Partial Review: “Gabriel Knight: Sins Of The Fathers” (Retro Computer Game)

2016 Artwork Gabriel Knight Sins Of The Fathers Review Sketch

[Edit (21st November 2019): I’ve decided to amend this review’s title and part of the intro to better reflect it’s partial nature, mostly because I learned that – unlike what I’d thought back in 2016 – I was apparently actually somewhat less than two-thirds of the way though the game when I encountered the problems that meant I couldn’t get any further with it.]

Although I first heard of this classic 1990s computer game back in 2011 (when I found and tried to play the shareware version of it), I only really became interested in “Gabriel Knight: Sins Of The Fathers” sometime last year after seeing this video review (spoilers) of it on one of the Youtube channels I watch regularly.

Back in October, the game was on special offer on GoG – so I thought that I’d check it out. Thanks to the offer, I bought a DRM-free direct download of this game for a little under one and a half pounds, although it normally seems to cost between three and four pounds.

The version available on GoG, and the version I will be reviewing, is the original 1993 CD-Rom version (played using the built-in DOSBox launcher that comes with the GoG version) and not the modern remastered version.

Before I go any further, I should probably point out that, due to a technical issue, I’m just under two thirds of my way through only part of the way through this game at the time of writing this review. This is an issue regarding playing a specific part of the game on modern computers (even with DOSBox) that I’ll talk about later in the review.

Although, from what I’ve read, this technical issue is possibly resolvable through the use of other third party programs (or possibly even by adjusting DOSBox in some way, although I don’t know how to do this)- this seems like quite a lot of additional hassle just to play a computer game. So, caveat emptor!

Likewise, I should probably warn you that this review may contain some SPOILERS and GRUESOME IMAGES.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Gabriel Knight: Sins Of The Fathers”:

Gabriel Knight title screen

“Gabriel Knight: Sins Of The Fathers” is a horror/detective “point and click” adventure game written and directed by Jane Jensen and first published by Sierra in 1993.

In this game, you play as a handsome writer, bookshop owner and trenchcoat aficionado called Gabriel Knight. For his next book, he is researching a series of mysterious serial killings called “The Voodoo Murders”…

 Shot to the heart! And you're to blame! You give love a bad name!

Shot to the heart! And you’re to blame! You give love a bad name!

One of the first things that I will say about “Gabriel Knight: Sins Of The Fathers” is that it’s one of the coolest and (technical issue aside) one of the most well-made adventure games that I’ve played.

Although I’ve never actually been to New Orleans (or even to America), it’s one of my favourite real world settings for stories, TV shows etc… so it was incredibly awesome to see a game set in this city.

(Insert Billy Martin/ Poppy Z. Brite reference here)

(Insert Billy Martin/ Poppy Z. Brite reference here)

Although I’ll talk about the gameplay later, I should probably point out that I mostly play “point and click” games for the characters and the storytelling. This game certainly doesn’t disappoint here!

Not only is there a large cast of interesting, but realistic, characters but all of the dialogue is really well-written too. Whether it’s the witty repartee between Gabriel and his cynical assistant Grace, or with the many other characters, the game really excels when it comes to comedic and vaguely “film noir”-esque dialogue:

Unfortunately, Grace's sarcasm doesn't translate that well into screenshots

Unfortunately, Grace’s sarcasm doesn’t translate that well into screenshots

This dialogue is kind of random though, although I like to think that it was part of a secret plan to localise the game for audiences here in the UK.

This dialogue is kind of random though, although I like to think that it was part of a secret plan to localise the game for audiences here in the UK.

This well-written, but slightly stylised, dialogue is emphasised by the absolutely stellar voice-acting in this game. Seriously, Sierra went all-out with the voice acting here and this game features a great voice acting cast (featuring some semi-famous people too), who all put in a really good performance.

For example, Gabriel himself is voiced by Tim Curry, the game’s narrator is voiced by Miss Cleo (who, from what I’ve read, seems to be a professional psychic in the US – kind of like Mystic Meg, I guess) and, best of all, one of the characters is voiced by Michael Dorn. Yes, Worf from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is in this game, albeit in voice only.

Qu'pla! You will browse my museum with honour!

Qu’pla! You will browse my museum with honour!

Talking of the sounds, this game also includes a wonderfully dramatic soundtrack that really compliments the events of the game really well. Not only that, whenever you complete an action that is significant to the plot, you’ll be rewarded with a satisfying jangling/ tinkling sound too. Seriously, why don’t more games do this?

As for the story, it’s fairly compelling and well-written. The game itself takes place over ten days (although I’ve only played five and a half of these, for reasons I’ll explain later) and this plot mechanic is used in a variety of interesting ways.

For example, between several of the days, Gabriel will have nightmares. Every time this happens, the nightmares become more detailed. Likewise, certain actions in the game will only have effects a day or two later. Plus, the intro screen for each day looks really cool too:

Because if it isn't written in blood, it isn't worth reading!

Because if it isn’t written in blood, it isn’t worth reading!

In addition to this, there are all sorts of other cool plot details and plot twists too. For example, what looks like a cool background detail earlier in the game (eg: the street drummers you see through the windows of various buildings) turns out to have a much more malevolent subtext later in the game.

Plus, although this game isn’t that scary, it contains at least a few creepy moments – like a mysterious guy who stands outside the bookshop and just stares at you at one point in the game, or the various gruesome discoveries that the characters sometimes make.

I feel like chicken tonight! Chicken tonight!

