Gabriel Knight:
Sins of the Fathers


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Rating: 4.7/5 (31 votes)
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Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers

GrimmrookNew Orleans. Just hearing the name conjures up the sounds of sliding steel guitars, blaring brass horns, and the lilting Creole accents of her people. It's a city with a history and a reputation as infamous as it is famous because, if anything, the Big Easy is a city that knows how to let her hair down and party. And it has a darker side, one lurking in the shadowy swamps slithering along its belly with the snakes and crocodiles. It lures people in with promises of lust and money and power and traps them in a web of magic and superstition. Beyond New Orleans' charming facade lies the darker, deadlier world of voodoo, an environment the classic point-and-click adventure Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers isn't afraid to explore.

gabrielknight.jpgYou play the titular hero, Gabriel Knight, a charming playboy, second hand bookstore owner, and crime novelist, and you're knee deep into the research for your upcoming book. Knight's current project follows the real life "voodoo murders," a rash of grotesque and bizarre killings that have recently taken place and bear at least some superficial links to traditional voodoo practices. Thankfully for Gabriel, his luck as a crime novelist seems to be better than that of a (rarely visited) bookstore proprietor. His best friend just so happens to be Detective Mosely, the homicide detective in charge of the voodoo murders case, and his only employee at the shop, Grace Nakimura, turns out to be a serial researcher.

As you guide Knight on his quest to get to the bottom of the voodoo murders (and, of course, get plenty of great material for the book), you're going to need to talk to everyone, look at everything, pick up whatever you can, and generally push, pull, examine, open and close anything that will let you. Controlling Knight is done with the mouse and switching back and forth between a host of action specific cursors. This can be done by either right-clicking to automatically rotate through the available icons, or by pushing your cursor to the top of the screen where all of the icons can be selected by clicking on them. This is also where you can access your inventory and the control panel that will allow you to adjust your volumes, save, restore, or quit your game.

With your wits about you, and with a little (okay, a lot) of help from your friends, you and Gabriel will be thrust deep into the investigation of the voodoo murders. As the voodoo murders investigation intensifies, mysteries about Gabriel, his past, and his family also begin to surface. Your journey for the truth about both the murders and yourself will have you following a trail of blood, magic, and desire from the streets of the French Quarter to Africa, Germany, and back, and before all is said and done you'll have to make a choice between love and duty.

Analysis: While perhaps not quite as widely known as Larry Laffer, Guybrush Threepwood, or Roger Wilco, Gabriel Knight has earned himself a permanent place as an adventure gaming icon for no shortage of good reasons. While first published in the early 90s, Sins of the Fathers was built with so much quality that it stands up quite well compared to point-and-click adventures coming out today.

gabrielknight2.jpgThe appeal of Sins of the Fathers comes largely from its storytelling. This Gabriel Knight mystery pulls no punches and delivers a gritty crime fantasy thriller that rivals anything you would find on prime time television or on the NYT bestseller's list. It manages to combine effortlessly the mysticism and culture and, yes, sexual allure, of New Orleans, providing a colorful backdrop for a story that is gripping, unnerving, and full of more twists and turns than a country road. Enhancing both the story's credibility and intrigue is the treatment with which the subject of voodoo is given; throughout the course of the mystery you flit back and forth between the fact and folklore of voodoo only to have the lines blurred at every intersection. And throughout all of this, Gabriel's history waits ominously in the shadows, whispering dark portents in obscure German.

