metzomagic.com Review

Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned

Developer/Publisher:  Sierra Studios
Year Released:  1999

Review by Gordon Aplin (December, 1999)

gk3b.jpgThe past few weeks since Rosemary and I rushed out and bought our copy of Gabriel Knight 3 have been extremely frustrating in more ways than one. We bought a new computer with a 3D card just for this game then found that it wouldn't install due to a faulty disk. Took the game back and exchanged it and it played fine until we got to disk 3. I won't bore you with the whole sorry saga which is deserving of an entire article in its own right. Suffice it to say it took us two weeks of solid tinkering and trying everything before we were finally able to get the third disk to run. These problems were obviously not enjoyed by all as many people have completed the game without a hitch, but they can certainly colour one's perception.

Fortunately there are many positive aspects to Gabriel Knight 3 which, coupled with the overwhelming sense of relief at being able to complete it, mean that I am able to spare you the impassioned, but largely irrational diatribe that I contemplated writing during those darkest days.

Thoroughly good mystery
I suspect that there are many adventure game players who, like me, enjoy a good mystery whether it be an Agatha Christie 'whodunnit' or the more serious investigation of an ancient conundrum. In this third Gabriel Knight instalment Jane Jensen has managed to combine the two, more or less successfully, into an intriguing story with the 'Schattenjäger' (Shadow Hunter) link we have come to expect. Though it's fair to say that some of the revelations will come as no surprise to those of you who are already familiar with the books on which part of this game is based.

The background to Gabriel and Grace's involvement is contained, rather surprisingly, in the small comic book that is included with the game. I would have thought this background merited being included in the introduction. It transpires that Prince James Stewart of Albany, exiled heir to the Scottish throne, is plagued by 'Night Visitors' who dine out on royal blood. Prince James is concerned to protect his new born son so Gabe and Grace are engaged on the case. The child is kidnapped and Gabe pursues the perpetrators to the small French town of Rennes-le-Château famed for its link with the fabled treasure of the Knights Templar. And that's as much of the plot as I am prepared to divulge.

Time blocks
The game takes place over three days and is divided into time blocks where you will control either Gabriel or Grace's investigations. Gabriel is ostensibly trying to find the child though this thread seems to lose its way until close to the end of the game. In the meantime Grace investigates the much more interesting mystery surrounding the nature and whereabouts of the lost treasure.

In each time block there are certain things that must be done to move time along, but if you just do the obvious things then you will miss so much. During a time block you may hear a clock ticking, this alerts you that a character (or characters) has moved and it might be interesting to see what is happening. This means you must spend a lot of time checking up on where everybody is and even then you can't be sure you haven't missed something. Although I know this will please some players, personally, I still prefer not being allowed to move on until I have done or seen everything as it makes the story more coherent.

The conversation trail
Conversation is a major element of this game and in true Agatha Christie style there is a small group of suspicious characters in and around Rennes-le-Château whom you can question and follow as you try to work out their involvement, if any, in the mystery. As an aid to your investigation Grace has brought along SIDNEY (Schattenjäger Information Database) on her laptop computer where you can scan in important data such as fingerprints and documents, search for relevant information, translate text and analyse maps and photographs. Grace's use of SIDNEY to unravel a complex archaic riddle over several time blocks was an intriguing and, for me, extremely satisfying extended puzzle. In contrast, Gabe's more action/arcade antics at the end of the game, whilst no doubt intended to heighten the tension, were something of an anticlimax.

Gabriel Knight 3 is a third-person perspective adventure in that both Gabriel and Grace appear as characters in the game. It also has a very strong first-person perspective in that you can look around and 'zoom' in for a close up of people or objects without the need to move your character around. This 'camera' view certainly helps with the exploration and speeds up gameplay. Of course, if you want your character to walk to a specific location you can still do that and pressing the Esc key as they are walking will 'jump' them to your selected spot. You can look around by using the mouse or keyboard and navigation is fairly easy once you get used it.

A simple verb-chooser interface allows you to interact with the game world whenever a hotspot is highlighted. A click of the left mouse button displays a small icon menu from where you can choose, 'inspect', 'look' or 'talk' as appropriate and will also display the last item you picked up. Both Gabriel and Grace have their own inventory where you can examine items you have collected and 'look' at them, 'think' about them and sometimes 'use' them with another item. Right clicking brings up the game controls where you can save, restore and quit as well as tweak your graphics and sound options. The game also keeps track of your progress by providing a points score which appears at the top of the screen. For the record, I finished with 946 out of 965 so there are some things I missed. It may have been more useful to list the points for each time block so that you could replay it if you saw that you had missed too many points.

3D or not 3D?
The 3D graphics are a double-edged sword. In high resolution the interior scenes are excellent and quite detailed yet outdoor things like trees and grass and mounds of earth are quite 'iffy' if I may use such technical jargon. The cut sequences seem to play in a low resolution by default which make them appear dark, blocky and quite ugly. The characters, too, look a little strange though the facial features are quite well done. Frankly, I can't see any reason except 'marketing' why the game could not have been made in 2D with pre-rendered backgrounds. Oh sure, I know the argument that 3D is more immersive as it enables you to look/move behind and under things and this is all well and good except that I looked everywhere and didn't find anything deviously hidden. I searched under beds and on top of wardrobes, but the rooms in the hotel, with the exception of Mosely's, were immaculate. If this feature is to become a reason why we should buy 3D adventure games then the developers had better start using it in an adventuring sense. By this I mean that it should be used for exploration as well as for movement. A single scrap of paper containing a clue found under a bed might have made all the difference.

I loved the music, particularly the return of the theme from the first game and the voice acting was also reasonable. I didn't even mind Tim Curry's Southern drawl, but then I'm not American. Quite clearly the really dodgy accent was that of the Australian, Wilkes. Roit?:). The good news is that you can enable subtitles so that you don't miss a thing. Of more concern is the dialogue. At times Gabriel stoops to some rather childish innuendo and comes across almost as boorish and ignorant as Wilkes. If there is to be another game in the series I hope he grows up a bit.

Gabriel Knight 3 is a fascinating and enjoyable mystery with a style of play that is reminiscent of much older games such as The Colonel's Bequest or Cruise for a Corpse. It is also a good long game with a plot and puzzles that, for the most part, are quite absorbing, but be warned, this is also a dark tale containing ritual sacrifices of the throat-slashing variety. Despite my criticisms and my earlier technical problems I really had a lot of fun playing it and, as with the second game, I thought Grace's tasks were by far the most interesting. Now, if only Jane Jensen would consider making a series based around Grace ....

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Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1999. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
WITH 3D ACCELERATOR (with 4MB+ of video RAM) Windows 95, Windows 98, Pentium 166+, 32 MB RAM, SVGA, high color (16-bit) 4x CD-ROM drive, Windows-compatible sound card, Mouse, keyboard.
WITHOUT 3D ACCLERATOR Windows 95, Windows 98, Pentium 233+, 32 MB RAM, SVGA, high color (16-bit) 4x CD-ROM drive, Windows-compatible sound card, Mouse, keyboard.