2013’s been a really, really inactive year for me.
I told myself I was going to finish Betrayal at Krondor, so much that I even wrote a blog about my journey through the early portions, and then successfully stopped playing after five or six chapters of the game. At some point in time I do want to get around to finishing it, but that’s a separate topic by itself. I’ve played, at most, three or four games from 2013 that aren’t in Early Access or have been Greenlit.
The reason I haven’t, and I don’t know if I’m proud to say it, is because I spent an inordinate amount of money and time on adventure games. I have some blindspots in my gaming history, almost everyone has something they just don’t have the time for. These games, however, are my primary blindspot. I know next to nothing about the genre conventions, the big players let alone the indies, and I’ve never finished a point-and-click adventure that I can recall.
I want to change that, so here I am playing point-and-click adventure games. Not modern ones, if this blog is any indication. No, I decided to say:
“Hey, you know what’s smart? Playing Sierra adventure games from the early 90’s, and without walkthroughs. Yeah!”
Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers – Doing it Right, Accents and All
If there was anything I can say I made a good decision about this year, it was picking this game to start my adventure game foray. Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers rides the horizon-wide line of old school adventure games, using a relatively well-defined verb system and asking the player to differentiate the teal pixel from the aqua pixel in order to get the item that will prevent the hero from dying in chapter 9. That was one of my first pitfalls in the game – getting used to each of the actions.
Now, I’m not a total goofball but it was definitely something different for me to have to understand the ins-and-outs of each verb very precisely, and understand the definition the developers were using, in order to finish the game. That usually wasn’t a prickly issue, but occasionally the game had some fun haranguing me for ‘opening’ something when I really should have been ‘operating’ it. I don’t know if this is a genre trope yet or not, but is having an action used for one specific puzzle and literally nothing else common? Because I feel like the ‘push’ command was used twice, maybe.
Then again, my memory is terrible so let’s continue with what I do know. And that’s that Sins of the Fathers is an incredible game.
I have almost nothing but praise for this game. What I do know about adventure games is that the primary focus of any adventure game has to be story, or at least some kind of atmospheric setting. Without that there’s generally nothing for me to do other than sit around doing crappy puzzles. Sins of the Fathers takes that principle to the nth by generating a rich, lifelike emulation of 90’s New Orleans and filling it with a cast of characters who are equal parts trope-y and totally lovable. From the desk sergeant Frick, to the imposing Dr. John, back to the enigmatic Wolfgang Ritter the characters in this game are top notch. Each of them has a unique, interesting story or personality that really livens up a game made twenty years ago.
To compound the well written atmosphere and personality the game has, Robert Holmes delivers a top-notch soundtrack. The main theme is stuck in my head even now, especially as I write this while listening to the whole thing. Unfortunately, because of the era, there are some times that the audio has a low-rumbling hiss. Sampling rates just weren’t that great around that time, but it was unfortunate to have that hiss under dialog especially. Even so, the overall effect was still there.
The plot itself focuses on our titular character, who is currently researching for a new book that he hopes will help his failing career as a horror novelist and rare book store owner. From that we learn more and more about the culture of Voodoo, the religious aspects of it, and even that the local highfalutin types are woven into the game’s so-called “Voodoo Murders.” As each day, or chapter, progresses Gabriel Knight becomes further embroiled in the mystery as he turns research into first-hand account. Through his journey, Gabriel learns about his own family history and takes up the mantle of Schattenjäger, or shadowhunter. The family trade of monster-hunters, because why wouldn’t it be?
To finish each day, Gabriel has to solve the requisite inane adventure game puzzles. However, and what’s left me ready to continue this strange journey, the puzzles here aren’t insane logical leaps for the most part. Yes, the Cazaunoux puzzle was a little obscure and bizarre, but the rest of the game manages to create a strong backbone of a game with a very nice hint system in the way of the daily newspaper and your secretary, Grace. I rarely felt befuddled by the game’s puzzles, counter to my six pages of writing in a notebook ranging from scribbles and doodles to confused phrases asking why this game is such a piece of shit. The aforementioned Cazaunoux puzzle was totally baffling to me, though. That was the one time I broke my oath and looked a walkthrough, because no thank you video games.
The game reaches fever pitch around day six or seven, and at that point the game takes a strange pacing twist. Up until that point, the game’s primary structure of investigation and research turns into a very brief play on the traditional hero’s tale. If the game could have included an extra day of Gabriel’s transition to the new Schattenjäger, of which there can be only one, instead of this hyperspeed rendition it would have taken some of the scuff from the otherwise polished story arc. Speaking of the fact there's only one Schattenjäger, the scene in the first Wheel-Within-a-Wheel is one of the most brutal things I've ever seen in a video game and just after we get introduced to the mysterious Uncle Wolfgang.
On the unfortunate note of negatives, there’s only one that I really have to comment on: Tim Curry. His accent, throughout this game, is fucking incredulous and usually unintelligible. It’s amazing, just watch this. I apologize for the nightmares in advance.
Even so, Sins of the Fathers is a must-play and even made its way onto my GOTY list.
Gabriel Knight’s journey doesn’t end here, however. He has to write that novel he was so busy working on at the start of the game! Oh, and there's that whole Ritter estate and Schattenjäger thing he should probably be looking into. I'll join Gabriel, in all his not-Tim Curry voiced and acted goodness in FMV hell with...