Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition
Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition is, as its name implies, a remake of the original Gabriel Knight adventure, which was released by Sierra On-Line in 1993. The remake improves the game’s graphics engine and interface, but it leaves most of the puzzles and story elements intact, which isn’t too surprising considering that the remake wasn’t developed by a company completely unrelated to the original (who might feel a need to leave their mark on the project). It was developed by Pinkerton Road Studio, which was founded by Jane Jensen and Robert Holmes, two of the driving forces behind the Gabriel Knight franchise.
In case you didn’t play Sins of the Fathers twenty years ago, it’s about a series of “Voodoo Murders” in New Orleans in 1993. You control a character named Gabriel Knight, an author and a rare books dealer (although we never see him writing or selling anything), who is following the murders in anticipation of writing a book about them. Only Gabriel starts having strange nightmares, and soon enough he realizes that he’s somehow involved in what’s going on. You then help Gabriel to investigate the murders and put a stop to them.
The interface for the 20th Anniversary Edition is a vast improvement over the interface of the original. It has all of the things that you’d expect from a game now that weren’t always available twenty years ago, like context-sensitive cursors, tooltips, and hotkeys. Most everything can be accomplished with the mouse. You left click where you want Gabriel to move, and you left click to interact with hotspots. If you can perform multiple actions with a hotspot (such as looking at or talking to a person) then when you click on it, icons appear around it, allowing you to pick which one you want to use. There is also a key to show all of the hotspots for the current scene, a journal where Gabriel automatically takes notes so you don’t have to (and where you can also get hints for what to do next), and a Special Edition button that compares the old game to the new game, and also provides some artwork and interviews.
The graphics engine also got an upgrade. The original Sins of the Father had a native resolution of 640×480, and its 2D graphics engine showed a lot of pixilation. The 20th Anniversary Edition, on the other hand, supports all modern resolutions and has an acceptable 3D engine where everything looks good but not great. The nice thing about the graphics is that Pinkerton Road stayed faithful to the original appearance of the game, and so all of the characters and locations look about the same, just with a much higher resolution.
I played the original Sins of the Father when it came out, but I managed to forget just about everything about it over the last twenty years, and so when I picked up the 20th Anniversary Edition, it was almost a new game to me. That is, I’m not the best source for details about how the puzzles and story elements of the two games might be different. After completing the 20th Anniversary Edition, I checked a walkthrough for the original game, and I also went back and played a bit of that game, and so I know that there are at least a few differences. For example, in the remake you have a black shirt in your closet, so you don’t have to steal one from the church, and when you meet the voodooienne Magentia Moonbeam, you have to complete a puzzle for her before she helps you out. All of the changes appear to be as minor as the ones I’ve listed above, and so unlike the Leisure Suit Larry remake from last year, which added a whole new chapter of content, the 20th Anniversary Edition is roughly the same game.
In the pre-Internet days of gaming, adventures always included a couple of really strange puzzles, just so people would have a reason to buy the official walkthrough, and Sins of the Father is no exception. But with the hotspot-exposing key, the journal (which contains some hints), the new interface (which among other things explicitly shows you when you can use an inventory object with something), and of course the official in-game hints section, the puzzles are pretty solvable now. I only got stuck in a couple of places.
As a result, most of your time in the game is spent talking to people. As you investigate the Voodoo Murders, you build up a list of relevant topics, and you can ask each person about each topic — usually multiple times. In some ways this is good, because you can learn a lot about voodoo while playing the game. But in other ways it’s bad, because there is a whole lot of dull dialogue where you chat with people about the weather or New Orleans, or where you ask people about things they don’t know anything about. And since you don’t know what might provide you with a clue, you have to ask everybody about everything and listen to the responses. I think the game would have been much better with some paring in this department. It took me about 16 hours to complete the game, but with a lot of the extraneous dialogue removed, that playing time could have been dropped to something like 12 hours, which is more of what I expect from an adventure game.
One of the unfortunate changes between the original game and the remake is the voice acting. The original Sins of the Father had an all-star cast, including Tim Curry (as Gabriel Knight), Mark Hamill (as the lead detective on the case), and Leah Remini (as Gabriel’s assistant Grace). The remake has a lot of unknowns. Most of them do a capable job — and in fact I liked the new narrator better than the old one — but the new Gabriel Knight leaves a lot to be desired. He exaggerates his southern drawl to such an extent that he sounds like a bad Elvis Presley impersonator, and so instead of coming off as a suave ladies’ man, he plays more like a comic book buffoon, and this change makes the main romance in the game seem ludicrously unlikely, which in turn spoils the ending to the game. I’m guessing there were just enough changes to the game’s content that Pinkerton Road couldn’t use the original recordings, and that’s too bad.
But overall, the Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition is a perfectly fine remake. It gets some things right and it gets some things wrong, but most importantly it makes a classic adventure game more playable on modern computers (and apparently handheld devices as well). Plus, it’s not that much more expensive than the original game. So if you’re a fan of adventure games and you don’t mind some adult content (including profanity and grisly murders), then the 20th Anniversary Edition is certainly a game you should consider purchasing.
Reviewed By: Steven Carter
Publisher: Pinkerton Road Studio
This review is based on a digital copy of Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition for the PC provided by Pinkerton Road Studio.