Published in 1993, Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father was a critical darling for Sierra. Helmed by writer Jane Jensen (whose credits include Police Quest 3 and King’s Quest VI), the game collected a devout following of players who steered the titular Gabriel Knight through the dark and dangerous streets of New Orleans. The 20th Anniversary edition of Gabriel Knight is the latest in a long line of nostalgia-fueled video game revivals, but rest easy - this is no lazy cash grab. Phoenix Online Studios and Pinkerton Road have rebuilt the game from the ground up with new art assets, voiced character dialog, updated music, and a host of improvements and gameplay conveniences.
When a serial killer strikes New Orleans, Gabriel Knight - author and proprietor of rare books - is intrigued by the voodoo influences of each death and hopes to use them as material for his next book. However, the murders have caused him to experience recurring nightmares of which he struggles to find meaning. Every night the vision is the same: a woman with the face of a leopard is burned at the stake while the man holding the torch is strangled by snakes. The nature of his dreams and the crimes will eventually align as Gabriel’s research steers him towards local folklore and evil, ancient magics. Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father is to be commended for its treatment of the Voodoo subject matter. The game offers a fascinatingly academic look into the history of Voodoo and its current applications. Where most games of this type take liberties and extrapolate comic book-style mischief and villainy from real world deities and cultures, Gabriel Knight treats the subject with proper respect. Live And Let Die this ain’t.
The story, writing, and character interactions are Gabriel Knight’s bread and butter. Anyone familiar with Sierra adventure games, or any adventure game for that matter, will easily understand how the game operates. With the plot spread across nine chapters, players will run around New Orleans doing what is necessary to expose the truth behind the deadly killing spree. The game stresses the importance of talking to people, as exhausting all dialog options is the only way to reveal key locations, puzzles, and the next plot point. From a descendent of Creole aristocracy to a graphic design major, everyone has something to say about current events. Even something as innocuous as a newspaper is essential to progression and players are encouraged to read them at the start of each day. A system like this works in the game’s favor as withholding content in this way makes it impossible to break the fiction or ruin the game by accidentally stumbling onto areas and situations the player is not yet prepared to deal with.
The game’s puzzles are not particularly difficult, it's more that their solutions are often convoluted. With so many access points and people to meet on a given day, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and not know where to begin. If conversation isn’t enough to push the player in the right direction, a three-tiered hint system is available to ease frustration. Pinkerton Road employs a cool down mechanic for its hints as to prevent players from accessing all three clues at once. Why, exactly? This feels completely unnecessary. Why punish the player for needing a nudge in the right direction?
Where the original Gabriel Knight had an ever-present interface that contained all necessary game functions and inventory management, the remake replaces it for a simpler, low-key contextual system. By clicking on an object that can be manipulated in some way, a series of bubbles offer the typical adventure game actions Use, Examine, and Talk. An Easy Mode, possibly designed to seduce the casual adventure gamer, removes contextual options in favor of letting Gabriel automatically perform the most pertinent action for that object.
A cleaner interface gives the new artwork in Sins of the Father its proper due. Although I did not play the original version of the game, I can still appreciate the jump in graphical fidelity the remake has made. The game uses an art style similar to Broken Sword V: The Serpent’s Curse, where 3D characters are placed over exquisite, hand drawn backgrounds. The 3D characters stand out from the environment without looking garish or out of place. They are also well animated and move with a generous amount grace. The character artwork gets its proper due during dialog sequences, where the discussion prompts are framed by beautiful portraits of those being interrogated. Oddly enough, everybody but Gabriel looks great in these portraits. Compared to the other characters, his facial artwork is is flat and lacks depth and flair.
Technically, Gabriel Knight has some issues. Characters will interrupt and talk over each other if the player clicks through dialog responses. There were moments where the character’s mouths wouldn’t move when they spoke. Far more painful than the game’s audio issues were the startling frequency of lockups and glitches that made getting through puzzles or dialog sequences a trial. Early on in the game, after triggering an event that featured a cop running after a mime, the game failed to relinquish control back to me. The only way to fix the problem was to force a restart. Thankfully, Gabriel Knight employs a generous checkpoint system that brought me to the beginning of the puzzle and while I didn’t lose any progress, I was irritated by the ordeal. Steam’s community forum page features several posts regarding the game’s technical issues that Pinkerton Road has promised to address in time.
Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father was a treasured addition to Sierra’s stable of old school adventure games. The anniversary edition of the game is readily accessible to those who have no history with Gabriel Knight or even Sierra games. To entice veterans to return to Gabriel’s world, this edition includes a good handful of behind the scenes content that should prove fascinating to series followers. The entire experience has been reshaped and streamlined so there is nothing, save for a few technical issues, to prevent anyone from enjoying the adventure.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.