 2 is an honorable attempt to merge computer game and movie, but it is ultimately a failure. Neither strong as a game due to weak puzzles, nor strong as a movie due to lack of speed and talented actors, it remains a mediocre bastard.
DOS · by -Chris (7764) · 2001