II: The Beast Within
Review by Enigma
Until you've played one of the Gabriel Knight series,
you can't truly call yourself an adventure gamer. These classic
games immerse players in heart-throbbing suspense, constantly
focusing on the story, the story, the story. You're caught up
in it, part of it, intrigued, frustrated, triumphant, and just
plain scared by your experiences on the screen. That's adventure!
The Gabriel Knight stories combine mystery with the supernatural.
They won't go down as literary masterpieces. They're pulp fiction,
intended only for fun. And what fun! No matter how difficult the
puzzle, you keep on playing because you've just got to find out
what happens next. Along the way you feel the suspense as the
characters do, never knowing what's around the next corner or
what might jump at you to tear your throat out.
Written by Jane Jensen, authoress extraordinaire (Jane, where
are you?), Gabriel Knight II: The Beast Within concerns
a battle with werewolves, an excellent choice for the main character.
Gabriel has more than a bit of the wolf in him, at least concerning
women. He's a stereotypical love 'em and leave 'em type, aggressive,
and insufferably flippant. But if you don't like him at first,
don't despair. You'll be playing half the game with Gabe's polar
opposite: his research assistant, Grace Nakimura, a well brought-up
girl of intellectual bent.
As Gabe learned in GK1: Sins of the Fathers, he has inherited
the job of being a "Shattenjäger," German for "shadow
hunter." He's intended, whether he likes it or not, to fight
supernatural evils when such are unleashed upon the world. Actually,
Gabe is a mystery writer who's just had a bestseller with a novelization
of his adventures in GK1. Along with his Shattenjäger
duties, he's inherited his ancestral home: a small castle, Schloss
Ritter, in Rittersberg, Germany. While suffering writer's block
on his second novel, he receives a visit from a delegation of
townsfolk. A werewolf, they believe, has devoured a child. As
the local Shattenjäger, Gabe is expected to hunt down the
beast and kill it. Reluctantly, he agrees.
Gabe moves into the farmhouse of the afflicted family, using
that as his home base. His search leads him to Munich, where he
investigates the disappearance of two wolves from the zoo and
becomes involved with the local police and a mysterious hunting
club headed by the brilliant, charismatic, and handsome Baron
Friederich von Glower. He learns that other wolf murders have
occurred and seem to be continuing.
What's going on? Are the missing zoo wolves the culprits, or
is something far more sinister at work? As Gabriel investigates
by interviewing people and snooping around in Munich, Grace takes
it upon herself to come to Germany and learn about werewolves
and the enigmatic King Ludwig II of Bavaria, the "Mad King"
who built the fairytale castle of Neuschwanstein. What do he and
the great composer Richard Wagner have to do with the current
mystery, and how can Grace help Gabriel, who won't even tell her
where he is?
Investigations and surprises advance the plot until Gabe finds
himself in a battle for his own soul in the final, pulse-throbbing
confrontation. Gabe's seemingly superficial character evolves
and deepens as he faces the reality of his own animal instincts.
Note, however, that GK2 is intended for mature audiences.
Some sexual situations and gruesome scenes aren't appropriate
for children. It's an adult game, for adult, thinking players.
GK2 was produced in 1995 during the height of the popularity
of full-motion video (FMV), and the entire game is played in that
mode. If you don't like FMV, don't let it put you off this game.
The situations are so intriguing and the plot so well-done that
it overcomes any serious aversion to the format. I found it to
be much more realistic than the currently popular cartoon-like
3D renderings. FMV can slow gameplay, however, with the constant
repetition of a few mundane scenes. Once we've seen Grace put
on her coat to go out the door, do we really need to see it again
every time she leaves Schloss Ritter? Trekking up and down Marienplatz
in Munich gets a bit old, as well. Those quibbles aside, I found
that the FMV enhanced my willing suspension of disbelief. I liked
FMV can't work well without good acting because we're essentially
watching an interactive movie. Fortunately, that's not a problem
with GK2. Although Dean Erickson as Gabe overplays his
character's in-your-face flippancy, when required to hit higher
emotions he handles them convincingly. He manages to convey an
unsuspected inner strength that allows the player, finally, to
care about what happens to him. Joanne Takahashi seamlessly merges
her portrayal with the Grace we met in GK1. She's serious
enough to convince us that she indeed is a Ph.D. history student,
and a bit conceited about her achievements as well.
