(This is part of my journey playing through Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lane page.)
It’s time for a new retro game series, and for this one I’m going back to the adventure genre and for the second part of a series I have yet to complete. A few years back I greatly enjoyed Sierra On-Line’s Gabriel Knight, the darker, more voodoo-obsessed cousin of Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Even with just pixel art/sprites, it was a disturbing (and gripping) tale that saw a private eye realize his potential as a solver of supernatural crimes.
Since my friend Hoppy has been bugging me just shy of forever to play Gabriel Knight 2, I thought I’d stop putting it off and just do it already. I know very little about GK2, other than it marked when the series switched to full-motion video (FMV), something that the 90s was captivated with for whatever reason (GK3 went to a 3D look, if I recall). Oh, and this has something to do with werewolves. The cover kind of alludes to that anyway. Let’s do it!
So the (non-interactive) prologue gives us our first taste of FMV with a couple of sequences intercut with loud (but good) music and credits. It starts in the 1750s with a guy who’s locking up a room. What’s in the room? Is there a beast within?
So I guess it’s as good of a time as any to comment on full-motion video. As I said, this was very much the product of the 90s. When storage space for games exploded with the advent of CD-ROMs, designers felt unshacked from the bounds of stingy memory storage and went nuts just cramming as much visual goodness as possible. This… wasn’t necessarily a good thing. It was like throwing an Amish kid into a rave; the sudden freedom usually meant disaster in the end.
Now, there were some great products that came out with FMV in them — Myst is probably the most notable example, and perhaps the latter Wing Commander installments — but there were also so many games that were instantly dated and sunk because of it. It was cool at the time to have actual video in video games, but it was hard to program interactivity with it, to make it look natural, and to have acting/directing that was up to at least TV standards. What you didn’t want was for the whole production to end up looking like some cheap, cheezy Saturday afternoon B-movie, which is what happened more often than not (see Night Trap). As with most technologies, the novelty of it wore off and what really mattered was what the team did with it, not that it had it. So will Gabriel Knight 2 sink or swim because of FMV? I’m very interested to find out.
So here’s a bit of that cheesiness that I’m talking about: Melodramatic soap opera music playing as a kid’s worried face is shoehorned into a shot with flames in both the foreground and background. Welcome to hell, I guess? That’s what you get when you wear ruffles, dude.