This week on Super Adventures I’m playing a game that was requested in March this very year! It only took me six months to get around to a request for once; I'm very proud of myself.
The Beast Within is second game in the Gabriel Knight trilogy, following on from Sins of the Fathers, so I'm just going to call it Gabriel Knight 2 from now on. The Gabriel Knight trilogy is interesting as each game represents one of the four eras of 90s adventure games:
- Gabriel Knight 1 is a classic 2D style point and click adventure from 1993, enhanced with early 90s advances like voice acting and 256 colour scanned backgrounds.
- Gabriel Knight 2 was released two years later in 1995 and jumped right in to the short lived multimedia FMV fad, where game developers discovered that good actors and real sets are really expensive and video looks like ass when you compress it to fit on CDs.
- Gabriel Knight 3 came out right at the end of the 90s in 1999, during a time where you either made your game with polygons or you picked up your coat and got out. Turns out that the relatively expensive 3D environments and game pad controls weren't a good match for the increasingly niche genre though.
- Finally there’s Gabriel Knight 4, which doesn’t exist... because Gabriel Knight 3 killed adventure games. Actually the truth is that the genre was already on the way out, so at worst its famous cat fur moustache puzzle merely helped hammer a nail or two into the coffin. And the genre eventually rose from the dead so it didn't even do a good job of that.
Okay then game, if you want me to read the note I'm going to read the bloody note. Though I know like two words of German so it may take me a while.
The first line's easy, as 'achtung' is one of the words I know! It means 'attention'.
The next line's a bit harder to read, but I think that says "Ulfing" underneath. The Beast of Ulfing?
And then I can barely make out the next one, never mind understand it. Fortunately Google Translate tells me that "Der furchterregender a kindermorde des jahres 1750" means something about a terrifying child murder that happened in the year 1750. Well that explains the clothing.
Someone starts setting fire to hay and these folks hang around to watch the flames a bit. Then the video pauses again for more credits! It's kind of making it hard to follow when I get 8 seconds of footage followed by 30 seconds of names.
The lines do kind of create the illusion of a higher resolution as your brain does some on the fly interpolation. But they also make the videos half as bright and I'm happier without them.
Mass Effect 3's dream sequences again, thanks a lot for that Gabriel Knight 2. Then there's some more credits, and it's over.
So, uh, okay then.
And then this creepy group of villagers comes marching up to the front door carrying torches. I mean flashlights, not the burning rag on a stick kind of torch, and they've left their pitchforks at home.
Man, the music here couldn't sound more like Gabriel Knight 1. It's very distinctive.
By the way this GIF is a pretty good representation of the video quality I'm getting from the game. I'm sure a few colours were lost along the way, plus I trimmed a few seconds, and froze just a little bit more of the background to cut the filesize, but what you see here is basically what I got. Same resolution, same blockiness.
His assistant interrupts his suffering to tell him that there's visitors are the door, though she fails to mention that they're an angry mob.
By the way, middle guy has been in some other stuff before... like 'Back to the Future II'! He's the guy who doesn't know what CPR is and then announces that Marty took Biff's wallet.
They called the police first, who reckoned that the kid must have been attacked by one of the wolves that escaped from a nearby zoo, but they had no luck actually finding the animal. The mob on the other hand believe that the killer was a werewolf, and it's only a matter of time before it kills again! It's just the kind of werewolf that looks basically indistinguishable from a regular wolf.
Gabriel's hesitant, but it's hard to turn down a doorstep full of blokes in hats, so he takes the case! So for the time being he'll be living in the farm where the attack happened, while the owners are out.
Toonstruck or Dark Seed with it. Man I hope that's the only thing the game has in common with Dark Seed.
The music's gone as well and I kind of miss it, if only because they've replaced it with the sound of a ticking clock. It's the only thing moving in here as well, as Gabriel himself is as still as a cardboard cut-out. The guy doesn't even need to breathe.
