In the run-up to the release of the Gabriel Knight 20th Anniversary remake, creator Jane Jensen and team have released a demo to members of the press that lets them play through the first two days of the story to get a taste for what the game has to offer. We were fortunate enough to be on that list.
In case you don’t know, Gabriel Knight is a point and click adventure game that came out in late 1993, and was one of the first “mature” adventures from a studio better-known for its kid-friendly King’s, Space and Police Quest games. It starred the voice talents of Tim Curry, who pulled off a very convincing Louisana accent, and Mark Hamill who played his inept but well-meaning policeman friend, Detective Mosely.
It was all about mysterious “voodoo murders” plaguing the city of New Orleans tied in with a much deeper historical – and mystical – mystery, and it was gritty and violent but at the same time filled with such clever puzzles, memorable characters and meticulously-researched history that it was an instant hit with gamers of the era.
Now, just over 20 years later, creator Jane Jensen and her new game studio, Pinkerton Road, are about to re-release the game as a remastered classic for PC, Android and iOS. That means shiny new hi-res graphics, re-mastered music and re-recorded dialogue, all better-suited to 5.1 surround speakers, 1080p PC and tablet screens and super-hi-res Retina displays found on cutting-edge iPads, all of which was on display in the demo.
Every scene in the game has been re-made in gorgeous HD, and all character models are fully 3D. The level of detail is incredible, too: while St. George’s bookshop looks very much like the St. George’s bookshop teenage me remembers, it’s also so much sharper, and has all sorts of tiny details 1993’s 640 x 480 resolution just couldn’t convey. Like book titles that hint at Gabriel’s womanising ways without him having to say anything about it.
The old conversation view is back, except now each talking head is fully 3D and conveys emotion through facial expressions, something 1993’s game didn’t even try although this version falls down a bit with some poor lip-synching. Fortunately the voice-acting is spot-on, and listening to the long chats Gabriel tends to have with people is a real pleasure. Those worried the absence of the original actors would hurt the project don’t have anything to stress about.
A new context-sensitive interface has replaced the old icon-based pointing and clicking of the original, and while it’s fairly good for the most part, my memories of the original have it beat when it comes to using inventory items. Choosing what object you’d like to use involves ensuring it’s selected from Gabriel’s inventory, and then choosing it again when it comes up in the options that are presented when you click on things.
Other on-screen elements like Gabriel’s notebook, an icon that brings up a book with all kinds of “Making of” tidbits like what the current scene looked like in the original, the travel icon and the inventory are all really nice to look at. Better than that, these can be hidden away with the click of a button that occupies the middle of the lower edge of the screen to maximise your viewing area. Jensen has stated that the “Making of” book will be populated with more insider info than I got to see in the demo.
Brand-new to the game is a built-in, multi-level hint system that will ensure players never get stuck. It doesn’t just blurt out what you need to do, it starts with subtle hints that get you thinking, then after a few seconds another, more detailed hint becomes available, and so on until the actual solution is revealed.
I’m pleased to say the story and puzzles are largely the same as they were in the 1993 game. The graphics, sound and actors may have changed but the gripping plot, likeable yet complex characters and clever mind-benders are all still there, just tweaked in some cases (like some puzzles being available on different days than they were in the original).
Unfortunately some of the annoyances also make a return, with one in particular a little worse for the retouch. Doing what I needed to do with the mime in Jackson Square, for instance, is even more irritating now thanks to an added layer to the puzzle he forms part of. Thankfully I didn’t encounter anything else quite as annoying, but I was surprised that it had somehow been made worse, not better.
Some parts of the game aren’t very polished yet, presumably because this isn’t the final version of the game. Gabriel appears to walk through several environmental obstacles, for example – he walks through he left side of his bathroom door at St. George’s and straight through the cop’s motorbike in Jackson Square, and once I saw him put on his jacket before he left the shop only to see him looking like he only put on half a jacket. Character animations are also quite awkward, giving the impression they were hand-animated by enthusiastic amateurs rather than motion-captured by pros. Hopefully there’s enough time left before release to address these issues.
Lastly, Gabriel himself looks… how to put this delicately? Like an ageing
lesbian rock star. I honestly hate to say it as I really like the character, but that’s what I’m left thinking when I see him in the remake, having seen a Cracked article a few years back that said something similar about ageing celebrities. Sorry, Jane/art team.
That aside, I’m still looking forward to playing the remake in its entirety. What I’ve seen in the demo has given me confidence that the game will be a fitting tribute to the original, so long as the studio really polishes what it has to a greater extent before release.
The official release date is “mid-2014”, which is right about now, so expect to see the game crop up in all your favourite digital stores really soon.