|Mild mannered author/book
store owner, Gabriel Knight, has finished writing his book "The Voodoo Murders"
based on his real life investigation in his home town of New Orleans. During this
investigation he found out that he is the last in a long line of German Shattenjagers
(Shadow Hunters). He also has inherited a castle which is in need of restoration. So he
takes his new-found windfall of money from his highly successful book and jets off to
Germany. He leaves behind his very capable assistant, Grace Nakimura, to mind the store.
After he has settled in and starts working on his next book (which isn't working out well
since this one's pure fiction and not based on experience), he is greeted by the local
townspeople. They aren't welcoming him to the neighborhood, rather they are asking for his
help. It seems that a little girl was attacked, killed, and mutilated by a vicious wolf.
Her father saw the wolf after the fact and said that "It had HUMAN eyes!" The
villagers suspect that it was not a wolf but a werewolf. Since Gabriel is the
Shattenjager, the villagers are requesting that he do something about the werewolf.
Gabriel accepts the mission and goes to the victim's house to investigate. This is the setup for Gabriel
Knight: The Beast Within. It is the second Gabriel Knight mystery by writer Jane
Jensen. The first, Sins of the Father, received several awards and positive
reviews. Unfortunately, I didn't play GK1 so I cannot compare the two or explain how
he found out that he was a Shattenjager. What I can tell you is that you didn't need to
have played the first to enjoy its sequel. There are only a few references to it and none
of them are necessary for game play.
The game comes on six CD's broken into 1 "chapter" each. These alternate the lead character from Gabriel in the first chapter, to Grace in the second, back to Gabriel in the 3rd and so on. Only in the last chapter do Gabriel and Grace get together. Installation was a breeze. Just put in the first CD and run the setup program. It does the rest. It gives you the option to run from Windows or from DOS. (Yes, I'm one of the few people on the planet who hasn't gone to Windows95 yet!) The setup program told me the game wouldn't run well in Windows and then proceeded to do the install for DOS. The interface to the game is with a mouse which changes the cursor depending on what it's touching. In other words, you are doing some pixel hunting when you come into a new scene. When your cursor moves to the edges of the screen it turns into an arrow to allow you movement from scene to scene. There is a toolbar at the bottom of the screen that controls your options (sound, video, etc.), saving/restoring a game, and your inventory. Click on an inventory item and your cursor is now an icon of that item. This will allow you to use your inventory on anything on the current screen or with other items in the inventory. There is a tape recorder for Gabriel that records all interviews with people. The tape recorder also lets you splice together dialogue to create a new tape. This is necessary early on in the game. Grace has a notepad that she uses to summarize all conversations for future reference.
GK2 is what is being labeled an "Interactive Movie" with full motion video popping up as you play. Click on the newspaper, get a Full Motion Video (FMV) of Gabriel walking to the table, sitting down, and finally picking up the paper. Then the scene cuts to a closeup of the paper. It's woven smoothly into the game and is not cumbersome. In addition to the FMV clips during the game, there is also a several minute long opening and closing video for each chapter. Plus, a few of the chapters have an additional video halfway through them. One of these is the fictional "Lost Opera" by Richard Wagner. I've never been to a real opera myself and can't say that I'm a fan of that kind of music, but I was mesmerized by how well it was done. The actors and actresses are very believable in their parts and don't look like rejects from the Warner Bros. network. If any of you has ever played The 7th Guest, you'll know what I mean. All background scenes outside of the FMV environment are actually shown as pictures, not texture maps or rendered graphics. But Gabriel and Grace are shown in pixelized form. This doesn't happen often and is used mostly to move you from one FMV segment to another. You have the option to show video full screen or half screen. I found no problems with the full screen videos on my little 486SX system with a Cirrus 1MB video card. The scenes did not take long to load in from the CD with the exception of the opening/closing segments. And even they didn't take too long. It would probably take longer on a 2X CD-ROM which the manufacture says is the minimum, but my 4X worked quite well.
The sound in the game was done well. The background noise or music was appropriate and not distracting. When you were on the street in Munich, you heard traffic, people shuffling around, and even the street musician playing his guitar. I found it funny that he was playing "When the Saints Come Marching In" since Gabriel is from New Orleans. Do Germans even know that song? All conversations were clear most of the time. I had an occasional problem where I would not hear the first 1/2 second or so of the audio. I didn't miss anything, so it wasn't an inconvenience. Any written material could be read aloud by the character. This was easier than reading all of the notes and books and letters that the characters came across. In fact you HAD to read them aloud. If you didn't, the game would assume that you hadn't READ it at all. Which leads me to my next topic: Gameplay. Video and audio are nice but most people play a game for the game. The puzzles involved were tough but not so tough that they were overly frustrating. But you had to do everything in a certain order. As an example, in the beginning of the game there is a shed with a bucket, a sink, and a bag of cement. When you clicked them you got a response like "It's a bucket". But when you go out and find the paw print in the mud and then go back to the shed, clicking the bucket automatically mixes the cement and water and puts it in the bucket for you. You can then take the cement and make a casting of the print. So if you missed the paw print on your pixel hunt you are left confused about why there is a shed that you can't take things out of.
Also, the game does not allow you to make mistakes. If you haven't finished disk 1 you cannot go on to disk 2. I think the programmers were trying to avoid a lot of disk swapping, but I would have preferred to have been allowed to make a mistake and then backtrack when I hit a roadblock. Better yet would have been to have a different and possibly premature ending to the game if you missed a key element. But they handled it by having a map to each section of the chapter. If the section was blinking, that meant there was unfinished business there. That made it easier to narrow down the search when the chapter would not end. Even with this linearity, I truly enjoyed the game. The story was very involved, mixing fiction with actual historical figures such as composer Richard Wagner and King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Throw in the werewolf factor and you have a chilling story that takes unexpected twists and turns. If you have a sensitive stomach you'll be glad to know that there is only one gory scene in the game. When I was playing this, my kids, who are normally oblivious to me when I'm at the computer, decide to see what daddy was doing at one point. Which point, you ask? That's right. The aforementioned one gory part of the game. My 5 year old had a nightmare that night about it. Now daddy feels like a heel! The ending sequence of the game was also a little disappointing. Just Grace and Gabriel talking on the bridge. During the game Grace grew jealous of Gabriel for unfounded reasons and they made up on the bridge at the end. A little sappy. But then again I haven't seen too many games where the ending was a climax. The only exception I can think of is Doom, where you're back on Earth looking around at the green rolling hills, bountiful wildlife, and away from monsters of any kind. Then you pan onto a rabbit's head on a stake and then further pan to see the city in flames and run over with demon spawn. Now THAT was an ending! But who really plays a game for its ending? I play games for the game.
Overall the game was truly enjoyable and kept me busy for several weeks. I would recommend this game to anyone who likes a good mystery. Even better for someone who tries to figure out who the killer is while reading the book. That is the essence of this game. A whodunnit where you are the one doing the whodunning! Whodunning? Is that a word? No, but I think you get my point.