Tag Archives: Adventure Games

Sinister Reviews #14: Gabriel Knight – Sins of the Fathers

GKSotF

Genre: Point-and-Click Adventure
Platform: PC (version tested), Mac
Release Date: October 2014 remake
Developer: Pinkerton Road Studios
Publisher: Phoenix Online Studios

I missed Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers (GKSotF) the first time around. Y’see, I was always a LucasArts brand of adventure-hound rather than a Sierra one; craving the comedy adventures in the vein of Monkey Island, Grim Fandango and Full Throttle (along with other, non-LucasArts games like Simon the Sorceror and Broken Sword) rather than more serious titles, like Gabriel Knight. However, since 2014 marked the twentieth anniversary of GKSotF’s release and saw release of an anniversary remake by Pinkerton Road Studios, the time seemed as good as any to leap into the world of Gabriel Knight and his roguish brand of amateur crime-solving.

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Jane Jensen’s Gabriel Knight series still remains a heralded classic in the point-and-click canon, touching upon a tale of murder-mystery stuffed with conspiratorial happenings, secret voodoo cults and suspicious events. The titular Mr. Knight is a brash, book shop-owning novelist from New Orleans, who becomes increasingly involved in police investigation of a case known as the Voodoo Murders through his friend Detective Moseley, before getting in far over his head. Over the course of ten game-days, the player must manoeuvre Knight around various scenes and locales of New Orleans (and, later, Germany and Africa); examining objects, harassing the townsfolk and using objects with other objects in the time-honoured point-and-click fashion. However, what sets GKSotF aside from the average is Jensen’s superb narrative: where my childhood adventuring through the LucasArts catalogue mainly stroked the soft underbelly of light-hearted storylines and comedic set-pieces, GKSotF tackles far more dense subject matter; a true crime thriller, with its fair share of grisly crimes and decidedly ‘grown-up’ themes. It’s reminiscent of a page-turning detective novel, with some excellent story pacing and an array of suspicious characters all, inevitably, involved in a complex web of mystery that maintains a respectable level of tension throughout the experience.

A key part of maintaining this atmosphere lies in the engaging, well-balanced, puzzle design. While some puzzles will have you scratching head for a while, they rarely feel unsolvable; yet, never facile, either. Solutions are never made too obvious (nor is the player ever steered toward them using petty hand-holding), yet pose a median level of difficulty that don’t challenge either the player’s intelligence or stupidity. Furthermore, the puzzles all maintain relevance to the ongoing storyline and police/spiritual investigation, meaning that the game largely doesn’t feel padded out with extraneous hoop-jumping or completely bizarre, shoehorned puzzles. To my knowledge, there was only one occasion where I hit a puzzle that I would never, ever have solved without the hint system (spoilers: it was the exact wording for what I was supposed to write on the tomb wall in the voodoo code) and, of course, the ‘engage with the mime’ puzzle near the beginning of the game is possibly the most tedious puzzle that I’ve ever encountered in an adventure game, but we all make mistakes.

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GKSotF should also be commended for not relying too much on the adventure games staple of constant back-and-forth between characters or scenes to progress the action; not that engagement with NPCs feels too much like a chore. Aside from the game’s abrasive voiced narration (which, thankfully, it is possible to mute), voice acting varies from ‘really good’ to merely just ‘acceptable’, and the initially-tedious dialogue animations certainly endear and lose their irritation. Dialogue trees are also well-constructed to avoid too much repetition and deliver the ongoing narrative in a focused, natural way. In this respect, the presence of a physical narrator of Gabriel’s actions feels like an alien concept (at least when compared to the LucasArts style of having the main character comment, narrate and break the fourth wall) since it disengages the player from Gabriel himself, but adds to the feeling of being involved in a detective serial or TV movie. Pretty much all of the dialogue, scenery and storyline are – I’m led to believe – faithfully recreated from the 1993 original version of Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers (except now rendered in prettier high-definition graphics and cut-scenes) and it’s satisfying to find that GKSotF has aged commendably in the intervening two decades.

In general, the updated character models are well-rendered; faithfully-recreated scenes are packed with prettiness to look at and it all represents a fairly solid modern take on Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. If there’s a weakness in the visual and atmospheric update, it’s in the game engine – the commitment to re-drawing scenes from the original leads to the limiting decision to use high-definition, 2D backgrounds with 3-D Unity-driven character models walking overtop, rather than fully-3D scenes. 99% of the time this raises no issues, but occasionally presents unfortunate graphical glitches and evidence that the gameworld is merely a 2D plane with characters pacing around atop a stationary texture. It’s not a game-breaker, but merely leads you to occasionally feel like you’re playing an adventure game version of The Sims.

