Retro Reviews, a regular column, are a chance for me to look back at games I played as a kid and as a teenager with the eyes of a 30+ year old. I won’t judge graphics, but I’ll think hard about whether gameplay, narrative structure, voice acting and more stood the test of time. Each game in Retro Reviews is a game I played at least once, was beloved by me at the time and was released more than 10 years ago.
Gabriel Knight, the first in what became a three game franchise, is a point-and-click adventure game played from a third-person perspective and published by one of my favorite companies of the 90s, Sierra On-Line. You play as Gabriel, the owner of a rare book store (that never sees customers) who is also working on a book tied to a series of local murders dubbed the Voodoo Murders.
Throughout the game, you’ll solve puzzles by doing things like impersonating a priest or a cop, interrogate various people about what they know and trying to find out whether or not there really is voodoo being committed in these murders. You’ll also discover a conspiracy and a destiny that Gabriel didn’t realize he was running from, and what is the meaning behind the nightmares he has every night.
The story unfolds over ten days and you have to do certain things each day to get to the next one. (Though many puzzles can be accomplished out of order.) There is a running score, though you can win the game without earning all the points. You command Gabriel through a series of icons at the top of the screen like walk, operate, ask someone questions, open a door, etc.
The game was famous for at the time, both its violent storyline (rare for Sierra at the time) as well as its use of graphic comic panels throughout the story to drive the narrative. Gabriel also records every single conversation he has with characters which means you can replay them at any moment in case you missed something important.
It’s hard for me to judge whether or not the puzzles are clever, impossible or somewhere in between since I played the game many times over as a young teenager. One puzzle, involving moving a pattern around a clockface I solved not because I remembered how I learned the solution… I remembered the actual solution and just skipped ahead!
What still impresses me is the scope of the game. While the majority is set around New Orleans – and now that I’ve traveled there since the game out three separate times, it’s amazing to walk around Jackson Square Park in-game – you also travel abroad to other countries.
The research that went into the game is also incredibly deep. Sure, you can skip over or not even bother asking a lot of smart people about voodoo, but what would be the fun in that?
The music remains fun, spirited and at times, dark. I found myself, as I did when I was younger, humming the main theme song whenever it comes up in the latter chapters. (You’ll know it when you hear it.)
Even though I knew the storyline backwards and forwards, I was still impressed with how hints of Gabriel’s true destiny are sprinkled throughout the game, as well as the conspiracy elements. (Keep your eyes on non-playable background people.) The only plot that I found lacking was the love story—Gabriel and his “love” supposedly feel that way after meeting just twice. It needs to happen from a plot standpoint, but it doesn’t come across as very real.
The voice acting, however, elevates a lot of the already very good material. It’s fun to think back to the 90s when getting the likes of Tim Curry, Mark Hamill, Michael Dorn and Leah Remini in a game must have been near impossible.
While I raced through the game in just under three hours, newbies will want to take their time in this world and avoid the game FAQs. The next two titles in the franchise are a bit of a departure from this one (though I have a fondness for the second one), but I would suggest anyone who hasn’t experienced Gabriel Knight before, and has a desire for point-and-click adventure games with adult themes and plots, to take a look at this one.
* Disclosure: A digital PC version of this game was provided to the reviewer by GOG.com. You can purchase Gabriel Knight from GOG.com for $5.99.*