The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery

a review of The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery
a videogame developed by sierra on-line
and published by sierra on-line
for dos, macintosh and Microsoft Windows
text by Brandon Parker

3 stars

Bottom line: The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery is “the best movie I ever played.”

Once, in a junior high science class, the teacher asked the class what the scientific name for a wolf was. A girl next to me raised her hand. “Cannabis?” she asked. No, that wasn’t quite it. It was canis lupis of course. I knew because I played The Beast Within. You can learn things playing these games.

 

With each of the Gabriel Knight games you get practically a whole god damned tour and history lesson. The first game took place in New Orleans and involved voodoo. The third one is in a small French village and is about Da Vinci Code type shit. The Beast Within is the second game in the series, it takes place in Germany. The first time I played it, I remember I didn’t care too much for the Bavarian history lesson on Mad King Ludwig II; I wanted to get back to hunting werewolves. Now, as a more mature and less bloodthirsty individual, I’ve come to appreciate it more. I even bought a biography on Ludwig so I could separate fact from the game’s fiction and educate myself further on the matter. Sure enough, I didn’t see anything in there that said he wasn’t a werewolf.

The Beast Within was the part of the series that was unable to get out in time before the big Full-Motion-Video Plague of the mid-nineties hit. I’m sure you remember it. That was where they filmed real people dressed up for the game, the idea being that it would be like controlling a movie. Of course, like anything in life, they always took the cheapest, most uncreative and shittiest route available. The Best Within is the sole survivor of this pandemic that swept the nineties. To this day it still sits upon its lonely throne, formed from the bones of Sewer Shark, Night Trap and many other Sega-CD titles. Shining like a beacon of hope in the darkness, Gabriel Knight 2 is a symbol to inspire others to put the effort and thought towards a quality experience, rather than the dark and lazy path of cheapness and poor production values.

I still prefer the pixelated painting look of the older Sierra games though. In this one you’re walking around on top of postcards. It’s still better than those generic and lifeless pre-rendered and 3d backgrounds in modern adventure games. And since it’s an FMV game, with real people, I think it’s better at pulling off the horror atmosphere of the series than the cartoons in the other games. It’s never really scary, but I don’t find hardly any horror movies scary or very interesting though so what do I know. This one is interesting though, and while not scary it can be somewhat nerve-wracking at a few points. The story is more the focus here anyway.

 


Gabriel wanders around Munich looking for a lead in the mutilation killings, while his research assistant Grace reads books on Ludwig in libraries and goes to museums. Good idea, leaving the street work to the men. Though by the end, all the Ludwig and Richard Wagner shit ends up tying into the modern day case. Jane Jensen, the writer of the Gabriel Knight games, also worked on King’s Quest 6 which happened to have the best writing out of all of them. So it seems she’s a good writer. She’s like Grace, researching the important shit, trying to educate us, while we’re wandering around like a jackass looking for some hotspot to click on.

 

Let me tell you my favorite part of the game, since you aren’t going to play it anyway. Gabriel infiltrates a hunting club that he’s pretty sure has the murderer among its members. You go off with the club on a hunting trip at one of their lodges out in the middle of some Bavarian forest. So you’re isolated out there with a bunch of suspects. It’s then that you finally realize, “Oh shit. One of these guys is a child eating wolf, better do something about that.” Because you’re pretty sure at that point the suspect knows you’re on to him and is going to use this opportunity to probably kill you, or something. I mean who knows what happens; you’ll have to play the game to see.

There’s also a part where you have to pray to a spirit for help to advance in the game so if you like Earthbound you might want to check this one out.

The acting in this game is pretty good. The only real bad acting is at the beginning when the villagers come to talk you into taking the case. I can’t tell if the guy who lost his daughter is so broken up he’s turned into some sort of vegetable man, like that guy in A Better Tomorrow 2, of if he’s just a terrible fucking actor, like that guy in A Better Tomorrow 2.

Dean Erickson, who plays Gabriel Knight here, is good, a real classy bastard. Especially since his only previous acting job was in a couple episodes of Frasier as a waiter. So it’s sort of depressing to find out he hasn’t acted since The Beast Within and went back to his original career as a real estate agent. Jane Jensen once said she’d want him back for Gabriel if it were a game that used “real people” again. Well now that we’re in some fancy HD-ADD era with photo-realistic textures and advanced motion capturing and whatnot I think it’s time to bring Dean back. If you’re ever given the chance to do another Gabriel Knight game, do this one thing for me Jane. I’m sure he’d be up for it.