[FYI, if you want to get hold of the original version of GKSotF, then head over to GOG.com]

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But, I’m nitpicking: the fact that you notice such mild gremlins and glitches is simply because the rest of GKSotF is so solid and enjoyable. Sure, the storyline drifts off a little in the last third – away from the more interesting ‘police’-type investigation and toward a more linear path of “do this, then do this, then do this”, which feels just a teeny bit padded out – but it’s because the majority of the game feels so well-paced and –balanced in terms of both narrative and gameplay.

In truth, I was expecting to be a little disappointed by Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. My curiosity had been piqued by Yahztee & Gabe’s playthrough of the first hour or so on Let’s Drown Out, and I’d expected to be mildly engaged by the storyline but to find fault with the game’s mechanics and object/NPC interaction. Imagine my pleasant surprise, then, to discover that it’s one of the best adventure games that I’ve played in recent years. Despite a few flaws, it’s still a masterclass in adventure game design and well worth a visit for the narrative exposition alone. Perhaps it’s testament to the forward-thinking innovation of the original, or the persistence of the point-and-click genre in being stuck in the mid-Nineties, but if ever there were a time to discover the world of Gabriel Knight (or perhaps just revisit it), then it’s now.

[Zinar7]

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Sinister Reviews #13: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – The Graphic Adventure

IndyTop

Genre: Point-and-Click Adventure
Platform: PC (version tested), Amiga, Atari ST, Mac
Release Date: July 1989
Developer: Lucasfilm Games
Publisher: Lucasfilm Games

Way back at the beginning of January, I made a promise to ‘Play More Point-and-Click Adventure Games (at least one per month) and Blog About Them.‘ As such, I felt that it was appropriate for my first adventure game, er, adventure to delve into the depths of time and unearth a relic that’s almost as I am and, as such, has long-since been forgotten by all but adventure game connoisseurs. With that in mind, for January’s point-and-click odyssey, I decided to dust off LucasArts’ Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade tie-in adventure, plunder its nostalgic treasures, and see what comes out in the wash.

IndyLstCrsde_1

IJLCTGA finds LucasArts (then still known under ‘LucasFilm Games’) still very early in its adventure game career and it most certainly shows; not only graphically, but also in terms of writing, puzzle design and overall vision. That’s not to say that it’s a complete Neanderthal – indeed, IJLCTGA marked the introduction of the now-classic ‘Look’ and ‘Talk’ verbs to the LucasArts canon of adventure games – but, in comparison to the later SCUMM-engine classics of Day of the Tentacle and Sam and Max Hit the Road, it’s almost neolithic. Individual scenes and areas are sparse with objects to interact with, little in the way of deep conversation with NPCs, and experimentation with items isn’t rewarded with witty asides or funny dialogue in the same way that later games took so much pleasure in delivering. Despite the fabulous basis provided by John Williams’ superb score for the Last Crusade movie, music isn’t the IJLCTGA‘s strong point either (you’ll go forever without hearing a note, then some scenes have sound) but at least the primitive pixellised graphics show some solidity; even if Indy tends to stand out from the pretty backgrounds kind of like the cartoon archaeologist that he is in the movies.

That being said, the skeleton of the classic adventure game system is alive and well, and the constant back-and-forth of trailing between areas, picking up items and hulking them around in Indy’s TARDIS-like pockets will be immediately familiar to anyone who’s played an adventure game. As such, it’s easy to get going straight away and plough right into the adventuring; which is good, because you’re thrown in pretty much immediately without an introduction or prologue, save for a brief ‘third wall’-breaking message from Indy: “Hi, I’m Indiana Jones. Welcome to my game.”

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Not that you really need an introduction, given that the game accurately (if rather broadly) follows the major events of the third Indiana Jones movie. Although this breeds familiarity and instantly lets you dive into the main game, this seems to come at the expense of a proper, three-dimensional story and character development; neither of which can be found here. The story can be subjective, though, depending on certain actions: in some playthroughs (depending on what you do at various times) you’ll visit particular scenes and areas from the movie; in others, you might skip them entirely. There’s also a comedy of inconsistencies: for example, you’ll solve a Führer-based puzzle in Berlin by replicating the movie exactly; but in the Grail Temple, reaching for the obvious wooden cup isn’t necessarily the correct choice.

