It’s been at least 15 years since I last picked up Jane Jensen’s point-and-click adventure classic Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father. Some revere the title as the best Sierra game of all time, which is quite a bold claim, and although I can’t say I appreciate it that much there’s no doubt it’s a special game. Now, nearly 20 years after the game’s 1993 release an updated 20th Anniversary version is upon us complete with new graphics, a new voice cast, and even some tweaking to the more obtuse gameplay mechanics and puzzles. We got a chance to check out a demo that contains a handful of days and around 90 minutes of gameplay (roughly 10-20 percent of the game) to check out these updates.
Right when you boot up Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father 20th Anniversary (Gabriel Knight from now on) it’s like journeying back to the first time you played it - and first timers, fear not, it mostly holds to contemporary standards for an adventure title. Initially I didn’t think much had been done to the game. The opening seemed the same, the credits definitely were (which gave thanks to the original voice cast for some reason), and although the opening seemed tweaked I thought it was pretty much the same. Upon booting the original (available on gog.com for modern machines) boy was I reminded how thick nostalgia goggles can be, it’s a complete overhaul.
Gabriel’s world has been re-imagined in that fantastical but realistic style I see represented heavily in title like The Sims, where there’s a bit of a cartoon twist but also grounded in reality. This is important because although Gabriel Knight sprinkles in some amusing moments and laughable dialogue, it is a story about voodoo murders and has plenty of violence to and dark situations to match. Granted this new title is being built in the Unity Engine, which is why you will see it on both PCs and mobile, but I’m really liking what that engine can do to breathe new life into 2D based games with 3D graphics. Each scene has been given the same care and attention to detail that made the original so special from the graphics to the thematic music and most notable with the voice acting. Many may disagree, but I never cared for Tim Curry’s voice work in the original, it seemed wrong for a creole accent and like he was mocking the character with each line. I was unable to get his exact name, but the new voice actor for Gabriel seems much more fitting. He brings that snarky pedigree with a somewhat smooth accent that I’ve come to attribute to the character proper (although keep in mind that back in the 90s I would frequently switch from having the sound on and off thanks to text of all speech). From the early parts I saw the other voices are great at emulating the originals as well, especially the narrator, but they more assisted in tricking me into thinking I was playing the original rather than improve like with Gabriel’s character. Some of the functions like how to interact with items and select the multiple options you have with each have been greatly improved, especially because it seems optimized for mobile, so you no longer have to scroll between functions and instead just click on something and all available options are displayed. This streamlines the “try anything with anything” nature of a point-and-click adventure and I feel is essential for those of us who have either never played the game or can’t remember almost any of the puzzles. While it seems like the puzzles haven’t changed - my demo was, in terms of content, identical to the original game - perhaps the full release will feature new content or puzzles. Even if that’s not the case, it’s still a brilliant game that I will have no problem returning to upon full release, perhaps even on that dreaded mobile platform I try to consistently ignore. All in all it does prove that a fresh coat of paint, a few audible tweaks, and streamlining the guess-and-check nature of this classic does do it good. Purists of the genre need not worry, there is still some challenge here and none of the puzzles have been made much easier by the new streamlined feature, it merely doesn’t display the ability to do the many things that would get you that “I can’t do that” voice prompt. Gabriel Knight is back and fans of the original or those that haven’t experienced it may want to take notice when the game launches on October 15.
Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father 20th Anniversary will be available October 15 on PC, Android, and iOS for $19.99. It can be pre-ordered at this time for a discount on the Pheonix Online site (store.poststudios.com) as well as gog.com and Steam (store.steampowered.com ). This demo was provided for preview purposes by the publisher.