Tim Curry is the guy who voices Gabriel in the other games, I’m not sure why but he’s usually the fan favorite. To me he just sounds less like a southern jackass struggling to adapt to his new role of modern day inquisitor, and more like convicted sex offender recently paroled and on the hunt for fresh victims. The two roles may sound similar Tim, but they aren’t, there’s subtle differences that I don’t think you have the range for. We need Dean for the job.

Dean Erickson for GK4.

–Brandon Parker

Comments

7 Responses to The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery

  1. Whoo! “She’s like Grace, researching the important shit, trying to educate us, while we’re wandering around like a jackass looking for some hotspot to click on.” You da man! Insight of the day.
    So, I’ve read this far and am kind of giggling and then my eyes catch the words “Earthbound” and also “A Better Tomorrow 2″. Fun read! And we could be soul mates.
    That vegetable scene was funny, wasn’t it? I sure laughed! In awe… kind of.

    [i]Back in the days[/i] when I played The Beast Within I couldn’t understand why “Full Motion Video” games were deemed as such terrible things. I only knew Wing Commander III and The Beast Within… (oh, and Toonstruck!)
    Sometimes, when I day-dream of making a videogame myself, I imagine it as something that is made of film footage, somehow. I think that’s because of my good memories of The Beast Within.
    I have absolutely no experience, or much interest, in animation, sprite creation, 3D modelling or programming super special special effects. A camera I can handle! I can also build things with real materials! Like, a model Spitfire plane. Just, how to digitalize it? Imagine if you could make three-dimensional digital models by just filming things! It’s an exciting thought.

    Also: Clay models + Camera + Videogame = The Neverhood + Skullmonkeys

  2. Yeah, that was about a different Gabriel Knight game. You see, in The Beast Within the puzzles can not be THAT ridiculous because everything (read: most things) are actuallly filmed. Go on, try and make Dean Erickson put maple syrup on his face and stick a handfull of cat’s hair to it to make a “moustache”.
    Do you see the draw of an “interactive movie” adventure game now? There’s stuff you just can’t get away with while there is still enough room for the extraordinary. (Well, okay, Phantasmagoria 2 had some inane shit I hear.)

    Personally, I remember the tape recoder trickery as my favorite part of the game. How did you like that, Mr. Parker? (Last time I played this game was probably 2 years after it came out, so… long time ago.)

    Hope this comment get’s posted! First one got eaten.

  3. Yeah, Gabriel Knight 2 is a bit more grounded in reality than 3. The puzzles are all pretty logical. The tape recorder puzzle is probably the best example. Gabriel has a tape recorder that he records all his conversations, being that he’s a writer and all, and so the player can review them. In the second game there’s a part where you have to splice a recording, and make a fake conversation out of one of them. It’s pretty clever.

    The only puzzle I can think of that was somewhat out of place was the cuckoo clock puzzle. That’s the only part of the game that really seemed like a filmed adventure video game than a filmed movie.

  4. “The Best Within is the sole survivor of this pandemic that swept the nineties.”

    Sorry, that’s crap. There was ONE other FMV-adopting series that was quality, and was equally or perhaps more fun than GKII, and that man’s name is Tex Murphy. The Pandora Directive perfected what was already an enjoyable, humorous romp in Under A Killing Moon. Hell, the FMV in Wing Commander III and IV wasn’t _hideous_, either. But Tex is still the man, and also in as desperate a need of a sequel as Mr. Knight.

  5. Thanks for the recommendation. I started to try out the first Tex Murphy game awhile back, when it didn’t work right away in DOSBox I sort of gave up on it. I’ll give it another shot. I have to say though, I don’t think the FMV sequences in Wing Commander hold up quite as well as The Beast Within. They remind me of the tv show Babylon 5, an interesting sci-fi story with impressive space battles told through cheap sets and sometimes spanish soap opera level acting. Still good games though.

  6. Well, let me thank you for giving UAKM or Pandora another shot. Tex doesn’t seem to get much love these days simply because too much time has passed since he’s poked his head in, but, hey, when you’ve a six game lineage, you’ve got to be a worthwhile, memorable character. And Murphy has character out the ass.

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