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!

Review: The Wolf Among Us

The Wolf Among Us is an episodic visual novel game developed by Telltale Games based on the Fables comic series from Vertigo (DC comics). It stars Sherriff Bigby Wolf as he investigates a series of murders happening in the Fabletown community in New York City.

The Good

  • Beautiful art-style
  • Strong voice acting
  • Interesting plot and choices
  • Good introduction to the Fables universe

The Bad

  • Quick-Time-Event action sequences are dull
  • Fables readers won’t find much excitement

The Wolf Among Us uses the same gameplay you’ve come to expect from Telltale’s latest games, a mix of multiple choice conversations with time limits, split paths and quick-time-event based action and fight sequences. It’s solid gameplay if a bit shallow, but let’s look at each of them.

If you’ve played Telltale’s The Walking Dead, you know what it’s all about: Unlike adventure games where you go from place to place solving puzzles in order to move the plot along, in this game you’ll mostly talk to other characters, your choices in these conversations deciding how these characters feel about you. These choices affect future encounters and some of the different outcomes for the season. Some of the conversations and choices are time-based, so you don’t have the luxury of weighing down your options before committing to one, instead having to decide quickly or just follow your gut. It’s workable gameplay but it does feel like if you’re not fast enough the choice is taken from you, which works really well in The Walking Dead but not so much here where the situations are rarely life or death.

Bigby and Colin, best pals!
Bigby and Colin, best pals!

When you do move around on your own, it’s a typical 3D point & click affair. You move throughout the area and there are hotspots you can click and interact with, but unlike regular point & click adventures where you need to find the hotspots, here they’re pointed out for you so you can move along. There aren’t any puzzles, though, just simple interactions to get more information. Again, it works but it lacks depth.

The other side of the gameplay comes with the action and fight sequences and these are purely Quick-Time-Even driven, as they’re essentially interactive movies. You might get a few choices on how things play out, but you don’t control combat, it’s just a cinematic. The game might prompt you to quickly press W or A or mash Q for an effect, but it’s nothing exciting. In fact, in one of the later episodes Bigby chases suspects through rooftops and avoiding cars and the only thing you do is press the W key when prompted. The scene itself looks really good and it would’ve been exciting if you could do more than just watch and tap.

As you progress more of the Book of Fables unlocks, giving you Bios on different characters and your choices
As you progress more of the Book of Fables unlocks, giving you Bios on different characters and your choices

But, you don’t really play Telltale Games for the depth of gameplay—which is a sad thing to say to be honest. You play them for the characters and story and the different twists and turns that come during a given season. This time around, Telltale drew from the Vertigo Fables comic series. Your protagonist is none other than Sheriff Bigby Wolf—as in the Big Bad Wolf. You see, everyone living in Fabletown is part of a fairytale or folklore. Fables came to our world to escape from an enemy who would’ve destroyed them all and they’ve now settled in their own little community in New York City. Fables are mostly immortal and can heal from almost any wound, though with sufficient damage they die like anything else. But with them being so old, they’re not exactly the same people you read about, not all of them, and not anymore at least. Take Bigby for example, he’s the evil wolf from Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs, but he’s in charge of keeping the town safe and one of his best friends is one of the three pigs. Snow White divorced Prince Charming because he was a cheating bastard (consider that in Fables, Prince Charming is the same guy involved with Snow, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty). Things change, even for Fables. Non-human Fables live in the city only if they have glamour spells to hide their appearance, otherwise they’re sent out of town to The Farm, but glamours are expensive so there’s a black-market, which is one of the central topics explored in this season.

The story is a prequel, set before even the first issue of the comic series. It opens with Bigby getting a call for domestic disturbance at Mr. Toad’s building. The altercation is between the Woodsman, a long acquaintance of Bigby’s, and a prostitute named Faith. Things can quickly get out of hand and I for one kicked Woody’s ass. Then it gets weird when Faith’s head turns up at the Woodlands, the big apartment building where the Fabletown government officials and some of the richer Fables live, such as Bluebeard, Beauty and Beast and Snow.

Some Fables, like Mr. Toad, have a hard time getting their hands on Glamours
Some Fables, like Mr. Toad, have a hard time getting their hands on Glamours

Tracking the killers take Bigby throughout Fabletown, tracking leads on his own or with Snow. Their chemistry is really good and their scenes together are fantastic, though having read the series I’m a bit biased because I know how things turn up, so a part of me wanted to direct events to match what I knew. The different characters you find fall into two categories: those created for the game and those adapted from the comic book and all of them are excellent. The original ones fit right in with the others, and I wouldn’t even blink if I saw them suddenly appearing on the pages of the series. The adapted ones are just brilliant. Bluebeard is his insufferable self, entitled and violent; and Beauty and Beast cling to their love and marriage while desperately trying to keep their noble lifestyle (though Beast makes a comment about that later in the game that made me want to reach in and smack him).

