Blogtober 2020 – Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers

New Orleans. Schattenjägers. Cabrit Sans Cor? A month ago I had volunteered to participate in a game swap with Kim from Later Levels. I had chosen Banjo-Kazooie – a game that has meant a lot to me, along with being a childhood favorite. When discussing which game Kim would send to me, I mentioned that I had very limited(almost none) experience with point-and-click games, especially older pc adventure games from the 90’s, so we decided on Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. I had heard a few others mention the game, but had really no knowledge of what the story or setting was. I was pretty easily sold on the game once I was told that Tim Curry provided the voice of the titular character. The game swap was set, Kim would play through Banjo-Kazooie and in return, I would play Gabriel Knight. The game being labeled as a psychological-horror game, it felt like a perfect fit for one of my Blogtober picks. I played through Gabriel Knight and reached the finale of the game this past Thursday and decided to write up a few of my thoughts on the game. Was it something I enjoyed? Or was the experience a nightmare?

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers is a point-and-click adventure game developed and published by Sierra for pc in 1993. The story revolves around Gabriel Knight – writer and owner of St. George’s Books in New Orleans as he follows a series of grisly murders that have taken place around the city. The murders appear to be connected to a series of voodoo rituals and have been dubbed the “Voodoo Murders”. Gabriel is also tormented by recurring nightmares suggesting an unknown force of evil. Following the murder investigation as a reference for his next book, Gabriel uncovers evidence pointing to the presence of a voodoo cartel operating around New Orleans. As he follows the clues around the city, Gabriel comes to learn of his own family’s past. He learns that his father, as well as grandfather were haunted by nightmares and visions of evil incarnations. Gabriel also uncovers the revelation that he descends from a long line of schattenjägers, or “shadow hunters” – those who have been ordained in the fight against supernatural forces tracing all the way back to the witch hunts of the Middle Ages in Europe.

The game received several awards after its release and has since become something of a cult favorite amongst adventure game fans, with two sequels being released afterwards. A special 20th anniversary remake was also released a few years ago with some updated visuals, but sadly does not still have the original voice cast of Leah Remini, Mark Hamill, and of course, Tim Curry. Tim Curry’s voice acting and delivery as the womanizing, yet sometimes charming Garbriel Knight is a large part of what makes the game so special. Tim Curry’s southern accent can range from believable enough, to so-bad-its-kinda-awesome. There’s also a few other random accents thrown in that both Tim Curry and Mark Hamill attempt to pull off, not always to the most authentic degree, but entertaining nonetheless. Some of Gabriel’s lines within the game like “Thank you very much. I had a loooovely time!” or a “Nooooo!” deserve to be meme’d as much as the infamous Darth Vader exclamation from Revenge of the Sith.

What can you tell me about the Voodoo Murders…?

The greatest strength of Gabriel Knight besides its entertaining voice overs is in its atmosphere and story; despite some of the hokey lines and moments, it serves up a captivating adventure. It took me a little while to get fully acclimated to the structure and controls to the game, but it wasn’t too long before I was thinking about the game while going about the rest of my day. The visuals may not be as impressive as they were in 1993, but still hold up pretty damn well. The story panels resembling those of a graphic novel are still great after all these years and the pixelated environments and characters have a certain nostalgic charm to them. The game also had some fantastic music, the title screen music alone earworm’d it’s way into my head frequently, as well as the cemetary and final scenes music. It reminded me quite a bit of the early 90’s progressive-type stuff like Dream Theater or Queensrÿche, which definitely works for me…

I very much enjoyed playing through Gabriel Knight, with only a few aspects that I wasn’t entirely in love with. One of the game aspects that gave me the most trouble initially was simply figuring out how to manuever my way around the game. Understanding the concept of a point-and-click game, I knew that you will typically need to click on a specific area pointing where Gabriel should move to. My biggest hurdle was simply the learning curve of acclimating to the structure and learning which icons represent what. I had a little trouble early on with keeping track of which one of the game’s eight icons correspond to which actions. For example: the boot and question mark icons are pretty straightforward as they will move Gabriel around the screen, with the question mark cutting to a conversation screen in which Gabriel will ask a set of questions as he investigates the Voodoo Murders, but you also have an exclamation point icon which serves to simply interact with someone without going into questions. There’s also an icon depicting a pair of gears that indicate an item’s mechanical function is to be used, such as a telephone or a door keypad. Once I got a few hours into the game I didn’t have much of a problem, but there was a little bit of a learning curve in my first couple times playing the game.

