Review: Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition is the 2014 remake by Phoenix Online Studios and Pinkerton Road Studio of the 1993 Sierra hit. It follows the eponymous Gabriel Knight as he investigates a series of gruesome voodoo murders that tie in to his personal life in ways he really doesn’t see coming.

The Good

  • The world of Gabriel Knight in full glorious HD
  • The Star Journal
  • Remastered soundtrack
  • Altered puzzles
  • Schloss Ritter

The Bad

  • Visual glitches
  • Command wheel takes away some of the difficulty
  • Too many achievements

Gabriel Knight is a struggling novelist and owns a rundown antique bookstore. He’s seen better days and he’s desperate for a good story to turn into a novel. Thankfully, for him, his best friend is New Orleans Police Detective and he’s brought Gabriel into the voodoo murders case because of Knight’s promises to include a character based on him in the novel he’s working on. Gabriel also suffers from regular nightmares relating to these murders, which he discusses with his very unpaid assistant Grace Nakimura.

As the days go by (ten of them in total) and Gabriel gets deeper into the underground voodoo world, his life and that of the people closest to him, including distant relatives he never knew of, are put in jeopardy. The investigation also brings him closer to fulfilling his destiny, one that runs inextricably close to the people he’s investigating.

If only you could go scroll through them all!

If only you could go scroll through them all!

This is not a new game; it’s a 20-year-old one that received a major spruce-up, to help bring it to a whole new generation. Someone once asked me “Do we need this remake?” and beyond a fan saying yes because it’s one of their favourite series, I do feel that with Dosbox classics getting more and more unstable with new operating systems, a remake like this one does this series a lot of good, bringing it to a completely new generation. That being said, it’s difficult to review a game when it’s a remake of another, because if you take away the things that it has in common with the original, there isn’t much for the game to stand on by itself. But that is the nature of remakes, I suppose. So as much as I want to judge the game by itself, I can’t but draw parallels to its predecessor during my review.

Gameplay in the remake has changed in meaningful ways, some good and some mixed. The good are the journal, written in Gabe’s dad’s sketchbook, keeping track of the current events. It helps players know where they’re going in the story and provide subtle hints on what they should do next. The journal also gives you access to what I call the “Star Journal,” containing interesting facts about the original game and the work done for the remake. There are even some interviews with the original staff, conducted by Jane Jensen herself, and plenty of concept art and storyboards. The only downside is the “Star” content is location-specific, so you can’t just scroll through the entire thing. Once you cleared the game, it should’ve unlocked in the main menu at least, because many times I was focusing on solving puzzles and didn’t pay attention to it.

Close-up looks are now these fantastic pop-ups

Close-up looks are now these fantastic pop-ups

This version also allows you to skip ahead to the map instead of having to navigate through the environment to the exit, which you can still do of course and which I did plenty of times before I got used to the map button. It’s one of the game’s best new features, especially for veteran Gabriel Knight players.

Finally, interaction is through a Command Wheel. When you click a hotspot, the wheel displays all actions possible for that hotspot. In the original, you had a series of action icons you had to scroll through to find the appropriate one for a given spot, and I feel the Command Wheel lowers the difficulty of the game by immediately discarding all invalid actions for you. You no longer have to think, “Hmmm, what might be the correct action?” because that part is done for you. It’s a staple of modern adventure game design that I hoped wouldn’t make it to this game.

Player Score is back, tallying every important action or puzzle solved. You know your score’s increased every time you hear the now very familiar jingle. I missed two or three things while rushing to clear the game for this review and got 359/362 points, earning me a “Novice Schattenjäger” achievement. I might return for my full score achievement later on.

Conversations now feature 3D models. At the top you'll see the score counter!

Conversations now feature 3D models. At the top you’ll see the score counter!

Speaking of achievements, at least on the Steam version, they went overboard and now you get one achievement for every single little puzzle you solve. At first it seemed like a novelty but it started to feel almost patronizing, “There you go, you’re such a smart boy!” Some achievements, like overly complimenting Grandma Knight, are fine as they require you to go through entire conversation trees for funny effect, but Puzzle-specific achievements are too much.

On the upside, the remake changes a few puzzles and item locations, mixing things up for players of the original, and while there aren’t enough of these changes to make the experience a completely fresh one, they are quite capable of stumping you, even if only for a few seconds/minutes. I still remember how the relocation of the magnifying glass and tweezers threw me off my game, and that’s just at the start. Later on I assumed a “nothing is as it was” mentality and fared much better, finding instead that a lot is as it was. The puzzles themselves are still pretty damn good, especially when put against today’s standards. They are all logic-based, and there are plenty of hints in conversations and the environment to give your brain the jumpstart it needs to finish them. Sound logic, picking everything up like a kleptomaniac and talking to everyone you can will often yield all the results you need.

