The Gabriel Knight franchise is something of a peculiar beast. Most people that didn’t play games in the 90s only know it as that franchise with one of the worst puzzles a point-and-click adventure game has ever had, which it totally did. The cat hair mustache puzzle in Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned is truly awful. In spite of that, Gabriel Knight is also remembered as a true classic of the era and one of the best of the classic franchises. It’s a confusing sentiment that people who have little to no experience with the series, but one that can be explained.
After 20 years since its inception and almost 15 years since its last release, Jane Jensen reacquired the rights to the franchise she created and set about using her own studio, Pinkerton Road, with the help of Phoenix Online to remake Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. While the remake would require new voice acting, meaning it would lose Tim Curry’s performance as the titular character, fans seem excited for the chance to revisit the game with a high definition visuals and updated gameplay.
Along with the recast voice actors, the entire soundtrack has been remastered. The new voice actors are so good that, beyond the clearly different narrator, the voicework is almost identical to the original. It doesn’t hurt that it’s been 20 years, but it’s good to know that they new cast has the talent to make the difference seem nominal. Regardless of the voices, it’s the remastered soundtrack that truly shines. If you played the Monkey Island remakes, I was hit with the same nostalgic feeling upon hearing its remastered soundtrack. These tracks were exceptional in 1993 and they’re even better in their modern incarnation.
Gabriel Knight stood the test of time. While the remake is not without issues, there is only two key factors in a point-and-click adventure game that determine its quality: the story and the puzzles. It’s the former that has kept the series memorable for so long and the one thing left untouched in the remake and for good reason. Sins of the Fathers is the story of one man coming to grips with his familial legacy while dealing with a murderous voodoo cult in New Orleans. That man also happens to be a shitbag when you first meet him.
Gabriel Knight is a womanizing author attempting to scam an old friend out of police information with vague promises of including him as a character in his book. As he researches further into the voodoo murders plaguing the city you finally see his humanity and actually start to like Gabe as a character. Sure, the devilish rogue with the heart of gold is a familiar archetype, but it doesn’t lessen the story when you have someone like Jensen behind the writing that can shape the archetype into an interesting character with a fascinating plot to follow.
It’s a plot that works with the setting. New Orleans is as much of a character in Sins of the Fathers as any other. Without the city, the plot wouldn’t work. With its rich, historical character, it makes sense that New Orleans would be the seat of a voodoo based corruption and while the plot may escalate to some ridiculous levels, it remains such a fun ride through the end that you can let yourself enjoy more than just the ride.
What the 20th Anniversary Edition brings to the table is completely updated graphics. The new background designs are absolutely beautiful and really help bring you into the story. The character models do not. Just as with Pinkerton Road’s previous title Moebius, the character models here look and animate almost like Sims. You can get past it to enjoy the game, but it’s disappointing that you have to in the first place. And thankfully unlike Moebius, the talking head dialog from the original Gabriel Knight are back and look and animate well.
The new graphics also work hand in hand with the gameplay changes. Not only are there new puzzles, but certain items have been moved to separate screen inlays that now feature plenty of background flavor. The new puzzles help the gameplay feel fresh and allows veterans to experience something new in this release. They may find the removal of certain locations and events from the beginning to relevant points in the story frustrating, but its done in favor of pacing and I found nothing but appreciation for the changes. Each day now plays out as a more rounded experience.
Along with some puzzle changes, Gabriel Knight has been welcomed into the modern world with a brand new hint system and an ability to see everything you can interact with in the environment. It’s standard for the genre at this point, but it’s nice to see its inclusion to allow newer players to progress without feeling the frustrations of having to go look for a guide to progress. As much love as I have for the original Gabriel Knight, there are a few obtuse puzzles that will take some luck or brute force to solve if you don’t understand them right away.
If you’ve never played a Gabriel Knight game before, the 20th Anniversary Edition of Sins of the Fathers should definitely be on your must play list. This is a beautifully faithful remake of the spirit of Gabriel Knight and the changes to the letter of the game are easily appreciated. This is a game crafted with love, and considering that its success would likely mean a Gabriel Knight 4, there is no reason not to spend some time with one of the point-and-click greats.