I also had a little bit of trouble navigating the areas at times, particularly a later area of the game in which you much steer Gabriel around enemies with getting too close to an enemy resulting in a wonderfully comical game over screen in which Tim Curry’s voice over asks “I don’t want to be dead. Can we try that again?” The fact you can only perform a single action at a time – movement, grab object, inspect, made for a small amount of frustration as I fumbled about the screen. Also, some of Gabriel’s comments(pick-up lines?) toward nearly any human female can be a bit eyeroll and/or groan-inducing….as previously stated, he’s a major sleazebag.

By far the most frustrating, patience-testing aspect of Gabriel Knight would have to be the incredibly random, downright cryptic nature of some of the puzzles. There’s a sequence of events in which Gabriel notices an artist making sketches in the middle of Jackson Square, but in order to get the artist to even speak to him Gabriel needs to retrieve a sketch that has blown away and is stuck behind a metal fence. Gabriel is unable to reach the paper himself, so he must convince a nearby child who’s tap dancing in the square to reach it for him. How is this accomplished? Gabriel bribes the child with a hot dog from a nearby vendor. How do you acquire a hot dog? You must talk the vendor into accepting a gift certificate from the book store as payment for the hot dog; a gift certificate that you may or may not have even realized was sitting in the cash register at the book store if you hadn’t thought to stop and check there during a previous day. It felt very similar to some of the trading sequences featured in older Zelda games which you must figure out which seemingly random items to offer random individuals. Another puzzle requires you to leave a message on the side of a tomb in St. George’s Cemetary, a message which can only be deciphered by those familiar with the specific sequence of beats known as rada drums. Gabriel must acquire a book about rada drums and use it to leave a message for the members of the voodoo cartel to hold a secret meeting in the bayou that night. I believe I said “there’s no way in hell I was gonna figure that out!” out loud when solving several of the game’s puzzles, the only way I was able to progress further was due to a list of spoiler-free hints posted on a Sierra help site(thanks again, Kim!). It’s very interesting playing these 90’s point-and-click games today and imagining what it was like to attempt solving such puzzles in 1993 without the multitude of information currently at our fingertips. It’s no wonder having a notepad handy for writing things down was such a common thing at the time.

Despite a slight learning curve and some cryptic-as-hell puzzles, I really had a great time playing through Gabriel Knight and most definitely plan on checking out the sequels. The next game in the series – The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery takes cue from so many other games of the mid-90’s and utilizes full-motion video(FMV) sequences, which I’m rather intrigued by. Thanks again to Kim from Later Levels for the game swap pick, here’s hoping she’s been having as much fun with Banjo-Kazooie as I did expanding my horizons with Gabriel Knight. There are still many more pc games from the 90’s that I have yet to experience and want to make it a point to keep sampling different genres of games whenever possible. Have you ever played Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers or any other old point-and-click adventure games? If so, what did you think? Next week’s game is another game that originated on pc which I had never played for myself – F.E.A.R.

Thanks for reading!

Possession 1881

It all begins with a portrait of a small girl known only as Patient 13, with the ominous words underneath…

There was a little girl, who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead.

When she was good, she was very, very good.

And when she was bad, she was horrid…

Possession 1881 is a traditional point-and-click game set in the backdrop of the Victorian age of scientific discovery and the human thirst for knowledge which saw many practicing alchemy and various occult experiments. It was created by the indie developer End of the Line Studios and released on June 5. A review copy of the game was supplied by End of the Line Studios. As stated in my preview of the game last weekend, specific words like ‘art’ ‘puzzles’ ‘Victorian Age’ and ‘Occult’ had me sold on this pretty quickly.