I feel like chicken tonight! Chicken tonight!

Most of the characters are fairly well-written and fairly realistic (albeit stylised).

For example, it’s shown that both Gabriel and Grace have lives outside the playable events of the game and even some of the background characters are unique people with complex lives, although some of them are sort of caricatures – like a rather camp and flamboyant man called Bruno who visits Gabriel’s shop every now and then:

 These days, Bruno is a massive stereotype. But, you have to remember that this game was published in 1993, so even having a vaguely LGBT character in a game was kind of groundbreaking back then.

These days, Bruno is a massive stereotype. But, you have to remember that this game was published in 1993, so even having a vaguely LGBT character in a game was kind of groundbreaking back then.

Like other great adventure games (such as “The Longest Journey) most of the characterisation is intelligent, semi-realistic and it occasionally has a genuine depth and maturity not often found in old computer games.

Of course, Gabriel being Gabriel, there’s also at least one romantic sub-plot, not to mention lots of (pretty much one-sided) romantic tension between Gabriel and Grace too.

For example, there's (sort of) a steamy romantic sub-plot between Gabriel and a beautiful socialite called Malia Gedde.

For example, there’s (sort of) a steamy romantic sub-plot between Gabriel and a beautiful socialite called Malia Gedde.

Get your mind out of the gutter! The only thing that Grace gives Gabriel here is a cool-looking fake chest tattoo.

Get your mind out of the gutter! The only thing that Grace gives Gabriel here is a cool-looking fake chest tattoo.

Graphically speaking, this game is absolutely stunning for something from 1993.

Not only does it include wonderfully cool retro pixel art graphics, but all of the settings are surprisingly detailed and they often use interesting compositions that help to make everywhere look interesting, dramatic and distinctive:

Seriously, I LOVE it when old adventure games put random objects in the close foreground. It's a really cool compositional trick :)

Seriously, I LOVE it when old adventure games put random objects in the close foreground. It’s a really cool compositional trick 🙂

You’ll notice that I haven’t really talked about the gameplay much, this is because it isn’t exactly the best that I’ve ever seen. Although the controls are fairly intuitive (and you can switch between different actions by right-clicking), there are a few bizarre quirks here.

For example, in order to open a door, you have to select a separate “open door” action icon rather than just walking over to the door.

On the plus side, this game features a proper saving system that allows you to save at any point in the game – although you are limited to just twenty save slots (unless you create a new save directory).

I should probably point out that I’m terrible at adventure game puzzles and I usually end up relying very heavily on walkthroughs. This game was no exception to this rule and, even using two walkthroughs, I still got stuck on at least a couple of the game’s puzzles for a while. So, this game isn’t for novice players.

Even so, the game’s inventory puzzles and traditional puzzles still seem to be at least vaguely logical and the ones that I’ve seen don’t really rely on “moon logic” or anything absurd like that. In other words, most of the puzzles can probably be solved through clever observation, trial-and-error and a lot of thinking.

 Technically, this puzzle can be solved if you look at several clues in the bookshop and/or have a basic understanding of German. Or, you could just use a walkthrough.

Technically, this puzzle can be solved if you look at several clues in the bookshop and/or have a basic understanding of German. Or, you could just use a walkthrough.

Earlier, I mentioned that I’d only played a little over half of the game because of a technical issue, regarding how the game runs on modern computers (even with DOSBox emulation).

Basically, during part of day six, you have to complete a series of actions within a limited time during a one-off event (eg: you have to unlock and open a door in the police station whilst the cops are outside buying doughnuts from a street vendor that you’ve persuaded to move there).

On old computers, you apparently have more time to do this – but even after I slowed down the game’s walking speed (in the hope of slowing down several of the NPCs), I didn’t have enough time.

Whilst, from what I’ve read in one walkthrough, this game-breaking bug is theoretically solvable if you use other programs to temporarily slow down your CPU (or possibly if you know how to adjust DOSBox’s settings), this seems like a lot of effort to go to just for one small part of a computer game and, despite all of the other cool stuff in this game, I kind of ended up giving up in frustration.

All in all, “Gabriel Knight: Sins Of The Fathers” is one of the coolest adventure games that I’ve played. The characters, writing, atmosphere, story, voice acting and artwork is exceptionally brilliant and well-worth checking out if you like horror, film noir and/or New Orleans. However, despite all of this cool stuff, the game is let down slightly by both it’s gameplay and the potentially game-breaking bug that I mentioned earlier.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get six for everything else, but only two for the gameplay.

2 comments on “Partial Review: “Gabriel Knight: Sins Of The Fathers” (Retro Computer Game)

  1. Martin Aime Chevalier says:

    Please ! Play the entire game!

    You missed the coolest things in the game (trip to Schloss Ritter en germany, seeking the roots of Tetelo in Africa, etc.). If you stopped at day 6, you didn’t play two thirds at all 🙂

    Really, give it a nother chance. It IS the coolest game ever 🙂

    • pekoeblaze says:

      Ah, I didn’t realise that it went on for that much longer after day six. Sorry about this, I’ll amend the review to reflect this fact. If I remember rightly, I wanted to go further with the game but was stopped by a game-breaking bug.

      I don’t know if the game has been updated/fixed since I wrote the review but, even if it has, I’ve changed my computer since writing the review – so, I’d have to go all the way through the early parts again and – whilst I’m not ruling it out – I don’t know when I’d get round to it. Still, the later parts sound fairly cool.

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