Get anyone over a certain age started on Point and Click Adventures and they are sure to wax lyrical about one of two series: Monkey Island and Broken Sword. These two undeniable classics have both spawned several sequels, and whilst latter entries floundered due to an ill advised attempt to cross over into 3D presentation, that hasn’t been enough to dilute the core experience. They arguably represent the two thematic poles of the genre, with Broken Sword providing a boys own adventure full of historical intrigue and exotic locations, whilst Monkey Island gives us a comedy caper of unparalleled wit. It’s only fitting that both have been recently remastered.
But in between these two juggernauts sits another oft overlooked classic series in the form of Jane Jensen’s Gabriel Knight. Although it bore similarities with its peers – was undoubtedly funny in places, and dealt with historical conspiracies – Gabriel Knight was more concerned with plumbing the dark depths of the human psyche and styling itself as a pulpy B-Movie horror. The eponymous hero, a Laconic and slightly seedy New Orleans hack writer who is working on a book based on a series of Voodoo murders in the city, was the perfect focal point. He allowed the game to explore its supernatural themes to its heart’s content, whilst providing a point of narrative distance and cynicism for the player. Knight inevitably gets too close to his subject and a recurring dream sets him out as a Schattenjager, the last in an ancient line of demon hunters and heir to a spooky castle in Germany.
There are two things that make the Gabriel Knight series fascinating. The first is that at a time when videogame auteurs were almost unheard of, Jane Jensen managed to make such a strong case for herself in an industry that was as male dominated as it ever has been. Secondly the three parts of the series are each made in a completely different style, reflecting between them the technical evolution, and commercial downfall, of the genre over time.
The first game in the series, Sins of the Fathers, is rendered in lovely old pixel art, whilst the The Beast Within, its sequel, is shot in a series of video sequences using real actors at the height of the short lived FMV craze. It follows Gabriel struggling to fit in at his ancestral home in Germany and investigating a series of murders seemingly conducted by werewolves. He’s eventually joined by his assistant Grace Nakamura who conducts her own investigations, which see you wandering around some of the more lavish castles in Bavaria. The game masterfully manages to connect an aristocratic hunting club, a controversial monarch and Richard Wagner in the supernatural narrative and provides an imaginative finale in a lavish opera house.
The Final part, Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned, sees Gabriel and Grace adrift in southern France where they are investigating the curse of an aristocratic family and the kidnapping of their daughter. The game weaves vampires, Free Masons, and Knights Templars into its complex plot and reveals the truth behind Gabriel’s blood line. This entry into the series utilised an early 3D engine, which saw the player moving a camera through a series of rendered locations and interacting with various objects. Whilst the graphics seem pretty crude by today’s standards this was an attempt by series custodians Sierra to modernise the genre, but it was clearly not successful as this was the last adventure game they would publish. The interface makes the game clunky and difficult to play, thus detracting from the well told story at its heart – in Point and Clicks it seems simplicity is often best.
It’s fascinating to see the series develop and how the publisher strove to harness new technical developments in an effort to maintain an audience in the light of the decline in popularity of the genre. But whilst the method of delivery changed each time, each of the games is defined by an excellent pulpy supernatural narrative and gothic atmosphere. Its testament to Jensen’s talents that her literary flare always shines through.
Jane Jensen recently founded a new independent studio named Pinkerton Road with the help of Kickstarter funding where she is working on a metaphysical thriller entitled Moebius.