Point-and-click games feature the distinct difference to other genres as they require a different mindset and approach than something like a platformer or shooter, while moving at a slower pace to allow the player to absorb the game’s story, setting and atmosphere. Where a game like Layers of Fear functioned in cyclical patterns as you roamed from room-to-room, in Possession 1881 you are confined to a specific room or area deciphering the cryptic clues left behind. The former focused on themes of obsession and insanity, while the latter offers a depiction of the lengths humans will go in the search for truth, such as alchemy or sorcery. Initially, I made comparisons to Bloober Team’s psychadelic horror game with its wonderfully eerie vibes, though Layers of Fear is more “sanity-depraved artist” to Possession 1881’s allusions to individuals like Aleister Crowley. The game’s story of forbidden knowledge and the occult also brings back the feelings of an unknown evil similar to those felt in Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem; an all-time favorite of mine. Possession 1881 will appeal to anyone familiar with either H.P. Lovecraft or Mr. Crowley.

The game provides you with a torch and nothing else as you examine the area for clues and items to aid in your passage to the next area. The first thing to look for are lanterns and candles to allow yourself to search the area as your torch will briefly illuminate a small space around you, but lasting only a few moments. Each area consists of several puzzles you must solve before you can proceed, many of which prompted me to keep a pen nearby so I could write some of the clues down to work out the arrangement of certain objects or symbols to match with other items.

What was genuinely impressive about Possession 1881 was the puzzles; I really appreciated the feeling that an effort was spent in crafting riddles and puzzles requiring a different method of thinking than many of the games I’ve played recently. Many games features puzzles that many times will not be much more than quickly scanning the area for a dropped item or key, others being more of a mini-game than puzzle such as hacking computer terminals or picking locks. One level requires you to re-create a melody from a music box by striking the same notes on a xylophone. In another level, you will need to reference a nearby periodic table as you combine elements to create a corrosive compound…my teenage self would have never believed I would actually be using anything from the periodic table of elements in a video game. The story also culminates with you studying alchemical symbols and re-creating the broken summoning circle in the middle of the room, much to my amusement and surprise.

Another thing I really appreciated about the game was the way it presented the setting and storyline. You are thrown into a dark, eerie manor featuring some very nice lighting and ambient effects. Part of what made my trek through the manor so unsettling is the fact there’s no music but just the sound of rain hitting against the foggy windows and occasional thunderclap as a storm rages outside. There are no jump scares in the game, instead relying purely on the creepy aura of questionable scientific pursuits and occult practices; the silence is only broken by the echoes from your interactions with objects in empty space. The story gives details about a young girl known only as Patient 13, who must piece together the information left behind to determine what has happened.

What I appreciated about the story is the way you are following the trail of breadcrumbs as you progress throughout the ominous manor. You will come across notes that were hastily scribbled in a state of fear and panic as those working within the various departments pursue Patient 13, who has demonstrated overwhelming supernatural powers and has escaped from the room holding her. The game does a great job of creating a sense of foreboding as you discover the fate of the researchers and creates a haunting atmosphere completely free of the jump scares thrown into other games.

Admittedly, I don’t have much for experience with games of this genre as console gamers have historically had scant few choices in the way of point-and-click adventures and real-time-strategy games. I really enjoyed the experience provided by the game. My only criticisms of Possession 1881 are rather minor quibbles such as the occasional visual hiccup such as an item getting “stuck” in the object viewer after selecting a different item. I also would have appreciated an option to adjust the mouse sensitivity, though it didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the game. The game took me roughly 4 hours, including an extended period of time where I was pretty well stumped, looking around for clues hinting at the way out of the parlor area.

Possession 1881 does achieve what it sets out to do in providing an eerie experience filled with intuitive puzzles and a sinister atmosphere with lovely visuals and impressive lighting without trying to steal cheap jump scares out of you. I found myself noting how satisfying it felt upon finally discovering the solution to the riddle preventing me from accessing the next area. For fans of traditional point-and-click puzzles or anyone looking to solve puzzles while even learning a thing or two about Roman history or alchemical symbols, it is currently available on Steam right here.