Sunday, April 29, 2018

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers (PC) - Unfinished Playthrough Review

Sin of the 90's.

Sometimes I really wonder why I think I like point-n-click games. I am notoriously lousy at puzzle solving and this genre is pretty much all about exactly the out-of-the-box thinking that I constantly fail at. And still I have played a fair share of these games and I keep coming back to them. P&C games (as I am going to refer to them) hold a special place in my heart, as they are among my first video game experiences and fond ones at that. I remember watching my mom play games like The Dig and Myst and loving it. I'm not sure she's much better than me at puzzle solving, but her enthusiasm was infectious and definitely helped a lot in developing my love for gaming in general. I think by playing P&C games I get some of that nostalgic feeling in a way that makes me enjoy the game even when it frustrates the heck out of me.

That isn't to say that I succeed at every P&C game I play, far from. I often end up having to use a walkthrough for more than I'd like to admit, but at least most of the time I get through them. But every now and then there will be one that is more frustration than it's worth.

Gabriel Knight was one of those series of games I had heard of for the longest of times but knew very little about. I pretty much only knew it was a P&C game and well spoken of. Which is probably for the best. Most P&C games are story-heavy and are best experienced knowing as little as possible about what you're going to get through. Every now and then I have the urge to play some P&C, more often than not I will go back to one I have already played (probably because I know more of the puzzles) and the last one I played was Broken Sword for the fifth or so time. But a while back when I got the itch again I decided it was time to check out something completely new. Well new for me at least, but quite old in the gaming world.

Anything or nothing could be of interest.

Released in 1993, one of the first things that I noticed (and had sort of expected) when starting up Gabriel Knight was that this was not going to be a helpful game. You're released into the world (New Orleans) as the titular Gabriel Knight, not knowing much more than that there have been some murders, dubbed the "voodoo murders" and that Gabriel has an interest in them in his role as a wannabe-author.

I immediately noticed that nothing in the world is highlighted for you as important. Oh no, this game was really going to make me work for it. Instead you can choose to look at things in your surroundings, and that can be literally everything - from the magazine half-covered under a stack of books to magnets on a refrigerator. Some of these items you will need further down the line, but trying to figure out which ones you need to interact with and in what way was the first massive hurdle to pass. And that's true for every screen you enter. The game even recommends that you thoroughly search through every area you encounter and while that is more or less true for every P&C game this one takes it to a whole new level (I think the 20th Anniversary Ed. might've improved on this issue).

So far it was pretty much what I expected though. P&C games are about scouring the surroundings and trying to figure out different interactions, either between you and items or between items. Gabriel Knight was just not very forthcoming in telling me exactly (or even slightly) what items were worth interacting with, but that's just the way it was back then. Something I wasn't ready for though (although I should've been), was the fact that you also often had to talk to people about the same things several times before they'd spill the beans you were actually after. In the end it all came down to the regular case of trying everything with everything... but then doing it several times.

George might look like a bore, but at least he's not a creep.

It didn't help that Gabriel himself came off more like a creep than the suave player he probably sees himself as. Of course it's hard to not see his "harmless" 90's banter with his secretary without modern #MeToo glasses, but for the short time I played the game he also had little else interesting going on about him. He wasn't the guy-next-door-average like George Stobbart in the Broken Sword series, and nowhere near anything as whacky as something from a LucasArts game. To me, Gabriel had not aged well and would've probably been written differently today. Further aggravating was the narrator of the game, whom, while I assume meant to add to the atmosphere of the game, was an absolute chore to have to listen to. And she speaks every line of text not said by a character. Fortunately you can turn her off.

The story seems better written however and starts out interesting enough. As mentioned there are murders and Gabriel needs to investigate them. The history of his family seems involved somehow (maybe this is what the title is about?). Presumably this all leads to him getting involved in more sinister stuff (yet again I see similarities with Broken Sword, released three years after this), maybe a bit like the Da Vinci Code? I enjoy stories with a bit of the supernatural and conspiracy thrown in as much as the next person, but unfortunately I never made it far enough to explore much of anything.

The puzzle that broke this camels back was when I was required to use a mime to lure a cop away from his bike for me to be able to listen in on his cop-radio (and this is still right at the beginning of the game). Even if I could've figured out I needed the cop radio (which doesn't seem too farfetched considering the objective was to locate the police chief), I don't think I could've in a million years figured out to use the mime to lure away the cop. There is simply not the slightest hint for it. You have to make the mime, which is in a completely different part of the area, follow you around until you get to the cop at which point they will interact in a way that allows you to use the radio. But apparently (according to the walkthrough I was reading), just getting the mime to follow you around is pretty tricky. And then to surmise that the mime would be what makes the cop leave...

Of course it's the mime

I realized right then and there that I wouldn't be able to get through the game without using a walkthrough 95% of the time (or spend 30 minutes on each puzzle), and at that point I'm not really playing the game anyway. If all I was going to get was the story without doing any actual puzzle solving myself I might as well just watch a playthrough on YouTube. After two hours of really trying to be clever enough for this game I had to face the facts that I didn't have the time (nor patience) it required of me.

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers is probably not a bad game. And it might have a really cool story. Unfortunately it's buried in gameplay mechanics too old for me to handle and honestly I doubt few people except the buffest of puzzle-nerds will have the patience to struggle through this. While I am not a fan of handholding and leading by the nose in modern games, let this be an example of what it's like when a game veers too much in the other direction. In the end, neither of those options are much fun to play.

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