In fact, the movie’s pivotal point is warped beyond recognition, such that is literally random as to which is ‘true’ Holy Grail; unless you happened to stumbled on the entirely missable clues from way earlier in the game and unintuitively piece them together to work out the solution. If not, then you’ll have to keep re-playing the whole of the Grail Temple until you magically stumble across the correct Grail; which, as you can imagine, is a whole barrel of laughs if you choose poorly and have to replay the same three puzzles through up to ten times). It’s just another inconsistency in a game that often feels like a patchwork of ideas, crudely glued-together and shoved out of the door without the addition of any sort of depth or bolstering of either the gameplay itself, the overarching story or the playability of certain sections. A victim of its obligation to coincide with the release of the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade movie? Perhaps.
Yes, because that's the rational thing to do when you've just crashed a biplane into the side of a house.

Yes, because that’s the rational solution when you’ve just crashed a biplane into the side of a house.

Naturally for a movie blockbuster, the original source material piles action on thick-and-fast and, so, it’s not surprising that this bleeds into the tie-in game. Where later LucasArts games held a strict rule that death was unattainable, the final third of the IJLCTGA descends into a mess of mandatory arcade sequences and scruffy 2D melee and aerial combat where you’ll see your fair share of ‘Game Over’ screens: take a wrong step, and you’ll be sent back to the title screen to re-load your latest game save. I’m led to believe that the combat sequences around Castle Brunwald and the escape from Germany can be avoided (with suitable dialogue choices within some of the sprawling conversation trees that develop when you cross a Nazi guard), but I rarely had such luck even when re-loading and repeating interactions to find each guard’s weak spot. Each time, you’re thrown out of the immersion and into a deep pond of frustration; the onset of each combat sequence inevitably leading to the ‘Game Over’ screen  and the loss of yet more patience.

The primary problem (aside from often-ridiculous difficulty spikes and sometimes-incomprehensible juxtaposition in context of the rest of the game) with mandatory arcade sequences in adventure games is that they tend to detract from the main thrust of the game; story-based point-and-click adventuring. I have to admit that I was forced to resort to the (lifesaving) Universal Hint System on more than a handful of occasions in order to circumnavigate the game’s second half of crippling, frustrating action segments. Whilst I relied on a complex web of savegames around Castle Brunwald and only sparingly leant on FAQs, the soul-crushing escape from Germany – and string of unskippable guard interactions – was enough to force me to throw trial-and-error out of the window and rely on a helpful walkthrough merely to save me (or my PC) from violent injury. The end result is that you end up feeling somewhat ‘robbed’ of an adventure game; so forceful is the game’s abandonment of traditional point-and-click action halfway through in exchange for sub-par arcade-style progression.

You'll see your fair share of these

You’ll see your fair share of ‘Game Over’ screens: don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Of course, it’s easy to criticise IJLCTGA with the benefit of twenty years of progress in video game design. I guess the problem is you can’t judge a twenty-four year-old game by today’s standards; no matter how you look at it, it just won’t add up. Considering IJLCTGA in the context of PC gaming (and, in parallel, the entire point-and-click genre) largely still in its infancy, it’s easy to see the influence it’s had in setting some of the key themes for the entire genre and, those pesky arcade sequences aside, there’s a solid adventure game buried amongst the archaelogical rubble.

As I hinted at in my opening sentences, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade has somewhat been eroded by the ravages of time and, much like Dr. Jones in his most recent movie outing, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade defiantly shows it age. However, like any archaeological artefact, look hard enough and you’ll find some gold beneath the grime, and there’s a sprinkling of (albeit somewhat primitive) charm to be found among the frustrations. The arcade sequences will always feel like a punch to the stomach, but there’s some fun to be had when you’re let loose to point-and-click to your heart’s content. Remember: it’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.

[Zinar7]

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Sinister Sevens: Resolutions 2014

 

Sevens_1

Right, it’s that time of year; that time when people reflect on the past and vow to make positive changes for the future. A day late and a dollar short, I don’t usually go in for New Year’s resolutions; but since I managed to nudge The Thesis into touch at the end of 2013 and I’m keen to put in place a robust post-Thesis regime, I’m determined to make the start to 2014 a positive one and this means that it’s time for some challenges.

So, in the spirit of coming up with a bunch of things I’ve like to get done in 2014, here I’ve come up with a short, seven-heavy shortlist of the major challenges I’d like to overcome in the coming year. Let’s do this!

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1. Get Fit.

The importance of this first resolution cannot be underestimated. It’s not so much about getting fit per se, but at least getting my mis-shapen body back to something resembling slimness: I’ve got a ton of clothes that my tummy has grown too large to fit in properly (including an awesome assassin/pirate coat) that I would like to wear more often, which therefore means application of the following sub-resolutions:

1 (a). Go out inline skating more often.
1 (b). Do more skanking to ska-punk songs (skankercise).
1 (c). Eat less crap.