Helping deliver the story is a cast that can be described with a phrase we rarely get to use here at JayIsGames: "star-studded." Leah Remini (King of Queens) brings a snappy, bubbling wit to Knight's assistant, Grace. Her sharp delivery pours on the sarcasm at a moment's notice, and yet she is able to let hints of concern and care creep in at just the right moments in just the right amounts. Meanwhile Mark Hamill (Star Wars, Batman: The Animated Series... as if you didn't know) plays the role of bumbling backwoods Detective Mosely with considerable skill. Even Michael Dorn's (Star Trek: TNG... again, as if you didn't know) rendition of the voodoo museum curator gives the character a real and somewhat eerie touch. But Tim Curry's (Rocky Horror Picture Show, Clue... seriously, if you don't know this stuff, I just, I give up) portrayal of the eponymous Knight drives the performances. As an ensemble, the cast work marvelously together and it is indeed a credit to their abilities that the most intense, eerie, and seductive moments in the game often occur not in any kind of animated cut scene, but instead with the very plain black backdrop of the dialogue sequences.

The imagery of Gabriel Knight is obviously a product of the technology at the time which provides something of a mixed bag. On one hand, the artistic direction through much of Sins of the Fathers is wonderfully imagined and executed astonishingly well. Despite the heavily pixelated limitations, each scene manages to convey depth, personality, and even emotion. The home of Gabriel's grandmother feels warm and inviting, while the attic of the same place is decidedly musty and pregnant with long forgotten secrets. In scene after scene we see the usage of color and composition overcome the limitations of the fairly large, blocky pixels to magnificent effect. The downside is that while the larger picture is easily grasped, fine detail is a different issue entirely and one that can affect gameplay. Because of the relatively low resolution (and further impacted by a cursor that doesn't change or signal hotspots), it can often be difficult to differentiate between insignificant pieces of background and items that are vital to the game's progression.

gabrielknight3.jpgBut don't think that enjoying all of the goodies that Sins of the Fathers will be a cake walk. It won't be. That's because this game is hard. Really hard. In fact, unless someone has already beaten me to the punch, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce into the gaming lexicon the term "Sierra hard," because that is exactly what this game is. Not only do the relatively low resolution graphics work against you, you can also die unexpectedly or trap yourself into a dead end (this is done by failing to get an item or accomplish a task needed for later in the game, and then progressing to a point where said item and/or task is no longer available). Hotspots can be a headache to find, and sometimes entire rooms or scenes can go unnoticed as a result of a lack of visual cues.

Once you have overcome all of this, you still have to come to grips with the fact that the item based puzzles, as is true for many titles in the classic era of adventure gaming, can be insanely difficult. Gabriel Knight ups the ante here by also throwing in puzzles that rely both on timing and situational conditions which can befuddle the old standby of trying everything on everything until something works. Let me just conclude here with the same advice I often give to those embarking on a classic point-and-click adventure for the first time; save early, save often, bring a walkthrough.

Aside from the rather high difficulty, Gabriel Knight has few weaknesses. The interface is far more complex and clunky compared to the norm of more contemporary adventure games, but the inconvenience of having to manually change situational cursors is at least a little bit made up for by the fact that doing so gives you a greater deal of freedom to explore your environment. What I did find particularly disappointing, though, is the musical selection. This is New Orleans, home to some of the best jazz, blues, and soul in the world, and yet the music in Gabriel Knight is often bland, contrived, and amazingly out of place and mood. There are times when the background music is serviceable, but this is overshadowed by tunes that goes as well with the scene at hand as oil does with water. Also, and this is more of a warning than a criticism, there are a few displays of sexist behavior sprinkled throughout the game that might make some feel a little uncomfortable. Nothing grotesque, per se, but some off color comments with little to no social commentary can either be chalked up to realism for the time, or be mildly offensive.

In all honesty, there are definitely a few aspects about Sins of the Fathers that may turn off some gamers, whether it's the low resolution graphics, the extreme difficulty, or even just a control scheme that might seem outdated and sluggish compared to modern point-and-click adventure games. But the truth is that there is far more to love about Gabriel and his dark adventures than there is to walk away from. What you will find is a game that has earned an unimpeachable place among the classics of adventure gaming, one with fiendishly difficult puzzles, a brilliantly written and acted script, and gorgeously realized locales. Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers offers to those willing to brave its precarious pitfalls a thrilling and rewarding experience as well as a gripping story that could arguably be the best in Sierra's considerable stable, and that most definitely is saying something.

