The old and new clash when Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers is remade. Who will stand victorious?
I don't remember exactly when I bought and played Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers (hereafter called Gabriel Knight) for the first time. What I do remember is that I fell in love with the supernatural plot, the rich history behind it and the lovable but yet quirky characters. Since then, I will take a guess around 1996, I have played it many many times. It surprises me how fresh and how much of a good time I seem to have every time I play it. When I first heard that they were going to remake the game I was joyful. But when I saw the first screens and heard they were gonna replace the voices, my hopes quickly dropped. Still there was something deep inside me that wanted to play it no matter what. So here I am in 2014, bought and played the remake in about a day and a half. Was it just as good as the first time I played the original? Did I have as much fun as I did then or the frequent times I replayed it? Also was the feel, music and atmosphere still there even though the voice-actors was different? Not a resounding yes, but still I had loads of fun playing this game again with new graphics and voices. Also I would like to mention that I played through it quicker than most of my replays, I think haha. In this review I will compare the two, by talking about them interchangeably sorting out what I like and what I don't like.
Deep and enriching
I have played this game so many times that I almost remember every puzzle and what the characters are talking about. It's a testament to the game and it's designers that it still holds up today. Most of the success I think it's the well researched history behind the plot that is so well done. You see, the game is about Voodoo and some murders committed by the people still preaching to this religion. The game takes place in New Orleans, and more specifically The French Quarter. This area is rich with the history of voodoo and witches. So naturally Jane Jensen (the main designer behind the game) situated it here.
The game is about Gabriel Knight (Tim Curry in the original and Jason Victor in the remake; from here on out I will just write the names beginning with the original and then the remake) a writer owning his own bookstore, named after St. George (who was a christian martyr). His assistant Grace Nakimura (Leah Remini and Cissy Jones) works in the bookstore and also helps him do research into the voodoo murders. Gabriel also has a friend on the police force detective named Mosely (Mark Hammil and Ned Clarke), who is also his childhood friend. Other important characters in the game is Malia Gedde (Leliana Jones and Amy Ingersol), Grandma Knight (Linda Gary and Jeanie Kelsey), Dr. Hartridge (Monte Markham and Mark Barbolak), Dr. John (Michael Dorn and Dave Fennoy), Wolfgang Ritter (Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and Terry McGovern), Tetelo (Linda Gary and Amy Ingersol) and many more. While investigating these murders for his book he entangles himself in forces he cannot comprehend. It also seems like some of the stuff happening is mirroring his ancestor's past. There is more to this, but it is much more rewarding finding out all this on your own.
Gabriel Knight was written and designed by Jensen as previously stated. The dialogue is still fresh and biting to this day. And as I previously said the research behind the voodoo is astonishing; all the way so you feel that you actually learn something without it getting boring. This could've been a problem since most of the game consists of Gabriel talking to a lot of characters; incidentally these individuals has a lot to say also. It's a combination of getting to know the characters and what they know about what Gabriel is investigating. While you don't get to know all the characters thoroughly, they are so greatly written that you get to care a lot about them. A good example is one character that is very important to the story, but is only in it for at least 15 minutes, and you care deeply about what happens to him. This is not true for every character, and especially Malia and the love story she has with Gabriel does indeed fail. I remember thinking oddly that their stint started quite fast and out of nowhere, but I still accepted it then. By today's standards it's a little too thin and doesn't hold up. Had there been a greater chemistry behind them I would have cared more for it. Still the voice actors makes up for the lack in the story (especially in the original). The problem with the remake, as I will get into more thoroughly soon, is the voice of Malia and Gabriel. I don't get the same feeling for them as I did in the original. As I said the love story wasn't believable then, but still the voices made me care more about it. In general the love story is quite contrived, and just let me put it this way; I believe more in the chemistry between Gabriel and Baron Friedrich von Glover from Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within. Other than that I feel that the story still holds up, and the story beats that takes it to some necessary extremes still gets me screaming like a nerd. The story is basically the same in the two versions of the game.
When it comes to the voice-cast however, the original clearly wins if you ask me. Even though Curry has a tendency to overdo his accent and the dramatic touches to the character, I highly prefer this to the sardonic and dry Victor. When that is said, I still feel that Victor as Gabriel is decent. The only big problem I have with him, is that his dramatic chops doesn't compare to that of Curry. When he needs to give it all, it seems like Victor just delivers to do what is asked. But when Curry does his justice to the dramatic scenes, you live and breathe with him; if that makes sense? I feel the same for most of the voice-cast in the remake. Grace and Mosely's new actors are passable but not in the same league as Remini and Hammil. My feeling about the voice acting is that rather than playing it out, most of the actors just read what their given and doesn't add anything extra.
As a side-note, I feel that the voice actors they used for Mosely and Grace in the third outing was way better than this. If they couldn't use the original actors, why not hire these instead? Dr. Johns voice actor kinda sound like the same one, and his booming voice still fits the game. Malia also kinda sounds like the one in the original, still it isn't her, and lacks the punch. The rest of the voice actors range from passable to great, but too many variables to really give this high remarks compared to the original. In the original the voices greatly added to the game. The remake whimpers because of the voice actors, and some of them I just don't feel the authenticity.
The characters and the story-line hasn't been changed at all, and I still think it stands the test of time. Though because of the bland voice-acting the remake seems to missing it's teeth, but still I feel enthralled if you could understand that. The one thing I'd wish they change is the blatant misogyny Mosely and Gabriel display. Sure, Gabriel is supposed to be that way, but compared to today's standards I think it should be kept in the past. Some people said on forums I frequent that you understand better what kind of character Gabriel is after talking to his grandmother. I do understand that his upbringing and everything surrounding it was not normal and it can explain his behavior. At the same time Grabriel did grow up with strong women around. When his parent died his grandmother took over his upbringing. You'd think he would be better at treating women because of this. Still, Gabriel is the man with a heart of gold, and deep down inside he is not really like that. His misogyny is masking his true persona. At least I feel that this is what the game is trying to portray. Still I find the story and most of the characters enthralling to watch on the screen. But how does the game play, and is there much difference from the original to the remake?
