When I was a kid, my first foray into gaming, like most others my age, was the Nintendo Entertainment System. But while most were addicted to games like Metroid and Zelda, the game that caught my eye was much different. The game that I found myself rushing home from school to play was Maniac Mansion. It didn’t have the prettiest graphics, and it certainly wasn’t the easiest game in the Nintendo library, but what it had was much more powerful to me. It was an adventure game that immersed me like nothing else before. The primary reason? It was the first game I experienced that used a point-and-click interface. This is important because it started me down the path which led me to my favorite adventure game of all time, Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers.
First thing’s first, though. I want to give a little background on what makes this genre so unique. For those who don’t know what point-and-click means in the gaming world, allow me to give a quick crash course. At the most basic level, it means exactly what it sounds like – you point at some object on the screen with your cursor, and then you click on it in order to interact with it. On the surface, this might not seem like much to get excited over. In fact, many gamers I have spoken with over the years think that this mechanic is boring and uneventful. What those gamers fail to see, is that this gameplay style lends itself perfectly to the adventure genre. Thus, the point-and-click adventure was born.
Think of it like this. Playing a game in the more traditional style, most actions are relegated to a single button press. You see a door, you press a button, the door opens. That’s fine and dandy, but you aren’t really all that involved in the process. In the point-and-click style, you have a list of actions you can choose from. Maybe you want to just look at the door, in which case, you click the look button, and then on the door. Do you want to kick the door? Maybe use the key in your inventory? Maybe you want to talk to the door (silly, I know, but doing something like this always produced a funny quip from the narrator, so I awlays tried it at least once. “Hey! Don’t put your mouth on that!”)
OK, this example is admittedly pretty simplistic, but I think the point is fairly clear. The interface puts you more “in the driver seat”, if you will. You’re not only choosing what to do, but how to do it. That appealed to me from the very beginning. I liked feeling like I was actually shaping my own experience rather than just watching it unfold in front of me. All that being said, it’s time to talk about the game that took this idea and perfected it. I want to talk about Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers.
Let’s rewind back to 1993. It was a year that saw games slowly transitioning into 3d. Games like Ridge Racer, Star Fox and Virtua Fighter all had dazzling visuals (for the time, anyway) and were what the industry considered the wave of the future. High-powered consoles were becoming increasingly popular and were trying to cash in on the trend. While this new frontier of 3d models and polygons was an exciting one, one thing was being forgotten. A game still should be fun. It should still be an escape that you genuinely enjoy. Say what you like about the games I mentioned above, but now, nearly 20 years later, I would never go back and play any of them today. Luckily for me, there was another game that was released in 1993. This game, I DO go back and play to this day. That game was, as you may have guessed, Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers.
The very first thing I want to mention about Gabriel Knight is that the graphics were awesome. The reason I want to bring this up is because of the aforementioned 3d craze of the early/mid 90′s. If it didn’t have polygons, it wasn’t a beautiful game to look at. That’s non-sense. The thing that immediately drew me in when playing Gabriel Knight was the overall visual look of the game. I had played lots of adventure games by that point, but they all took place in fantasy worlds. Gabriel Knight was set primarily in New Orleans, and it was dripping with details. To this day, I can still close my eyes and visualize exactly what Gabriel’s bedroom looks like (I hope that sentence doesn’t pop up in any web searches. It looks terrible out-of-context). What was cool was that the game was not only beautiful, but it was also gritty and realistic. This was a place that could have existed, and that really excited me.
I have to also talk about the sound design of the game. First and foremost, the ambient sound and music in this game was so well done. The score was very subtle, but effective. It wasn’t there just to be there. Everything had a purpose. It was eerie, it was atmospheric, and it perfectly captured the mood of the game.
Just the fact that Gabriel Knight sported such awesome bells and whistles would be enough to make it a gaming classic, but these weren’t even the game’s strongest feature. That honor is held by the incredibly written story. It is an adventure game, after all. What sort of adventure would it be if it wasn’t a story you actually want to get lost in? Again, Gabriel Knight delivers in spades. I wouldn’t dare spoil anything for those who haven’t yet played it, but let’s just say that it’s a crime thriller. An expertly crafted and brilliantly paced crime thriller. The story itself is written with a deft hand, and tightly crafted in a way that drives the narrative without ever becoming convoluted. Highlighting the exceptional writing is an abolutely amazing cast of voice actors. Gabriel Knight is voiced by none other than Tim Curry, and he did anything but phone-in his performance. He nails the nuances of this character so well that I think it ranks up there with one of his best performances, regardless of the medium (and he played Pennywise in IT. That’s hard to top). Also, Mark Hamill lends his voice to the game. Yes…that Mark Hamill. Awesome.
I am certainly a bit biased here, what with my love of adventure games, but in light of every thing I have mention in this article, it’s hard not to hold Gabriel Knight in the highest of regard. The best thing I can compare it to is a really good book. In a great book, the story is the same every single time you read it, but each time you page through, new details unfold and your appreciation for the writing broadens. I feel the same exact way about Gabriel Knight. Knowing as many gamers as I do, I also know that many people my age missed out on this gem. I beg you to find it and give it a try. I think that you’ll find that it’s an experience you won’t soon forget. Oh yeah, and long-live point-and-click adventure games!
*In my research for this article, I discovered that Jane Jensen, the creative mind behind Gabriel Knight, is currently at work trying to bring out new adventure gaming projects. Jensen has started a kickstarter project to help get the ball rolling. I urge anyone with a love of gaming and a few spare dollars to check out the project at her Kickstarter project by clicking this link -> Pinkerton Road Kickstarter