One of the first locations to have altered puzzle and item pickups!

One of the first locations to have altered puzzle and item pickups!

The plot is one of the best in adventure games, drawing from real cultural and historical sources, mixing reality and fantasy seamlessly to create a believable story. Even the supernatural elements are so well grounded in religious history that you could almost believe them. In fact, for newcomers this will be your first glimpse of Jensen’s trademark, mixing history and fantasy together brilliantly. Characterization is top notch and you care deeply for the characters, though it would’ve been nice if the game gave you more time to care about Wolfgang, especially considering his role in Gabriel’s character growth. Malia and Gabe’s romance could’ve used a bit more screen time as well, to at least disguise how obviously plot-related it is. Having said so, the romantic tension between Gabe and Grace is still fantastic.

Speaking of plot, the remake includes the Gabriel Knight graphic novel, which I urge new players not to read until they’ve cleared the game, as it reveals a bit too much about the game’s plot. As for veterans, go ahead, you’ll love it.

Now the cutscene includes the cops taking the body away!

Now the cutscene includes the cops taking the body away!

The true stars of this remake, however, are the visuals and sound. Robert Holmes has recomposed the entire soundtrack, adding more instruments and a lot more strength to an already powerful score and this is the game that will etch the melody for “When The Saints Go Marching In” into your brain for the rest of your days, much like its original did so many years ago. Voice acting is generally strong, though I still lament the loss of Mosely’s thick accent. The new GK actor certainly isn’t Tim Curry but he does a good job with the role and sounds appropriately sleazy, though on latter parts of the game his performance loses a bit of strength, especially when Gabriel is screaming in grief or rage. Same thing happens to Malia’s performance near the end, when she’s pleading with a certain ancestor spirit, there isn’t enough strength in the performance to be truly convincing. Having said so, her and Grace’s performances are the best in the game.

Schloss Ritter, I love it!

Schloss Ritter, I love it!

The updated visuals say goodbye to any of the pixel-hunting present in the original graphics, not that there was much of it to begin with. Locations have all received major overhauls and look absolutely fantastic, though my favourite, hands down, has to be Schloss Ritter, in which the developers married the castle’s looks from the original game and its sequel The Beast Within. It was a pleasure seeing the castle portrayed so beautifully.

However, there are a variety of visual glitches in the game that made me groan, such as clothing collision issues with shirts poking through coats, Gabriel being able to walk through people in the square, the game telling you the panel in front of the Gedde Tomb is closed when you can clearly see it uses the “open” model. I often experienced Gabriel walking to a hotspot and then take small steps back and forth, over and over again, as if adjusting his positions, but getting stuck until I pressed the ESC key to cancel the animation, which didn’t work every time. None of the glitches are major or game-breaking though, just annoyances.

For some close-up examination hotspots, such as Gabriel’s bookcase, the visuals are so good they look like photographs instead of 3D animation, and for all I know they could be. They are also presented to you in pop-up windows instead of using the main screen (via your typical black-screen-fade loading), allowing you to examine them and leave the close-up view seamlessly, without interrupting the rest of the gameplay, something I found myself loving and wishing more games did it as well.

I can't get enough of how good the castle looks now!

I can’t get enough of how good the castle looks now!

Plenty of sequences that used to be in the game’s engine and made you have to wait while the animations completed are now (skippable) cutscenes. A perfect example is early in the game in Lake Pontchartrain, the sequence where the police took the body away. In the 20th Anniversary Edition they’ve rolled that sequence into the Malia meeting cutscene, making it all happen quicker. In fact, some of the creepier parts of the game look even better with the new cutscenes.

One thing that I did feel was a wasted opportunity was not adding the original game to this release. Monkey Island Special Editions did it (sort of) and last year’s re-release of Flashback added the original game as well, accessible from the menu. As an anniversary edition, it would’ve been great to have the original there with the updated, to see for ourselves the before and after.

That's not a happy face, it's the shadow of the metal bar INSIDE the hole.

That’s not a happy face, it’s the shadow of the metal bar INSIDE the hole.

Gabriel Knight Sins of the Fathers bring the classic adventure to a whole new generation with updated visuals and music. While it doesn’t change things enough to be a fresh experience for players of the original, they will still find a really fun game. The concept art is enough to give any fan of the series a nostalgia-induced heart attack!

The Mental Attic Score: Worth Buying! I can’t wait for GK4, make it happen!

2 responses to “Review: Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition

  1. Pingback: Point & Click Villainy – Are Adventure Protagonists really Heroes? | The Mental Attic·

  2. Pingback: Puzzle Design – Narrative vs Challenge | The Mental Attic·

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