Gabriel Knight 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.

The Story

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.

The Movie

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 it.

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.

Gameplay

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 dead already.

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.

Bugs

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.

The Verdict

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. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Sierra
Publisher: Sierra
Release Date: 1995

Available for: DOS Macintosh Windows

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System Requirements

PC:
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 Windows
Sound card with DAC—Sound Blaster compatible
Mouse

Macintosh:
OS 7.1 +
68040 33 MHz
12 MB RAM
2X CD-ROM drive
256 colors
3 MB free hard disk space

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