Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned
First posted on 21 November 1999. Last updated on 08 August 2009.
Fans have dubbed game designer Jane Jensen to be the last hope to save the troubled adventure genre. Her awarding-winning Gabriel Knight series has lured in numerous adventure fans, both new and old. Despite her infallible track record, many gamers feel unease when it is found that the next sequel in the series, Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned, has abandoned the traditional 2D interface in favor of a brand new 3D engine. As more information about the new game interface leaks to the press, a surge of renewed excitement is seen within the adventure game community. Indeed, I am most pleased to say that this excitement is well justified. Not only Jensen succeeds in topping her previous work in the series, Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned has set a new standard and direction in adventure gaming that may become the savior of an endangering genre.
Gabriel and Grace have been invited for a weekend in Paris at the home of Prince James and Princess Patricia Stewart of Albany. The Stewart heir is the dethroned Kings of Scotland who is now in exile in France. Little do Gabriel and Grace know, however, that the prince is less interested in socializing than in soliciting Gabriel's help to protect his newborn son. Apparently, the Stewart clan has been plagued for generations by the mysterious "night visitors", who are seemingly the causes of the unusual ailment of anemia suffered by the Stewart heirs. When bite marks are discovered at the infant's neck, it becomes apparent that a supernatural force is the cause. Trouble clearly lies ahead when the infant is kidnapped on the very first night Gabriel and Grace agree to stand guard over the newborn. When Gabriel attempts to pursue the kidnappers, he is knocked unconscious at a train station.
Awaken but bruised, Gabriel now finds himself in the real-life remote French village of Rennes-le-Château. Unexpectedly, he meets up with his old friend detective Mosely. Mosely claims that he is on vacation with a tour group of treasure hunters who are seeking, among other riches, the Holy Grail and the fabled treasure of the Knights Templar. The existence of such treasures appears to center around a parish priest and a set of parchments that dates back to 1891. Soon, Gabriel and Grace discover that this fable leads to an even greater secret that involves a divine bloodline of both supernatural (the sacred) and unnatural (the damned) descendents. Each member of the tour group also has a hidden agenda for staying in town, including Mosely. In the end, Gabriel must unlock the secret of the menacing bloodline cult and rid of the hidden evil that ties together all these legends and myths.
Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned marks the debut use of the G-Engine, a propriety 3D engine developed in house specifically for this game. This engine supports true 3D real-time rendering in 16-bit High Color SVGA, in addition to dynamic lighting, variable quality texture mapping (Low, Medium, High), Mip mapping, animation interpolation, and tri-linear filtering. The engine employs incremental rendering to speed up screen refresh by caching scene backgrounds when the camera is not moving and by only rendering what changes on screen. This system can also dynamically add or remove the number of polygons used in rendering objects and characters, depending on Gabriel's or Grace's proximity to them. It permits, for example, detailed rendering of facial expression during a dialog close-up by increasing the polygon count to over 500 for a single face. Both the level of detail and shadowing can be adjusted on the fly. A glide camera mode supports free movements within the modeled environment. The engine supports DirectX in 3 different resolutions—640x480, 800x600, and 1024x768. A software only driver mode is also supported for systems without video hardware acceleration. The game supports simultaneous sound effects, speech, and music. Captions or sub-titles can be turned on or off. The game offers 3 install sizes (small, typical, full) from 137MB to 403MB.
In so far that technology can make or break a game, the voice talents can give the game characters unparalleled authenticity. For this sequel, Tim Curry (Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Three Musketeers, The Shadow, Congo) has returned as the voice of Gabriel. Curry, with his deep tender voice, portrays Gabriel in his New Orleans accent with much flare. Other notable Hollywood talents joining the voice cast include Charity James (Anastasia, Space Jam) as Grace Nakamura, David Thomas (Spinal Tap, My Brother's Keeper) as Mosely, Richard Doyle (Air Force One, Coma), Oscar-nominated actress Samantha Eggar (Walk, Don't Run, The Collector, Hercules), René Auberjonois (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Benson), Billy West (Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd), Jennifer Hale (Sleeping Beauty), and David Warner (Titanic, Scream 2). More than 35 characters make up a formidable supporting cast.
The player moves through the game space utilizing an unique third-person view with first-person navigation. Movement during play consists of both camera movement and character movement. With camera movement, the camera is controlled using a mouse or keyboard. By dragging the mouse with or without the [SHIFT] or [CONTROL] key pressed, the player can maneuver in the game space with true 6 degrees of freedom. The main function of this movement mode is for inspecting and searching, since objects in the game space can be hidden from the player in the default view. A magnifying glass ("inspect" verb) can then be toggled for close-ups. A "Room cameras" button gives a "thumbnail" view of up to 6 preset cameras from which the player can choose. In contrast, with character movement, the player simply left clicks on the floor to where Gabriel or Grace needs to be moved.