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10 Comments

Get them to publish the next 2 games and I'll be interested. I didn't care for this first one.

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I thoroughly enjoyed ALL the Gabriel Knight series. It's fun mysteries where cynics meet the metaphysical along with a heavy dose of infectious creole charm. You know the type, you've seen them elsewhere and they're so obnoxious you WANT to hate them, and yet you can't help being drawn in by them anyway. Great for a questionable detective of questionable cases.

A blast from the past I can't endorse enough.

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It might be a little off topic, but how come this splurge of downloads on JIG over the past month or so? Not week-end download, etc, but the ones which you have to pay for, similar to Big Fish Games. They've outnumbered the browser and free-download games massively, and are stealing a lot of space on the front page. A free game appears to have a massive number of votes and comments compared to the downloads, implying that many people feel equally as annoyed as me.Personally, I don't class paying $10 for every game you play as casual. I've used JIG for a couple of years now, but if nothing changes... :(

[Our format is the same as it has been for 4 years now. Nothing has changed. Free games continue to outnumber our download reviews, 5 to 1. If you're visiting us on a weekend, note that weekends you will see mostly download reviews on the front page. Weekdays are for browser games. This has been our format for several years, and it has been successful for us so no changes are planned. -Jay]

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benjabby Author Profile Page April 12, 2010 7:02 AM

i agree with joshB
but i have to say, that I do love the graphics of this

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Yeah! Everything for everyone and nothing for ourselves!

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Dr Pangloss Author Profile Page April 12, 2010 10:24 AM

Is this freeware now? And when was this originally published?

I played it many years ago, but hopefully people who are playing it for the first time don't think it's a new game. It was cutting edge in its day.

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As much as I love Gabriel Knight (particularly Sins of the Fathers) is it REALLY a casual game? I know the site description covers graphic adventures but GK is proper hardcore gaming - difficult puzzles, the possibility of irrevocable dying, the need to write things down and possibly even draw maps... it's pretty much the opposite of a casual experience, even if it's a good 17 odd years old now.

With that said, any exposure for GK is good exposure I guess.

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Did you guys ever think about how much work and time and money it costs Jay to keep this page as it is?

As Jay said, there are much more free games every day - maybe the ones complaining should just scroll deeper? Too much work? Too lazy for that?

Yeah, everything for free, but even to scroll to find the desired offers is too much.

Maybe he should sent you personal emails with free games? So that you do not even have the hard work to come to the page?

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Tundrababe Author Profile Page April 14, 2010 2:42 PM

I loved this game when it came out! It really got me hooked. Played it on an old Apple, spent a lot of money calling the Sierra hotline for tips on some of the puzzles (this was pre-internet days, early 90's). It was buggy back then too. I hope the bugs are fixed now! I think the best of the series was "The Beast Within". The newest one was my least fave, the 3D graphics were cheesy.

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I'd like to weigh in on the 'hardcore game' point of view. It is true that these older games are essentially hardcore games, but by that merit you can also argue that really old movies like Nosferatu were blockbusters. The fact is they were the pioneers of the medium and at their time the distinction between 'indie', 'casual' and 'hardcore' did not exist.

Yes, I am sure there are a few games from that period that refute my claim, but I think you can see what I mean. Compared to today's gaming world these games represent our general heritage and as such deserve a spotlight even on a site like this. I don't just consider JIG content as casual - the site also reveals a lot of the cutting edge game design hardcore games have not yet touched. In a ironic way the game industry is inverted to other entertainment hubs: the hardcore is actually the mainstream and the casual is really the fertile artistic world where new games are truly forged.

Lastly, thanks to many flash games paying homage to the days of pixels, the casual world is the perfect place for these old classics to find real appreciation. I don't agree with the opinion that the puzzles are too hard: that is silly, as it suggests 'casual' games have to be dumbed down and easy. We all know that is not the case. The beauty of casual games is that they celebrate gaming at its purest and most imaginative form.

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