The original game was drawn in beautiful 2D with slightly pixelated characters on the screen. When you use the talking tool the screen changes to black and you see Gabriel and the person he is talking to. This is also drawn strikingly in 2D. The talking heads feel natural and you're in on the good vibes. In the remake however the whole game is remade in 3D, same for the talking heads. These 3D talking heads in the remake doesn't look all that good. Some are great, Dr. John, Willy etc, while some are less than desirable, Gabriel himself, Grace etc. Mostly I feel that the 3D is not all that bad. While I feel most of the backgrounds are beautifully encapsulated, most of them feel claustrophobic. In the original the scenes were big and sprawling, in the remake they feel tucked together. This is fortunately not the case for every scene in the game.
The original plays like most old adventure games, you have different tools for talking, walking, picking up and using something. It's also like most adventure games that puzzles dominates the gameplay. But what set Gabriel Knight apart from most adventure games was that the characters was really talkative. If you like talking to characters this is the game for you. While I am not all that good at puzzles in games, I feel that the ones in this game are organic and fit the story appropriately. Compared to the original you get all this tools to choose from when you click something in the gameworld. In the original you could choose between them before clicking something. By doing this the remake streamlines the process and this I don't really mind. It makes the game more seamless and clears away clutter from the screen. The new version also adds some new puzzles to the game. Most of these are forgettable because they are so easy and rudimentary. The consist mostly of picture arranging and pressing buttons. While it's good that they added new stuff, I'd rather they didn't if it is as rudimentary as this.
As the original the remake also has the map of New Orleans, but this time around not every location are accessible from day one. When I heard this I was furious, but after playing the game I feel this was the right thing to do. In day one of the original you could do most of the things, leaving almost nothing for other days. Stuff are moved around in the remake, for example you can only visit grandma from day 3 and onward. This makes the game even more streamlined and it makes sense that it gives most days something to do. You see the game is split into ten days, which you have to do different tasks to complete them. Getting back to the map; in the locations there is now a button that you can click and it transports you directly to the map. This is one of the shortcuts I really like. I think that is because it takes ages for Gabriel to leave a location and it was really aggravating. But my problem was that I always forgot this shortcut and always left through the door; silly me. Even though I am not a big fan of the voices and the 3D there are still elements that makes the game better in the remake.
The game also comes including a graphic novel detailing a prequel of sorts to the story in this game. This was only told in the book Jensen wrote about the first game. Having this in the remake makes the player understand much better why this stuff is happening now. This was briefly mentioned in the original when Gabriel reads his ancestor's diary. While it perhaps wasn't needed in the original game, the graphic novel makes the whole thing more complex.
The original had a making off video that came with the cd. This games unlocks different extras as you complete some of the game, while also giving glimpses into what the scenes looked like in the original. I really like this approach, getting a more understanding about the remake and the original.
Yes this deserves it's own chapter. For the remake Robert Holmes (incidentally Jensens husband) re-orchestrated the music. Gone is the midi and in comes more synthesizers and it also sound like he used real instruments. For some locations and tense building dramatic scenes the new music is a new found joy. For example the tense music building up to the second act that takes place in Africa after the snake puzzle. But other parts, like for example the police station just isn't up to snuff. The music in the police station in the original wasn't that great either, so I guess you can blame the songwriting more than the new music.
While I feel that the re-orchestrated music does justice to the original, and in some parts surpasses it; it as I mentioned not all good. In some instances, in the intro video the music is played so low that you don't feel the tension. I also feel that some of the music is off because of some, maybe unintentional, offbeats that sounds more like beat errors. This is most evident in the music that lingers in Gabriel's bookstore. It might just be some much difference in the sound that that's what I am noticing. At the end of the game it seems like the music is changing so much back and forth that the main theme's tension gets waylaid.
Except for these nitpicks, I feel that the Holmes still demonstrates that he is a good songwriter. Still there aren't many changes to the music, and I loved it in the original so that wouldn't be much of a stretch.
The really good and the really bad
I really liked the movie panels in the original. 2D drawn cartoonlike and dramatic scenes. The pacing in the game was also excellent and this made the dramatic movies even better. This has been kept in the remake, but I feel that the movie panels might be even better. It still has lost some of the dramatic and gritty tension. But all in all, it's something of the best Phoenix Studios has made in the remake. Some of the scenes from the original has been replaced by the movies, and I don't really feel that was a miss-step. This actually makes the game feel more exhilarating. It wasn't a problem in the original, but this makes some of the scenes more dramatic. Herein comes the crux; even though the movies make the dramatic scenes even better it doesn't help that Victor's tentative gutso can't make up for it.
I have some small nitpicks to end this review/comparison with. In the endless talking stages I find some audio samples starts before they should. For example Grace can start talking before Gabriel is done asking questions. This takes me out of the game, not too bad; but it certainly detracts then and there.
So what is my conclusion? Did I like the remake? Or will I keep playing only the original? I did like the remake, it wasn't as bad as I feared. They had put some elements into the game that made it more seamless than the original. For new players it's a great way to get to know the anti-hero Gabriel Knight and then perhaps it's a way in to play the original also. I am probably not gonna replay the remake as much as the original. If I did it would probably be because I would see if it got better over time. All in all, I would recommend playing it, but perhaps play the original first to see the real gem.