Wake up Gabriel, we've got a wolf-shaped werewolf to track down! He doesn't seem all that hyped, but I'm the one calling the shots now and I've nothing better to do so I might as well get on with it. Step one: take all the stuff in the room. I can't cycle between commands like I could in Gabriel Knight 1, it's one cursor fits all, so I guess I'll just move the mouse over everything in the room until it indicates I can click on it.
Trouble is that there's no way to get Gabriel to tell me what an item actually is without clicking on it and bringing up the close-up first. There's some text at the top of the screen that says "Huber Farm Interior" but that doesn't change to describe the objects under my cursor like it would in a LucasArts game.
Also I should mention that Gabriel's the one describing things now, the female narrator was apparently left behind in New Orleans, and he doesn't sound like Tim Curry so much any more.
The main difference is that original Gabriel Knight was a smart-ass, while the new version is laid back and less of a dick.
It's hard to tell what I can interact with on this side of the room, but I'll sweep the screen with the mouse and see what gets my cursor's attention.
Gabriel can't read it either, but he can at least make out that the news story is about the escaped wolves, and that it reveals the name of the zoo and the officer in charge of the investigation. Shame there's no subtitles though, so I can't read the names he's trying to pronounce. It's not making it easy for me to keep notes.
Okay this ticking is driving me nuts so I need to get out of here and chat to this Kriminalkommisar Leber guy.
Man these people have a big house. I'm suddenly reminded of another adventure game I once played called Lost in Time, which also had a fondness for big houses and photographic backgrounds. Never though I'd be remembering that game.
Gabriel won't touch the ladder, he won't pick up some quick drying cement from the shed and he whines about the Volkswagen not being a Mercedes whenever I click on it, so this screen presents limited possibilities. The game's got no interest in scrolling by the way, every background is a static image. Though sometimes the cursor says 'exit' when I put the mouse at the edge of the screen.
I clicked the trees and got nothing, so to be thorough I clicked them again in a different spot and found some bloody wolf fur! I'm not entirely sure this game is playing fair with me.
Also this is a dead end so it seems that there's truly no escape from this farm. Those sneaky villagers must have lied about the wolf attack to lure the Schattenjäger into a trap! Oh hang on, there's a note on the coat rack saying that the keys to the Volkswagen are under the mirror.
So now I've got this overwhelming mess of a U-Bahn map to decipher. Though it's got words instead of icons so I like it better than the map of New Orleans in the first game. Wait I recognise the name 'Prinzregentenplatz'; that's what Gabriel was trying to say earlier when he read the newspaper! I'll go there first and see if I can find Leber.
But this time there's no dialogue options, as the cop can't speak a word of English and Gabriel can't speak German. Though there's an irritation in his voice that transcends language; this is clearly not the highlight of his day. Or maybe he's just sick of the music. Still, the cop tries talking slower and Gabriel starts to get the gist of what he's saying. Seems that we're out of luck as Leber isn't here (or perhaps just doesn't want to talk).
I suppose all I can do now is go down to the zoo to ask about their escaped wolves, though I've forgotten where Gabriel said it was. I'm sure someone said 'Lochham' at some point though so I'll go there.
Gabriel hasn't shown up yet but I've triggered a cutscene showing this guy going into the wolf pen and feeding them, so I think that's supposed to be a clue. Wait, is he casting a shadow on the background there? Whoa, I think I've found the only human being in this game with a soul.
I guess I need to get one of the wolves to come to the fence for adventure game reasons, but they're stubbornly ignoring Gabriel's attempts to lure them over. I can't even jingle the rabbit-foot keychain at them. I'd try using something else to grab their attention but I doubt an unfinished manuscript, a business card, an envelope of fur and a notepad he refuses to write any notes down in are going to catch their interest.
Fine, I give up.