Of course, these remain fairly vague and without any particular time constraints or individual goals, so I will qualify my resolution by aiming to do each of them at least once a week, with a more permanent focus on maintaining resolution (c) at something approximating 100 % of the time. Looking at the wider picture, I’d like to be able to fit (and look good in, though that’s a far more ambitious/impossible task) my new assassin/pirate coat by, say, March, and to still be able to wear it on Xmas Day 2014 without it feeling very much like a whale that’s been squeezed into a corset. Game on.

2. Play More Point-and-Click Adventure Games (at least one per month) and Blog About Them.

and

3. Read More Books (at least one per month) and Blog About Them.

By no means a surprise, Resolutions Two and Three are a natural response to the sudden increase in free time (and motivation) that I anticipate will come my way now that I don’t spend every waking – and unwaking – moment either fretting about The Thesis or busily doing it. When I first realised that I couldn’t do all the leisure activities I wanted to do when I entered the world of academia, ‘books’ and ‘point-and-click adventure games’ were among the first things to be abandoned, much to my sadness. As such, the number of books I’ve not read, and adventure games I’ve not played, have been steadily increasing and the time to stop the tide is now.

To guarantee my commitment to both causes, I’m vowing to write reviews and thoughts about both here: an adventure game review once per month, and a bi-monthly post describing my thoughts on two books. Even if no-one reads them, I hope they’ll encourage me to look at storytelling media in a more academic light and to contribute my own thoughts to literature and video game criticism.

4. Make a Gordon Freeman Costume.

This. This is happening.

There’s no particular reason why; only that I’ve kept meaning to do it for years and years and years, and that I’ve got the right beard and the right glasses to justify cosplaying as video games’ most famous silent protagonist. Since there’s no better motivator for making a costume than needing a costume for a convention, I’m also resolving to have it ready and made by May in order to head to either to the London Film and Comic Con or the MCM London Comic Con dressed in Dr. Freeman’s HEV suit from Half-Life; made even more poignant given that (hopefully) I will also be a fully-qualified PhD scientist by that point as well. It’s ambitious and achievable, and my enthusiasm for getting this done is remarkably high right now. To the workshop!

5. Properly Give up Coffee and Alcohol.

I think most people now are aware that I don’t drink alcohol because of the bad effects it seems to have on my body (specifically bad effects meaning ‘having an intolerance to digesting/assimilating it’ bad effects, not ‘holy shit I drank so much last night’ bad effects) but, disappointingly, I appear to be developing similar problems with respect to drinking highly-caffeinated beverages as well. So, in the interests of trying to keep myself just about as healthy and not making myself really ill from just one cup of coffee or one pint of cider, I’m hitting the nail on the head and removing them from my diet (and conscience) altogether. I’d love to inbibe both, but it’s just a sad fact that my body won’t handle it anymore so I have to stop 😦

6. Watch at Least 52 Movies from my Project 500 list (one for each week of 2014).

A few of you may be aware of my ongoing Project 500 film challenge to watch every one of the five-hundred greatest movies as selected by Empire magazine in a special feature that they published a few years back. 2011 and 2012 were prolific years for film-watching, but 2013 was comparatively fruitless and little progress was made. For 2014, I’d like to kick that back into gear by watching at least as many ‘great’ movies as there are weeks in the year: I’m currently on 360/500, so I’m aiming for 52 more movies from the list which will take me to 412/500. Of course, I’m still not closing in my 500 target just yet, but hopefully the process will once again reveal more of cinema’s treasures that I’ve managed to miss in my film-watching career thus far; it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.

7. Be Happy 100% of the Time, No Compromises.

This is an obvious one, really. Too often in 2013 was I feeling down, depressed or lonely; feeling adrift in the world and yet not making positive steps to change that. Well, I’m aiming for 2014 to be one of happiness, contentment and satisfaction, and not one of regret or self-pity: no dwelling on mistakes, no having regrets, no moping around; just a positive outlook and a willingness to make changes in areas I’m not happy. It sounds like a small thing, but to me it’s a big thing; probably the most challenging thing on this list altogether.

In many ways, Resolution Seven is just a commitment to Be Better At Stuff and Not Being Sad. It’s essentially the ultimate trump card, but also the easiest pitfall to fall down and the simplest resolution to dismiss or break. Hence, by writing it down here I therefore commit myself to keeping it through a written contract and through the rule of New Year’s resolutions that if other people know about them then it’s harder to just ignore them and pretend you never made them in the first place. So, with that in mind, I wish both you and I a happy, prosperous and glory-filled 2014; may we all be carried upon the backs of soaring dragons to a magical world of merriment, success and inexhaustable supplies of Toblerone. Godspeed!

[Zinar7]

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