Gameplay is split into "timeblocks" that span over 3 days. Each of the 17 timeblocks lasts for a few but variable number of hours. Completion of key activities is required in each timeblock before proceeding to the next. These activities may include interrogating a character, picking up an object, traveling to a designation, and solving a key puzzle. Fortunately, the game world time bears no relationship to real world time, so the players are usually not rushed to complete the required tasks. This does not, however, infer that the game is completely linear and flag intensive. There are instances where several events are happening simultaneously, in which characters can come and leave the scene on their own if not approached or spied on within a set timeframe. While the game is quite forgiving if these details are missed, such neglect may make it difficult to understand some of secondary storylines in the game. Fortunately, all the key plot events are conveyed by either in-game cut scenes or pre-rendered movies so that the player cannot miss these developments.
Interaction within the game is done using a "verb chooser" that appears as a list of context sensitive icons next to the object, person, or place in question. For example, items in the inventory can be inspected and selected for use in the game. Left-clicking an item brings up a verb-chooser that shows the available options. Items can be combined, manipulated, picked up, or dropped off. The player can initiate a conversation by clicking the talk icon on the targeted character. Topics of discussion are then displayed as a verb chooser bearing icons rather than lines of written words and a box explains what the icon means whenever the mouse is held over the icon.
Once Gabriel or Grace has access to a moped, a valley map is then given to you to use for traveling between different locations in the game. A green dot on the map signifies the current location of your character. If other vehicles are moving nearby, the map also shows them as dots in other colors. This map is crucial to keep track of locations visited when Gabriel decides to spy on his suspects by following their vehicles on his moped.
In this game, the key to solving some of the puzzles is SIDNEY (Schattenjäger Information Database) that is on Grace's laptop computer. A number of functions are available to the player in SIDNEY—Search, Email, Files, Analyze, Translate, Add Data, Make ID, and Suspects. Grace uses SIDNEY to meticulously track clues and information gathered during the game. To succeed, you must periodically access SIDNEY and scan in all the new items from Gabriel or Grace's inventory. Without SIDNEY, certain puzzles (Anagram Parser) involving language translation and map analysis cannot be completed. Notwithstanding with few action sequences, there is a fair dose of classic adventure type puzzles that provide over 40 hours of intense gameplay. Hints are available for all of Grace's SIDNEY puzzle sequence (starting day 2, 5pm) and most of the other puzzles. The SIDNEY map puzzle, the key puzzle in this game, binds nicely the otherwise fragmented storylines of various legends of the sacred orders depicted in the game.
The game includes a well illustrated prologue written by Jensen herself, reminiscent to the comic that accompanies the first game of this series. It explains much of the background story of the Stewarts and the cursed cult. To the credit of Jensen, the story is well written, intriguing, and complex. Clearly, she is a master of mixing history with fantasy. In fact, the line is often so blurred that it is difficult for the players to tell them apart. This gives the story an unparalleled authenticity that immediately draws in the players, especially those who are familiar with the legends surrounding Rennes-le-Château. Jensen is no stranger to choosing controversial subjects in her writing. Her interpretations of the Knights Templar, the Magdalen cult, Wandering Jew, and the Black Madonna in this game are definite elements that set the story in this game apart from other mediocre titles.
Despite the skepticism, the production team must be congratulated for its abandonment of FMV (Full Motion Video) technology in favor of a 3D engine. The 3D engine in this game allows for unscripted movements with the game space by the player. It also makes possible the creation of physical puzzles, such as the puzzles at the Templar temple in the finale. The engine provides incredibly detailed modeling of both indoor and outdoor environments within the game. For example, during her research trip in France, Jensen has extensively photographed the village of Rennes-le-Château as well as Saunière's chapel. The team, lead by Scott Honn, Peter Freese, Rob Kenny, and Jim Napier, are then able to meticulously modeled the village and church using these photos, duplicating their likenesses to an incredible level. The dynamic lighting of the G-Engine really shines when you wander through the streets of the Rennes-le-Château at dusk.
This game is not without its faults. Minor teething problems are seen with the G-Engine. Clipping remains a major issue, even with the installation of DirectX 7.0 (DirectX 6.1 is included in the distribution disc) and the use of a second generation 3D accelerator graphic card. At times, when navigating in the first-person view, you seem to be walking in the air, rising higher and higher off the ground. Not surprisingly, the engine is extremely hardware intensive and can be very taxing when all the graphic options are set to the highest level. Long load times are frequent and can be annoying. Random lockups have also been reported with no clear solution. The final temple sequence is too action oriented. Some of the language contents are adult oriented and the use of the "shit" word in the dialogs is not uncommon. At the conclusion of the game, the use of still art to detail much of the end story is somewhat a letdown, though one can argue that this is simply a stylistic choice made by Jensen.
It is of interest to note that the story of this game, according to Jensen, is partly inspired by the controversial bestselling book "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" written by authors Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln which she has read prior to writing the story script. With Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned, Jensen has again succeeded in enlightening adventure fans with her blend of history and fantasy that spans the supernatural, theological, spiritual, and philosophical realms. An intriguing storyline, combined with top notched gameplay and a revolutionary 3D engine, makes this sequel a worthy successor in the Gabriel Knight series and a classic in the making.