43: The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery

Publisher: Sierra
Developer: Sierra
Year: 1995
Platform: DOS, Windows, Macintosh

Review: Sierra took a risk by taking a successful game (Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers) and completely changing the interface for its sequel. The second game in the Gabriel Knight series is strictly full-motion video, with real actors attempting to bring the story to life. Compared to other FMV games, The Beast Within is a rip-roaring success; but the nature of the beast unnecessarily hurts the series.

This time, the game takes place entirely in Germany. The local town is need of Gabriel’s “powers” to help rid themselves of what they believe are werewolves. As he is once again experiencing writer’s block (after his successful book based on the last game!), Gabriel reluctantly agrees. What follows is a six-chapter series that slowly dishes out an engaging plot, only a little more predictably than before. This time around, the player alternates between playing Gabriel and Grace (his employee from the first game), as they both must research the problem and risk their lives to fulfill their destinies.

The game is fairly easy, with a faithful dose of hotspot clicking to advance the plot. However, there are still many inventory puzzles, and quite a few are entertaining to solve, including one that involves splicing tape recordings. What really holds the game back is the same problem with its predecessor, multiplied threefold. At more than one occasion, Grace must nail every hotspot in a handful of rooms, merely for information gathering, with no indication that it is necessary.

The other disappointment, frankly, is the acting, especially that of the two main characters. In Sins Of The Fathers, Gabriel was a hunk and a cocky sonofabitch, with layers of depth and sensitivity buried underneath the tough exterior. Here, he is pretty much a wuss, and not at all attractive. Grace is caught during a week of serious PMS, as she overreacts to nearly every situation and is passive-aggressive with everyone she meets (again, unlike the previous game, where Grace is cool, with a cutting wit). Thankfully, the supporting cast puts in top-notch performances, especially Peter LucasWolf Muser, and Fredrich Solms.

While the writing at times leaves a bit to be desired (including humour, which is almost non-existent), the story and characters are enough to draw the player in through to the end, which like the previous game, is well-developed and thoroughly intense. The only major beef I had with the plot was that even though I discovered who the antagonist was well before game’s end, I couldn’t do anything about it because Gabriel didn’t know (and he should have). Instead of simply implementing mutliple endings and/or plot branches, I was squeezed through a painfully linear endgame.  Thankfully, the final puzzle is pretty damn good, leading to a satisfying ending.

Overall, this game was a success, widely considered the adventure game of the year. It is a worthy play, but probably only to fans of the series.

Contemporary RatingMedium. Very easy to play, but the insane amount of pixel-hunting at times would drive modern gamers batty.

Cruelty Rating:  Polite. There are a couple of situations where you can die and must save before hand just in case, but the situations are very obvious.

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5 thoughts on “43: The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery

  1. I haven’t played any of these so far and I don’t figure that’ll change, but reading about the games is still interesting. I keep waiting for games that I concocted in my head to show up as real games.

    I’m mostly commenting to pile on something you said, which is how annoying it is when you the player have a fairly straightforward mystery figured out, and your character has no idea. I know the game has know way of knowing what the player knows, but if the writer has done his job correctly, then he should know when the player knows, and the player and main character should figure it out essentially at the same time.

    • It can be tough, as I imagine some players are really slow on the uptake, and some guess correctly when it’s still just a guess (and not a slam dunk).

      But the major problem in this game’s case is that it’s not just the player that should have figured it out; the previously perceptive main character suddenly becomes oblivious to obvious clues. I can deal with knowing more than the protagonist if something is written really well, but in this case it’s silly.

    • frequently; they were always on the cutting edge of technology (EGA to VGA, full motion video, 3-D rendering), so they would overhaul popular series just because they could.

      King’s Quest 8 is indeed awful, but it’s not like 7 was any good either. (There will be definitely be a list of awful games later)

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