It is letting me chat to him though, and this time I get actual dialogue choices! Well actually it's more like I can choose which order topics are brought up during the conversation, as eventually everything here is getting said. And there's an awkward pause after every exchange as Gabriel takes a few seconds to grin and nod his head before I get my dialogue options back. The developers hadn't quite figured out how to get conversations to flow.
Nothing I said could convince him to let me go interrogate the wolves though, as he needs Doktor Klingmann's permission for that. But I did at least get a name from him and a new 'exit' to visit. Plus 4 extra points!
SOON, IN KLINGMANN'S OFFICE.
Well Klingmann's not going to let me in to see the wolves, but there's a walkie talkie on his desk so if I can trick him to leave the room for a second and pull off a perfect impersonation I think I'll be able to trick wolf food guy into letting me in.
In fact Gabriel actually told Klingmann that the conversation was being recorded on his little tape machine, which is a courtesy he doesn't generally show people. The game wanted to draw my attention to the tapes for some reason.... and now my attention's drifting down to that 'splice' button on the right.
Fortunately I don't have to keep sneaking into the office to test my constructed message on the walkie talkie as Gabriel knows when I've gotten it wrong. Like here I've forgotten to call him Herr Doktor Klingmann. He's really fond of his title.
Gabriel decided to stroke the wolf, despite wolf food guy's strong objections, and took the opportunity to pocket some of its fur, so I guess that's what this puzzle was all about.
Look at poor wolf #1, it doesn't know what's going on. Everyone's started running, should I be running? Why am I in this blue room full of strange people anyway?
Right, now I've got two envelopes full of wolf fur. Mission accomplished! Next step: figure out how this helps me.
This place is different to the rest of locations for three reason:
- It's big enough for me to see Gabriel actually walk across the screen, instead of him turning to face the thing I clicked then immediately getting interrupted by a video clip.
- The background's scrolling as he walks! They either did a good job stitching photos together here or the photographer stood very far back.
- There's nothing at all to do here. I looked at some shops he didn't want to visit, looked at some buildings he didn't care about, looked at some pedestrians he can't talk to... it's like it was added purely for the sake of virtual tourism. Which is a nice idea, but I've got Google Maps for that now.
I eventually gave up and went back to the U-Bahn, where I noticed a 'hint' button I hadn't seen before. So I clicked it and it told me that Marienplatz and Lochham both contain puzzles left to solve. There must be something here I'm missing. But what?
Oh duh, I totally forgot that I stole a bit of paper from Klingmann's coat! I should see what that says.
There's some writing on the back as well, but Gabriel won't even attempt to read it out as it's backwards or something. Shame I don't have a mirror handy... except I do, there's one in the farmhouse. To the Volkswagen!
A DRIVE HOME AND BACK AGAIN LATER.
Ah, I'm on Dienerstrasse, that's definitely a word he said. That means I'm on the right track.
Star Trek: A Final Unity all over again. Except it's not quite as bad, as this only took me 30 seconds to get back to the U-Bahn.
Well now I truly am out of options. I mean what else is there left for me to do? I've been everywhere, I've clicked everything, I've talked to everyone. I'd have picked everything up too if the game ever let me take anything. I'm starting to wish this was A Final Unity now because then I could ask Worf what to do next.
Oh hang on, there is one last thing I haven't yet tried... nope admiring my reflection in the farmhouse mirror didn't work. Though I have been carrying around this letter from Gabriel's family lawyer. I figured it was just to help set up the backstory, but it does say he should drop by and visit him in Munich. Well, uh... I guess I have nothing better to do than visit a lawyer.
So I walked all the way back across Marienplatz again to tell that receptionist that I know what the place is, therefore I'm someone who's meant to be there, but this time he explained that the club is only for members of prominent German families. Which Gabriel is, but I need paperwork to prove it. So I walked all the way back to the lawyer again, only to be told that it's going to take some time to dig up.
