Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers in Review: Rose Colored Glasses Might Be Required

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I feel a certain bit of irony as I write this piece.  Over the past 10 years, most any time I’ve written a review of a third person perspective adventure game I’ve made some sort of reference to the legendary Sierra On-line games catalog.  Now I’ve finally gotten the chance to play one of these legendary games on my iPad and I’m not sure what to make of it.  The game is Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition, and in my defense, I never actually played this particular game the first time around.  Still, I believe it’s regarded as one of the best non-Williams Sierra games from the “old days”, and yet I’ve really struggled to get into it.  As a result of that I didn’t get very far into the game before my time ran out with it, but I’ve decided to give you my impressions thus far, rather than an actual “review with a rating”.  It might feel like a review, but I’ll leave that distinction up to you.  (For those curious, I say my “time ran out” because I was playing the game through Testflight, a system which allows me to play the entire game without buying the IAP, and my Testflight build has expired).

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Sins of the Fathers is the story of a struggling writer with a failing bookstore that gets sucked into a murder mystery in the heart of New Orleans.  Sounds like a recipe for success to me, yet after roughly 2.5 to 3 hours of playing the game the most gripping part of the story for me has been the graphic novel prequel that came out before the game was even released.  Part of the problem I’m sure is the size and pacing of the game.  The overall happenings are broken down into ten days, and after a few hours of playing I’m still only on day two, which gives you the potential scope of the game assuming the rest of the days follow suit.  I guess you could compare it to the network version of The Shining versus the movie.  It’s basically the same story, but the movie has to get to the important points more quickly because it has a shorter run time.  Sins of the Fathers is the mini-series version of Gabriel Knight’s life story, and I need the blockbuster movie interpretation.

This tedious pace is actually exacerbated by the point system the game employs.  This was something a lot of the old Sierra games did, and in this case it basically requires you to examine every item and hold every possible conversation, because you never know what’s going to earn you a point.  The problem with examining every item is that sometimes when you walk into a room and hold the screen to reveal all the “topic” points there might be 20-30 items in the room that are potentially worth looking at.  Then if you leave the room before you’ve finished your exploration and come back later you have to remember on your own what you’ve looked at and what you haven’t.  At least with the conversations used up topics will be removed from the list, and already visited topics with additional details are a different color than fresh dialog paths.  The issue there is that often times the dialog just isn’t that interesting.

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The interface is actually pretty nice.  If you tap on a topic point on the screen you’ll get a list of options that will always include an eye (looking at an item), and could include a hand (taking an item), a speech bubble (talking to the recipient), gears (interacting with the item) and your currently active inventory item if the object has the ability to be used with an item.  Within your inventory you can get a general description of each item, and sometimes you can examine an item more closely.  You can also combine items, and ultimately select an item to be your active item.  The one enhancement I could see here would be the ability to switch active items while on a topic point instead of having to constantly go back to your inventory, but I can’t really picture how that would work effectively at this point.  You can tap to move around the screen, but the character will automatically move to an object depending on which action you select to use on it.

Where the game really shines is in the way it builds a thriving facsimile of New Orleans.  I don’t know much about the city or how accurate the portrayal is in Sins Of The Father, but even if it was way off base, the general feeling is something more adventure games should strive for.  This might be a bit spoiler-ish, but it’s all in the details like the fact that you get a fresh paper delivered to your door every day, and when you go to get your cup of coffee you actually watch Gabriel pour it and take a drink.  Head off to the park and there will be different inhabitants depending on when you go.  Walk to one side and hear the tap dancer clicking his shoes, or slide on over to the other and listen to the band play.  Rather than just standing around or being slightly animated, many of the characters are actually walking around just like you’d expect characters to do in a real city.  More than anything else, this was the highlight of the game for me.

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Of course the whole “living city” thing might not have been quite as engaging without the wonderful graphics that Gabriel Knight possesses.  I imagine this game looked pretty good back in the day, because Sierra was known for that, but it looks really sharp now.  All the locales are extremely well drawn and nicely detailed, and again using the park as a prime example, everything is quite animated when appropriate.  The only negative I had towards the visuals was that sometimes it was hard to tell what was in your inventory.  The sound effects were good and nothing seemed out of place, but I’m not sure I how I feel about the voiceovers.  They weren’t necessarily bad, but I didn’t feel like they were always the best choices given the looks of the various characters.  I was not a fan of the narrator’s accent at all.  On the other hand, the music was quite enjoyable, and for a third time I’ll point to the park as an example of the detail in this regards.  You might have two different people playing music at opposite ends of the park, which was noted as you moved from one side to the other.

The funny thing is that in the last few minutes I spent with the game I actually started to enjoy it.  I don’t know if that means I would have come around completely or if it was a false sense of upward trajectory in the contents of the game, but whatever the case I don’t feel like it should have taken an excess of two hours to get to that point.  In the end I’d say this is primarily geared towards two groups of players: those that had reveled in the original production so many years ago and folks that prefer exploration and dialog to quick results and lots of puzzle solving.  Unfortunately I don’t fall into either category, I’m glad I got the opportunity to try the game out, but I’m not sure at this point I’d feel comfortable recommending it.  The plus side is that you can get the first day to play for free, but the game weighs in at almost 2GB so keep that in mind before taking it for a spin.  Instead of a fully detailed rating and Pros / Cons list, I’ll just leave you with an App Store link to the game.

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition Phoenix Online Studios, Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition – Free

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