The German actors are without exception so good that I was sorry
so many were minor characters. The marvelous Peter Lucas as Baron
von Glower rivets your eyes to the screen. His magnetic presence
makes the magical aspects of the plot seem completely acceptable
and adds a compelling dash of mystery to the game.
Robert Holmes's theme music constantly heightens the mood and
suspense, especially in the final sequence. Remarkably, the game
boasts an imitation Wagnerian opera that really sounds Wagnerian.
It's extremely well-done and entirely convincing. Quite an unusual
feature in an adventure game.
Only the mouse is required to play the whole game, with hot spots
identified as you move the cursor over the screen. It's intuitive,
with no learning curve required. This is classic point and click,
with a well-done inventory and a nifty tape recording system,
a holdover from GK1, that allows you to review all of Gabe's
interviews. Grace takes notes, and those too remain always available.
The player must examine each and every inventory item in order
to advance the plot, and Grace or Gabe will read aloud the letters,
notes, or notices they encounter. You get points displayed on
the title bar, with a total of 679 possible.
The puzzles are primarily inventory-based. You click an item
on a character to get a response, or you click an item on some
other item on the screen. Click a notation of a phone number on
the phone, for example, to make a call. Nearly all puzzles follow
normal, real-world logic, although some require thought and serious
searching. A few puzzles seemed a bit farfetched, but most play
fair. I learned that whenever I got stuck, it was usually because
I'd missed something. Careful exploration, everywhere, is crucial.
It is possible to die in GK2, and that happens in fairly
spectacular fashion. Each time you die, the game allows you to
reload, quit, or retry from the beginning of the puzzle. These
areas of the game are difficult, but they provide suspense that
will keep you trying until you succeed. Anyway, if your pulse
isn't racing at the ends of chapters five and six, perhaps you're
Gabe and Grace visit some fascinating locations in Germany, giving
you a little travelogue that adds another unexpected benefit to
the game. You get a virtual tour of the real Neuschwanstein Castle,
along with trips to other interesting museums and shrines. Each
of these locations appears to have been photographed at the real
sites in Germany.
Because of the FMV, the game comes on six CDs, but with a few
exceptions each chapter is confined to one CD, minimizing disc
swapping. To save games you type in the title of your choice,
with no limit to the number of saved games on a Macintosh. The
PC version allows 20 saves per drive.
I played on an older iMac with OS 8.6 and had played the same
copy of the game years earlier on a Macintosh Performa. I remember
so many freezes on the old Performa that I would have quit if
I hadn't been so immersed in the plot. This time the game ran
much more smoothly, although I did experience a freeze or two
in each chapter. Hence, saving games frequently becomes a must.
Twice, I encountered a fearful bug dealing with the small amount
of disc swapping I had to do. The game would ask for the disc
that was already loaded. I feared that unless this cleared up,
I wouldn't be able to finish the game. Thankfully, the problem
disappeared with second tries.
If you're looking for suspense and gameplay so immersive that
you've just got to keep playing, you've found it in GK2. Intrigue,
suspense, mystery, and some sudden surprises will keep you riveted
to your computer. It's a true adventure classic. If you haven't
played it yet, don't sleep until you do ... and don't go walking
alone in the woods.
Release Date: 1995
Four Fat Chicks Links
486/33 (Pentium recommended)
8 MB RAM (16 MB recommended)
40 MB free hard disk space (maximum install)
2x CD-ROM drive (4x recommended)
MSCDEX version 2.2 or higher
MS-DOS 5.0 or higher
SVGA video card that supports 640x480x256 colors or better in
Sound card with DACSound Blaster compatible
OS 7.1 +
68040 33 MHz
12 MB RAM
2X CD-ROM drive
3 MB free hard disk space
Where to Find It