The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery PC and MS-DOS Developed by Sierra Released in 1995
If there was anything that made me unnerved about Gabriel Knight 2, it was the full motion videos. Let’s be honest, they don’t have a good track-record to them due to including hoaky acting and being more technologically impressive for the time, than necessarily smart. The fact that blue-screen aged worse than the early polygons, doesn’t really seal the deal. However, the reviews for this game have been quite positive and some would even argue it is better than the first installment. What might have intrigued me the most, was when Dan Ravipinto from Adventure Gamers called Gabriel Knight 2 “one of the few computer games to actually involve personal, meaningful growth in a player-character”. I can tell you at least that as soon as my sister and I started playing it, we knew this would be an unique experience for us. Just not necessarily due to positive reasons.
“What do you think about wolves killing people?”
After a prologue that is meant to confuse you more than to elaborate, we meet Gabriel Knight, who is living in his new castle as a Schattenjager. One night when he is sitting at his typewriter trying to come up with a new story, villagers from a nearby town come in search of his aid against terrors and murders they believe to be caused by werewolves. Being the Schattenjager, Gabriel agrees to help them with a simple “alright” and the game begins.
When my sister and I started playing, The Room was on our mind the whole time. All characters have either over-the-top or underwhelming acting, with plenty of quotable moments. Gabriel is surely the star of the show once again, but not with the same charm as before. He is rather the lovechild of Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero, being both awkward, down to earth, yet at the same time have indescribable, bizarre acting. It is incredibly enjoyable in a “so bad it is good” way. It makes it hard to take the characters very seriously, but how they chew the scenery at times, is admirably a guilty pleasure.
The character’s personalities however, are usually non-existent or too emotional. They do not really develop much and some parts felt very off. A great example, is one love-triangle that is terribly shallow, predictable, and not something I would expect grown adults to act so childish over. The same can be said for the story itself. While there are many interesting lore and connections to historical events, 3 chapters spend a huge amount of time elaborating and it drags on. Through dialogue, books, and visits to museums, you must listen to just about anything said with no breaks in between. This is a terrible way of telling a story as it is not an interesting or intriguing way of giving you insight on the lore. Why not sprinkle it out bit by bit throughout the game, instead of throwing it all in 3 chapters with nothing in between? I personally am interested in dark mythologies and studied European history, but even I got incredibly bored, especially when these bits take up about 5 hours of my time.
Then we have things that just get tedious going forward. Gabriel has no idea what a zoo means, the areas are incredibly empty, the witty comments on the environment have been replaced with someone reading their script half-sleep, and a simple lack of focus in telling a coherent story. The mystery surrounding the murders starts out strong, but gets less and less interesting thanks to the unfocused narrative and all the exposition. Gabriel Knight 2 is at its best, when it goes unintentionally over the top, with bizarre sex-scenes, dated CG, and humorous acting. Sadly, that only lasts about 50% of the game, and due to it not being anything to write home about in the first place, it is hard to call it even average. At the very least, it was laughable in some parts.
Story Score: 3.5/10
Detective schattenjager, the conversation starter
The game is broken up into 6 chapters, with both Gabriel and Grace being playable in their own specific parts. Neither has any intriguing gameplay-elements to them, except for having different locations to explore, so there is some variety at least. Unlike previous point and click-games, simply clicking on an object or a person, will have Gabriel or Grace interact with them in the way which is the most appropriate, such as talk to, move, pick up and so on, instead of giving you options on how to interact. This makes it quite streamlined, but nothing to lose sleep over as the puzzles are still present. Items can still be picked up, used on someone, examined and combined, so there will still be some light thinking. Sadly, the puzzles vary in quality.
Some can be quite smart, such as one that had me find a way to bring a clue with me that was stuck to the ground, but others can be bizarrely hard to figure out. One involved the tape-recorder, which is used for saving conversations. You had to scramble words to make a sentence and trick someone, but while this was a cool idea, nothing explains to you that you can do this and using the tape recorder like this only occurred once. Some items can be terribly hard to see as well or can’t be picked up before an event has occurred. Even minor areas to go towards can be confusing to find thanks to the awkward camera-angles at times. No puzzles deteriorate to the point of moon-logic, but they do make it unnecessarily hard thanks to the reasons mentioned above. At least, there is an overworld-map, where a hint-button can guide you on where there are still elements that have been left unfinished for progression.
However, there is a bunch of dialogue in this game and even books to read. About 60 % of the dialogue in this game, feels like padded filler and it becomes less about puzzles and more about activating the right dialogue-segments. This makes it incredibly tedious as there are no good breaks between the dialogue-segments to use the newly acquired knowledge, making it so you will have to sit through a semester of history and mythology-lectures. Even the trip to the museums became dull because of this. I would have given anything to be able to read every dialogue instead, ( and rather not in cursive handwriting as most books are written in this game) just to get a move on. At least 3 chapters had some nice puzzles, despite them also varying heavily in quality. The last part is also dreadful, with a cat-and-mouse segment I won’t spoil, but it is incredibly tedious.
Gameplay Score: 4/10
Gabriel Wiseau and all the green cups
Using blue-screen has not been kind to the visuals. The in-game graphics are incredibly dated, with low-textured, and lifeless background, making it easy to see how misplaced the characters are in these environments. The areas are also incredibly bleak and at times colorless, making the world feel uninteresting. Adding to these bland environments, are also the lack of music and more focus on ambient sounds. I am not a fan of the ticking clocks or simple bird-songs, as they don’t convey enough to give the world life, and instead makes it all more empty than it should have been. Robert Holmes returns as the musician from the last game, and his tracks are fantastic, despite not reaching the heights of the original. He has a varied style, making it so he could easily provide atmosphere to each area. Sadly, his music is so sparsely used, that I honestly feel sorry for his talent not getting to shine more.
There are plenty of FMVs and they range from incredibly dull dialogue-sequences, to over-the-top scenarios. Some can be strange and humorous, such as the awkward love-scenes or the terrible CG-creatures, which at least are entertaining. The actors are quite strange, with some giving emotional performances, while others seem like they are rather tired and want to lay down. None can be complimented as good, but at least some put in a clear effort, and the German language is decently spoken, despite some errors. Gabriel provides varied scenes with both an uninterested tone and tantrums, which perfectly describes the rest of the cast. It can be delightfully silly, but also incredibly boring. However, the worst offender is the sound quality and volume. It can be inconsistent with the dialogue-volumes and some parts have scratches and glitchy sounds that will make your ears bleed.
Presentation Score: 2.5/10
There is no point to this
Yes, there is this bloody point-system that returns, where you can get the maximum amount of score if you do all that the game requires. I personally hate this, as no one tells you how to get the all of the points, and it does not even provide you with anything. At the very least, you can simply ignore it.
Extra Score: 2/10
How in the wide world did this game get all the praise it got? I know time can make a game age, but to this level is awfully odd. It can be viewed upon as “so bad it’s good” at times, due to the acting being entertaining and some FMVs being enjoyable, but you will have to sit through a ton of exposition and be patient enough to find certain items or even the right path. Maybe we will one day get Gabriel Knight 2: the movie. I would definitely watch it then, if some strong liquid was provided. Meanwhile, the curious ones might find it more enjoyable with a let’s play.