The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery

Posted by Philip Jong.
First posted on 26 May 1996. Last updated on 13 August 2009.
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The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery
The mystery of The Beast Within begins!
The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery
Strong acting brings realism to this classic.
The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery
Grace helps Gabriel to solve the mystery of the werewolf.

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers is considered by many to be among the best animated graphic adventure games of all times. It is only natural for Sierra On-Line to capitalize on its success by making a sequel. With the advent of Full Motion Video in game design, many critics are complacent when it is learned that its sequel, The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery, has incorporated this technology in place of animations to achieve the so-called interactive movie experience. This worry is well founded considering that many games incorporating this multimedia technology have failed so miserably. Fortunately, the strong direction by Jane Jensen has ensured that, once again, the story and gameplay are not overshadowed by technology. The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery is therefore a rare example of success in the use of this interactive medium.

After Gabriel's discovery of his ancestral line of the Schattenjaegers or shadow hunters in Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers, he returns to the Ritter castle in Germany to reflect on his root. This tranquility is soon disrupted when a mysterious murder by what the locals have called a werewolf occurs. As the schattenjaeger, Gabriel's investigation takes him to a secretive hunting club with a hidden agenda that is headed by the equally secretive but charming Von Glower. Meanwhile, Gabriel's assistance, Grace Nakimura, finds a link to this case that dates back to the days of the mad King Ludwig II of Bavaria and the opera composer Richard Wagner. While working with Gabriel at a distance, Grace has to struggle with her feeling for him and her misdirected jealousy against Gerde, the mistress of the castle. Gabriel and Grace finally cross path when they set up a trap to catch the werewolf. In the final confrontation, Gabriel must battle against, not only the evil without, but the beast within.

Jenson, who is the creator of the original Gabriel Knight mystery, has proved that the use of these multimedia extensions can indeed successfully augment rather than hamper gameplay. The adventure extravaganza uses live action sequences with real backgrounds shot in Germany to convey its story. The action is filmed against blue screen and then combined seamlessly with photographed backdrops. Apparently, over 1,300 photographs are taken in Germany to be used in creating the scenes. This is in contrast to other games which use backdrops that are entirely computer generated. Professional actors are hired to play various lead roles. The climactic opera sequence at the end of the game is actually written by and Jensen and her husband Robert Holmes.

The proprietary graphic engine used in The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery is one based on that first developed in Phantasmagoria. The use of this engine has significantly shortened the development cycle, as compared to that of Phantasmagoria which has been over 2 years. The engine is written in SCI, a proprietary language developed by Sierra On-Line. Flags are set within the engine to denote the state of various objects in the game, such as whether a door is closed or not.

Gameplay is controlled through an intuitive point-and-click interface. An inventory is available to carry multiple objects to be used throughout the game. The player alternates in controlling Gabriel and Grace. Hotspots help the players to identify clearly places of significance. Event triggers preserve the linearity of the game. The game plays over 6 chapters, with a short movie snippet being played both before and after each chapter for narrative purpose.

The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery is simply flawless in both design and production. The story is compelling with many twists and subplots. It is also unique in that it combines fantasy writing with a touch of real life history. Although the main story is fictional, some characters such as Ludwig II and Wagner as well as geographic landmarks such as the castle museums of Bavria are all real in life. It is fascinating to see how the two major branches of the plot—Gabriel's investigation on the werewolves and Grace's research on Ludwig—come together at the end with an even more astounding climactic ending. The blend is so seamless that at times one wonders whether an historical event depicted in the story is really true or not. The authenticity is simply unparalleled! Credits must be given to Jensen on her superb writing.

Credits must also be given to the professional acting by various casts, especially to Joanne Takahashi for her portrayal of the strong-minded and complex character Grace as well as to Peter Lucas for his portrayal of Von Glower. Likewise, Holmes' rendition of the lost opera by Wagner can easily be mistaken for the real thing. Background music beautifully amplifies the ever darkening crescendo of mood. Subsequently, a separate soundtrack CD for both Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers and The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery is bundled with the re-released Gabriel Knight Mysteries: Limited Edition.

All the puzzles in The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery are well integrated into the game. Most of them are inventory based. All of them are quite logical within the context of the game. None of them are not too difficult to frustrate even novice players. The use of hotspots minimizes the agony of pixel hunting. A few puzzles, such as the spliced tape message puzzle, are quite clever. As for its educational value, I actually learned some Germans and German history playing this game!

The hardware requirements for this game are quite steep for its time. Running this game with hardware at minimal requirement simply brings it to a crawl. There is too much emphasis on the use of event triggers to maintain the linearity of the story. This restriction in freedom of movement may unnecessarily frustrate a player who is struck at one point and finds that there is no other way to advance through the story. Needed items are often not available unless a preceding action, which can bear no relationship to the appearance of the item, is completed. Such restriction makes little logical sense at times. A few puzzles are also a bit too farfetched, such as with the one with the cuckoo clock and the plant. For players who have played Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers and are familiar with Tim Curry as the voice of Gabriel, they may not identify the boyish looking layback attitude portrayed by Dean Erickson in contrast to the wisecracking smartass attitude portrayed by Curry.

The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery is an epic interactive adventure that triumphs in both gameplay and storytelling. It masterfully blends fantasy and a touch of real life history to add an unparalleled degree of realism to an adventure game. With this title, Sierra On-Line sets the standards for developing strong female leading roles; Jensen should be praised for her development of an intelligent female role model. Have I mentioned that Grace is so sexy?

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