Retrospective: Gabriel Knight

GK banner

I love a good horror-story. While the more macabre and goretastic movies and games are things of beauty, there is also something wonderful about stories that creep under your skin and get you unnerved, frightened, but still so interested that you simply can’t stop witnessing the story unfold. The Gabriel Knight-series, is not like this. At least, not as a trilogy. It is an interesting series by Jane Jensen and one I look back on with fond memories, through both the good and the bad. The first game takes heavy inspiration from Angel Heart and Jane Jensen, the creator of the series, was given the freedom to do whatever she wanted with the first game and, if it sold well, sequels could be made. It certainly was successful as we now have a small, but significant series following partly in the footsteps of the first one.

To sum up what this trilogy consist of: these are the adventures of Gabriel Knight, a snarky, good-looking protagonist that is also a writer and tries to come up with new novels to publish. However, through studies of unnatural murderers for his upcoming books, he gets more than he bargained for and even discovers he is clearly involved with these somehow. These stories are experienced through a point and click-style game, with an inventory-screen and a few Sierra-deaths. This is very fitting as you will play as an unlicensed detective so to speak, with puzzles and conversations that must be thought through to eventually solve a case. As years have passed, I feel this series is automatically seen as a classic, yet also easily forgotten.

The small sparkles….

As stated in my review of it, I think the first game got a fantastic remake that fixed most of the flaws in the original. Yes Gabriel doesn’t hug his grandma anymore, but I’d rather take that than having to search for a freaking journal as the first puzzle, or have too many areas open up despite not being worthwhile to explore them at the moment. The trilogy is also consistent in its genre, which is impressive.

GK Limited Ed

They only slightly changed the mechanics to distinguish one game from another, such as making commands in Gabriel Knight 2 simpler, and replacing the stationary camera in Gabriel Knights 3 for a more free moving one. Gabriel himself is also, of course, a selling point and such: a memorable character. His confident, snarky and sly approach is such a delight and his comments are amusing to listen to. His voice actor, Tim Curry, was unfortunately replaced in the second game by another actor, Dean Erickson, whom you might have seen in Frasier. He certainly has gotten better, but he was entertaining for all the wrong reasons as Gabriel Knight. Though they could not get Tim back for the remake, Jason Victor did a fantastic job representing Gabriel in the remake of the first game.

The theming in each game is also an impressive approach to make each installment interesting. Starting with the more unique take on voodoo, than werewolves, and ending it with my favorite: vampires. These have some thought-provoking lore and I love how much detail they go into with this. There are certainly some fictions here too, but rather for creating interesting theories and tie them closer to the events Gabriel finds himself in, which is great. Compared to other Sierra-titles, the Gabriel Knight-series also diminished the Sierra-deaths this studio is known for by each game, which basically means instant deaths that make you start from your last save or the beginning of the game.

…. In a pile of dust

Sadly, no lore can save the series from what is possibly one of its biggest struggles and worsened by each installment: the progression of the story. They went from an open setting that could be confusing, to more tedious dialogue and research that took forever, and ended with an empty world with bland characters and the faults from the second game left in. No puzzles went to the verge of moon-logic, but in both the second and the third game, most puzzles became about just triggering the right dialogue-option, and that is not engaging when there are little to no breaks in between.

GK progression

Another issue that also shows the decay of the series, is the presentation. The beautiful score by Robert Holmes got used less with each installment, and the graphics became worse by each game as well, going from the lovely pixel-art, to awkward bluescreen, and ending with 3D that aged even worse than FMV. I also despise the point system and I really don’t care how many games it was in before: it is still not rewarding in any way, doesn’t give you hints on what you missed, and is a constant reminder that you didn’t do everything.

Redo the stories?

I wanna change focus a bit to the creator instead of the series itself for this segment. Jane Jensen was far from done after Gabriel Knight. Since the third game, she has been making smaller and bigger titles, as well as writing several novels under a different name. Her recent bigger titles were Gray Matter and she also had a hand in Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller, but her most noticeable titles came in 2012 when she and her husband Robert Holmes (who is a fantastic composer) started Pinkerton Road, a new game development studio. Their first games under this studio was Moebius: Empire Rising and Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition, both released in 2014. I have not yet gotten to try out Moebius, but many seem to have mixed thoughts about it.

GK interview

Honestly though, that doesn’t tell me much as the fans seem split on everything, even to the point of hating the remake of the original Gabriel Knight. I personally thought the remake was much needed, as the original had clearly aged, and I applaud Jane for remaking it. However, the fact that the two other games are in even worse conditions, I don’t think we will see more remakes unless they redo both games entirely.

As for other future game-projects, that might not happen either as Pinkerton Road’s Games did not earn enough sales on their recent titles, making it impractical to continue on for now. Maybe we will see another remake or Gabriel Knight 4, as anything can happen, but for now: that seems highly unlikely. Personally, I don’t really care what Jane does as long as she does what she feels is worth her time. I don’t know if that means quality, only sticking to books, or anything else. What I do know, is that it will definitely be made with her heart put into it, and I simply hope that makes her and her husband happy. Besides, she has already given us plenty of stories to experience and still does that to this day, so it would be disheartening to complain.

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