Trouble is I've got no way to know how to move time forward. Do I hang around Marienplatz for 10 minutes, ride the U-Bahn for a bit, or is the game waiting for me to solve a puzzle first? If it's the last one then I'm a bit stuck as I've got nothing else to do. Well I had a good run, but this is the point where I have to resort to a walkthrough.
ONE VISIT TO GAMEFAQS LATER.
While I was back at the farmhouse I also wrote a letter to Gabriel's assistant Grace, who's still running his bookshop back in New Orleans. I didn't mean to, I was just clicking stuff again to see if it did anything new.
So with all my business at the farm completed I collected my paperwork from the lawyer then went back to the hunting club on Dienerstrasse (which is totally a werewolf club, I'm calling it) and was successful in getting invited inside for a drink! End of chapter one.
Anyway, I think two chapters is a fair amount of time to give the game so I'm turning it off now. Final score 167 out of 679!
I was really curious to see what an interactive movie sequel to Gabriel Knight is like, but it turns out that The Beast Within is actually a pretty similar game. It's just a bit more realistic, a little less funny, and they've traded a some of the interactivity for live action conversations and cutscenes that play whenever you choose to do anything. I figured it wouldn't be long before I started making frequent use of the 'skip video' button, but I found I didn't actually mind watching the actor put his coat on, sit down at desks, or go through the entire process of mixing quick dry cement to pour over a paw print, if it meant I could be sure he rinsed the bucket out afterwards.
It helps that the acting's often the highest quality aspect of scene, even if the conversations don't flow so well. I wouldn't put the FMV on Wing Commander III's level and there's no one of Tim Curry or Mark Hamill's fame on board this time, but I can imagine this cast doing alright on a 90s 'Gabriel Knight' TV series. The graphics on the other hand ain't so pretty these days, as it's hard not to notice that the footage been shot on a blue screen, shrunk down to less than 320x200 res and then reduced to 256 colours. Still, having real people in the scenes adds some nuance and humanity to the characters, more than you'd find in Gabriel Knight 3 with its early textured polygons. 3D adventure games have their place, but the late 90s wasn't it.
The point and click parts are twice the resolution as the videos, but I still felt like a Mortal Kombat character lost in a world made out of postcards from Munich. The artists were doomed from the start trying to get photographic backgrounds looking good in just a fraction of their colour limit, but the photo editing they've done on them has left them looking almost painted at times and it's a bastard to spot what areas can be interacted with sometimes. Good ambient sound helps bring the locations to life though, with the music generally holding back and letting the birdsong, monkeys and passing cars have the speakers all to themselves. Plus that bloody clock. Though when the soundtrack does kick in it's kind of all over the place. Sometimes you've got dramatic piano tracks, sometimes you've got comedy music with a whistle sound effect playing. A lot like the original game soundtrack in fact.
To be honest despite the FMV makeover the biggest problems I had with Gabriel Knight 2 are the same that I had with the first game. Instead of working through problems logically to achieve goals, I felt like I was trying to work out what my current protagonist was planning. It's almost like the game assumes that you already know how to investigate the mystery and doesn't want to offer patronising hints. It also assumes you'll want to go visit your lawyer just to introduce yourself, write a letter to your friend in the US, and investigate a place mentioned in the piece of paper you stole from a scientist's coat because he seemed a bit weird. I could've really done with Gabriel speaking up from time to time to let me in on what specific goal we're trying to achieve (and a few more wry observations wouldn't have hurt either). Plus the puzzles are more about gathering info than finding the right tools for a job, but it's set in Germany and there's no subtitles (unless you get a fan patch), so as a monolingual English speaker with terrible language skills I found it really hard to figure out what Gabriel was reading out and harder to keep notes of what I needed to remember.
So overall I can't say I was enthralled with The Beast Within, but I did find it likeable enough. In fact I may well continue with it to the end, but if I do I'll have a walkthrough on hand from now on. Because I've tried being stuck already and it wasn't much fun.
That picture on the left is a clue by the way, not a game title. I'm making that clear up front so that you don't get your hopes up.