Ah, nostalgia! Be it that old cartoon, a favorite toy or a comic book from days gone by, isn’t it great, when out of the blue, the memories come flooding back, and you’ve no choice but to exclaim “Holy Crap! Remember…“?
The first thing I said when I first played the demo for the completely revolutionary Heavy Rain was “Wow. This reminds me of an insanely advanced version of a Gabriel Knight game.” Then it occurred to me how damn old that made feel and that most people probably have no clue about the storied adventures of the latest Schattenjäger. Well, sit down, class. School’s in session.
The Gabriel Knight series from Sierra Studios is a perfect time capsule of 1990′s PC gaming. 1993′s Sins of the Fathers is a prime example of the point-and-click adventure games so common at the time. The player controlled a character and traveled from place to place gathering clues, talking to people all in the hopes of solving a mystery. In the case of the Gabriel Knight series, the games are broken down into “Days.” You can do whatever you want and go anywhere you’ve unlocked, but until you complete a series of predetermined events, the game won’t progress to the next day. So basically, each day is its own level.
What set Sins of the Fathers ahead of the countless games of its kind was the characters and plot. Struggling novelist/bookstore owner Gabriel Knight starts following a series of murders in New Orleans with voodoo overtones as research for a new book. Instead, he finds himself more and more involved with one of the prime suspects and learns that his family is that of a long line of German Schattenjägers, or “shadow hunters,” meaning he’s descended from medieval ghost busters. It’s a damn fine mystery with an amazing voice cast featuring Tim Curry, Mark Hamill and Michael Dorn. That is, of course, provided you had the CD-ROM version. It was also available on a series of 11 floppy disks (remember THOSE!?) with no voices or video cut scenes. Regardless of which version you had, the characters were well-written and the dialogue was great. It’s a gem, plain and simple.
1995 saw the release of The Beast Within. Now somewhat embracing his roots, Gabriel has moved to his ancestral home (which happens to be a big-ass castle) in Germany and is on his first official case. It’s a mystery surrounding King Ludwig II, of all things. Oh, and there’s totally werewolves. Again, it’s a damn fine mystery but it’s radically different from its predecessor. First off, you play not only as Gabriel, but also as his punchy assistant Grace, who was awesome enough in the first game to warrant such a promotion. She and Gabriel explore different areas and get different clues before reuniting for the big finale. Most striking, however, is the overall presentation. The Beast Within utilized full motion video technology. There was a time when EVERYONE was using it basically just because they could thanks to the hot new technology in CD-ROMs. Basically, real actors were brought in and filmed in front of a green screen to act out each and every action in the game. When the player performed said action, a short video clip would play. At the time, I can see why that seemed like a cool option, but the limitations are easily spotted in retrospect. So hooray for dead tech.
The third and likely last installment was released in 1999 and brought the GK series into the 3rd dimension. Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned was rendered in early 3D polygon technology (and we all know how that played out) and brought back Curry to his role as Gabriel. Not too much has changed in the format, but the villains this time around are vampires, and not the sparkly kind. Once more mixing in historical fact and fiction, the mystery surrounds the legendary treasure of the Knights Templar and the Holy Grail. Again, Gabe and Grace team-up to solve the case and again, it will leave you with massive headaches at times because the puzzles are damned hard. The graphics are definitely primitive by today’s standards, but you really shouldn’t be playing these games for the graphics anyway.
So I know what you’re thinking. “Wow. These sound all kinds of badass. Too bad old PC games don’t jive with modern technology.” Well, that’s true. Many of my old-school PC games just flat-out don’t work on my crazy 21st century PC. Luckily, GoodOldGames.com makes such compatibility issues a thing of the past. The site offers a veritable boatload of what many consider to be true classics the current gaming generation heretofore had to hear about in storied tales on message boards around the internet. All games are DRM-free, are completely XP and Vista compatible, and sell for less than ten bucks. Oh, and they’ve got the entire Gabriel Knight trilogy for $5.99 each. So go download them and give them a shot. You’ll be glad you did. It’s a gaming experience long-forgotten.