The season consists of five episodes, each slowly drawing you to the conclusion in a plot similar to a Noir story, filled with false leads and where everyone is guilty of something. In the end you realize it’s all meant to distract you, to keep you hooked until the main villains appear and the puzzle is ready for you to fit it all together (and, if I can be cynical for a moment, you have bought all five episodes), but even so, you will enjoy every moment of it. As a Noir fan, I saw a few things coming and I knew the main villains and the damning evidence wouldn’t appear until the last possible moment, but there was enough for me to keep coming back.

Every episode includes a choice on locations to visit. Sometimes you can visit them all, sometimes you can't
Every episode includes a choice on locations to visit. Sometimes you can visit them all, sometimes you can’t

The problem here lies with Fables fans and readers. Since this is a prequel and not a “what-if” scenario, we know how things turn out so a lot of the tension and adrenaline and excitement from the game just falls flat for us. We know who’s still around and who’s kicked the bucket, so when it comes to main characters and the developments, the game will struggle to excite us. In my case it was the plot itself, the mystery and the investigation that hooked me, but not the fate of Fabletown, because I know how things play out. It’s the weakness of dealing with established characters. If this had been about another set of characters, all of them completely independent from the comic book stories, then it would’ve been better for Fables fans.

Adding to the Noir mood and atmosphere is the outstanding music. The opening title music is especially good and coupled with the opening sequence itself it gives you a definite Detective Story vibe that I honestly found irresistible. Voice acting is superb from Bigby and Snow to every other little character. They, quite surprisingly, sounded exactly as I expected them to when I read the comics.

The comic-book cel-shaded look works perfectly with The Wolf Among Us, both because it’s a comic book adaptation and because plenty of the characters are inhuman, for the lack of a better term. The cartoonish look helps portray them, as a photorealistic approach would have made them less than appealing.

All you do in action sequences is press/mash/click when prompted
All you do in action sequences is press/mash/click when prompted

While the game is mostly smooth, there are a few glitches I encountered, the main one being the game bugging out and showing me multiple “This Choice is Blank” dialogues before jumping to different locations and finally returning me to the opening sequence of the episode. Thankfully a simple reload fixed the issue, but it was jarring to say the least.

There was one visual thing that struck me as a bit lazy in the last episode. After pursuing suspects to a brothel, Bigby is in his werewolf form (Fables fans, if you’re reading this, he does take on his Wolf form near the end. I whooped loudly when it happened) and of course his clothes are tattered. Thankfully for him, there’s a clothesline nearby with shirt and pants, which he puts on and when we next see him he’s wearing his full attire, shoes and tie included. It’s a minor thing but I felt it was a bit lazy and incoherent.

Tweedles and Bloody'll hate them...
Tweedles and Bloody Mary…you’ll hate them…

Despite the shallow gameplay, The Wolf Among Us delivers what Telltale has proven they know how to give, an outstanding story and wonderful characters. And with multiple choices, there are plenty of reasons to go back and give it another go, if you don’t find the QTE that tedious.

The Mental Attic Score: Worth Buying. You’ll enjoy every minute of your visit to fabletown.

Review: Broken Sword 5

Broken Sword 5 is the latest title in Revolution Software’s award winning Broken Sword series. It once again puts Nico Collard and George Stobbart on a world-trotting adventure, this time uncovering ancient Gnostic secrets that could destroy the world as we know it.

The Good

  • Strong voice acting
  • Strong puzzle design
  • Beautiful visuals

The Bad

  • Nico segments are uninspired
  • Poorly paced plot.

Just as all other titles in the series, Broken Sword 5 wastes no time getting you into the plot. You start off in an Art Gallery. George’s company is handling the insurance and Nico is around for an article. Things get complicated when the gallery is robbed and the prize of the collection, a strange painting called “La Malediccío,” is taken, a painting a priest in the gallery condemns as being heretical.

From there the characters spend the next half of the game tracking down the painting and its owner, while giving lengthy exposition on the painting’s history and possible meanings. The plot’s pace is uneven, from a sluggish first segment almost entirely dedicated to extensive exposition to a second and faster paced second act that pushes you towards the end. The plot itself is interesting in its mix of Gnostic beliefs with the hint of the supernatural the Broken Sword series is famous for, but the storytelling itself could’ve used some polish, especially during the first act. It’s one of those stories where you realize early on that the smartest solution would be to destroy the McGuffin so no one can abuse its powers, but no, you need to keep looking for it for “reasons.”

A stiff, a priest and an art gallery. Yep, this is Broken Sword
A stiff, a priest and an art gallery. Yep, this is Broken Sword

Characterization is fantastic, from the obvious romantic/sexual tension between long-time companions Nico and George, to the different secondary characters and even the villains, though the main one could’ve used some polish, as he comes off mostly as a raving lunatic with messianic tendencies, and the secondary one, a Russian with shady ties, gets too much screen time to be honest, even if he’s a Putin clone/critique. If that was how they wanted the villains to come off, good job then, but I wasn’t impressed. Classic characters Duane and Pearl Henderson come back for a short while near the end and they’re always a pleasure, as are George’s interactions with goats. But one of my favourite characters one of the villain’s very philosophical henchman. He was surprisingly funny.

