Advantages Great story, good acting and sound, very atmospheric, just fun all round
Disadvantages Gaming style is a little dated, 3 is better
The Gabriel Knight series of adventure games has always ensured a decent gaming experience for the adventure game fan. The superb storylines by Jane Jensen are second to none in the genre, the graphics and gameplay of a high standard and all in all Sierra seems to put a lot of work into bringing another great adventure game to the PC market. Each addition to the series also improves greatly upon the last, the themes remaining the same but the aesthetics evolving to meet the desires of the contemporary gamer. In short, these are great games and if you love adventure games, then the series ought to be one of your first ports of call.The Background
When we are first introduced to Gabriel Knight in the original game we find him as a mild mannered bookshop owner and aspiring horror writer in Montreal. However, following the death of his uncle and some rather sinister events, Gabriel finds that he is in fact one of a long line of schattenjager(Shadow chasers) who have fought against supernatural evil across the ages. Suddenly finding himself embroiled in a murder mystery surrounding a mysterious voodoo cult Gabe found his life changed, and to not give away too much(because you'll want to play GK1 if you ever purchase this or GK3, trust me) he ends up with a rather nice sum of money for his troubles, enough to set himself up in Germany.So then...
A schattenjager's work is never done(especially when the series earned Sierra a rather nice sum of money and the series an army of fans) and thankfully so because it means a steady flow of decent adventure games coming your way. Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within puts our hero to work again in another supernatural mystery. Gabe is still sceptical about his abilities and the whole supernatural thing, seeing himself still as a researcher, book seller and aspiring horror author. He is residing in the family castle in Rittersburg, whilst his assistance Grace runs the bookshop in Montreal when we meet him again, but when a bloody murder begins to look a little more sinsiter Gabe begins to investigate...uncovering a 200 year old werewolf myth which seems to be a little more than simply a myth. Gabe and his assistant Grace are drawn into supernatural shenanigans again...Which is where you come in. You play Gabe AND Grace, alternating between the two characters as necessary to track down and solve the puzzle of a 200 year old werewolf mystery. Be aware though that this is a well researched story as always, complete with the inherent lycanthropic sexuality and bloodlust and its probably not a game to recommend to kids. There is one rather gory death scene and the use of a few choice phrase in the dialogue which would make it something to perhaps avoid someone under 15 from playing. I can't remember whether it has a certification or not, but thats just my take on the game.
GraphicsIf you have played Gabriel Knight 3 then you will know that the graphics there are 3D characters voiced by real actors in a 3D rendered environment. Here, things are somewhat different because this is more an interactive movie with real live actors, in real locations manipulating real props. Effectively its like directing a movie so its difficult to actually fault the graphics at all...can't get much more realistic than REAL now can you! The locations themselves are rather gorgeous though it has to be said and if there was to be one gripe it would be that the characters and objects appear to float on the background scenery because they are only sometimes part of the real image. The start of the game shows you a small movie to set the scene and more cut-scenes bring the story along as the game progresses which is essential for the story and they work rather well. There are enough of them to keep the story flowing and tight, but not too many that it feels as if you are watching a rather poor movie rather than playing a game...a criticism which can be levelled at games like The Blair Witch Project trilogy if you ask me. Too many cut-scenes may look pretty but it crushes a game, this one gets the balance perfect.
ActorsThe acting here is actually first rate which is rather surprising when you look at other similar PC games which so many times go way over the top. It is rare that you get decent actors in these games, rarer still that they do not put in such a hammy performance that you come to the conclusion that they may as well have paid out a tenner for a member of the local amateur dramatics society instead! Games like Black Dahlia with the likes of Dennis Hopper spring to mind as being one of the good ones, this is one of the few others(even in Gabriel Knight 3, someone of the quality of Tim Curry manages to mess it up!). The roles are perfectly cast, with Dean Erickson putting in a fine performance as Gabe himself and Joanne Takahashi excellent(and kinda cute) as his assistant. The main accolade should go to Peter Lucas as Von Glower though who really steals the show in every scene he is in by putting on a wonderfully creepy, evil performance. Even the bit-part actors do well and seem perfectly cast for their roles, Sierra seemingly having spent lots of time on this side of things which is refreshing.
Sounds EffectsReturning briefly to the actors, their voice recordings are represented well in the game. The quality of these are good, with minimal 'clicking' which you'll notice on other lesser software productions. Its there sometimes, but not particularly noticeable. Other effects are relevant and suit the action being performed/scene they accompany well. The musical score is the kind which raises the hairs on the back of your neck and a perfect accompaniment to our hairy horror story and an improvement over the already very good music seen in the original.
GameplayExcellent again. Being an interactive movie style of adventure, the game interface is simply of the point and click variety so the learning curve is all of about 2 seconds which makes it instantly playable. However, the design is more intelligent than some of the others in the genre in that you don't go around accidentally solving problems by just clicking maniacally around your inventory until the solution jumps out at you. Here, tasks need to be performed which make then 'changes' the description, role etc. of your inventory items - ie. they can only be used when their use is obvious so no stumbling on a solution by mere accidental clicking. The puzzles you have to solve are all pretty intuitive too and set at a level which shouldn't alienate novice adventurers but at the same time will provide a decent challenge for those of us who eat, sleep and drink the things. There is however a maze section(the kind of thing which used to be obligatory in these games) which is rather irritating and totally pointless. My advice would be to pick up a walkthrough for this section because its just time consuming(and non-intuitive) for the sake of being time consuming...something all adventurers hate but games programmers never seem to tire of exasperating us with. Still, one minor gripe on the gameplay isn't bad for a game which spans over 6 CD-Roms...
Other Stuff...arrgghhh!! SIX of them?! Yes, 6 CD-Roms, but its ok, because the game has been designed without that hideously awful disc swapping business which has killed many a worthy game in the past. Basically, it is divided up into 6 chapters, each chapter being played alternately by Gabe or Grace, ie. you play Gabe in chapter 1, the more touchy-feely Grace in chapter 2, then back to Gabe and so on. The only time you change discs is when you reach the end of the chapter, so few breaks in actual gameplay you'll be pleased to hear. Switching between characters like this means that you get a good blend of Gabe's rather brash approach with that of Grace's more gentle, level-headed one.
I played this game originally on a Pentium 200, with Windows 95 and 32 Mb of RAM, but there shouldn't be any problem with running it on a 486 system or other operating systems although of course Windows 2000 and XP are a bit of a strange animal and you never can tell what is going to work. System requirements are low then, so its a game which isn't going to alienate those of us who do not have the latest hardware etc.Overall
I can't really fault this game if adventure games are what appeals to you. The interactive movie approach isn't something which appeals to all gamers though so be aware that this is what you get here. be aware too that it is very atmospheric and the central theme is a horror story involving werewolves so its probably not something for kids and it does get a little bloody on one occasion. That said, it doesn't play on the gore, and this part was certainly necessary for the plot, instead playing upon the mystery side of things and the puzzles. Its an excellent game in my opinion and a worthy addition to any gamer's collection.Oh, and its cheap too. ;o)
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