I really liked the visual and sound design. The Broken Sword series has its own style of music, the use of certain instruments and tones and melodies that, if you’ve played previous installments, will make you instantly recognize this as part of the series. I was pleased to hear the familiar and brilliant voice acting for Nico and George, something I was worried about considering how long it’s been since Broken Sword 4. The rest of the supporting cast is very good and even their fake accents (for those who have them) are convincing. The visuals pleased me beyond just being pretty, though. I loved to see them go back to the 2D (or 2.5D) environments instead of the full 3D game that was Broken Sword 4, which I always believed was a bad move for the series. Character models are amazingly fluid and their movement feels real. The way they walk, talk and interact is smooth and feels natural, something that I’ve come to realize is extremely difficult to pull off in Point & Click adventures. The environments themselves are gorgeous, pieces of art with puzzles included.

One of the secondary villains (the pointless one), he's clearly a Putin lookalike
One of the secondary villains (the pointless one), he’s clearly a Putin lookalike

Speaking of which, Broken Sword’s true strength is in its puzzle design, which range from your typical and quite straightforward inventory puzzles to others that require deeper thinking and even a bit of creativity without ever falling into Moon Logic. Even the hardest puzzle is just a brain sizzler until you figure out the clue. If you can’t figure something out, it’s because you haven’t checked everything or you’re missing an item or a conversation.

During the first half of the game, the puzzles are mostly straightforward inventory-based, though there are some very good ones, such as building a new business brand for a merchant in exchange for his help, rearranging the letters on his busted down neon sign; finding a way to blow the fuses inside a painter’s studio by manipulating the environment and other NPCs in sort of a Rube-Goldberg machine, or my favourite, dressing up as a recently deceased man to have his drunk-off-her-ass grieving widow dance with you and spill the beans on where he might have kept a few things. George is nothing if not classy.

She's capable of much more than just seducing random strangers!
She’s capable of much more than just seducing random strangers!

Puzzles on the second half of the game are outstanding. There’s one where you need to help cheer up Pearl by giving her the sights, sounds and smells of a Christian Pilgrimage, so you have to use tools and scaffolding to play “Ave Maria,” while finding a way to illuminate the room’s centerpiece and add a bit of fragrance to it and while sights and smells I could figure out immediately, the sound part kicked my butt for a while. It was one of those good puzzles that make me quit and then come back with a fresh perspective. Then again, I’m really tone deaf so that puzzle might have been my kryptonite. Immediately after are a set of decoding puzzles that I found to be extraordinary, as you need to use clues you have and extrapolate them to find the answer. I thoroughly enjoyed that one.

You spend most of the game playing as George, and his segments have some of the best and most complex puzzles, while sadly, Nico’s segments insist on using her as man-bait. We all know Nico is attractive and has a lot of sex appeal, but it’s sad to see Revolution just have her rely on that when we know she’s just as capable as George when it comes to puzzle solving and inventiveness; though it’s fair to say that by Broken Sword 5, George can give MacGyver (dear lord I feel old for making that comparison) a run for his money.

Drunk grieving widow whose feelings you need to abuse? Check
Drunk grieving widow whose feelings you need to abuse? Check

Broken sword 5 is a fantastic conclusion to the series, giving us an outstanding adventure that finishes off George and Nico’s personal arcs. I hope we see more of this series, but if we don’t this was a fantastic goodbye.

The Mental Attic Score: Worth Buying. It has some pacing issues but you’ll enjoy every minute of the game.

Review: Quest for Infamy

Quest of Infamy is a Point & Click adventure game by Infamous Quests and published by Phoenix Online Studios. It’s a mix of the adventure game genre with RPG, featuring classes and combat and different skills in the same way as the classic Hero’s Quest games. Continue reading Review: Quest for Infamy

The Last Door Collector’s Edition – Review

The Last Door: Collector’s Edition is a point & click adventure thriller set in Victorian Times, developed by the Spanish studio The Game Kitchen and published by Phoenix Online Publishing. Under the tagline “Low-res Graphics, High Suspense,” the Last Door tells the story of Jeremiah Devitt and his investigation into the sudden death of one of his oldest friends. Continue reading The Last Door Collector’s Edition – Review

Dark Souls II Review

Dark Souls II is From Software’s sequel to the critically acclaimed, highly popular and frankly addictive Dark Souls. The main character this time around is The Cursed, drawn by the affliction to the fallen kingdom of Drangleic. You are an undead and in time, if you do now gather souls, you’ll go hollow. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Continue reading Dark Souls II Review