Words About Video Games

Gabriel Knight 2: A Relic of Another Era

I finished Gabriel Knight 2. I'm not sure *why* I finished Gabriel Knight 2, except to say that at some point I was committed to see it through.

I'm guessing most of you haven't played it, so I'll describe a bit. It's an adventure game in the classic style; you find items and use them in the right places on the right people to advance the story. Typically in this sort of game, there's puzzle solving, but to call anything you do in Gabriel Knight 2 puzzle solving is a bit generous.

The other thing you should know is that it's an FMV game. See, in the 90s everyone got CD-ROM drives, which meant that games suddenly had a lot more space to work with, and some game companies decided to fill that space with a lot of pre-recorded video. This means everything you do in Gabriel Knight 2 is acted out by live actors.

This is tedious when you have to watch actor Gabriel slowly put on his jacket to go out the door (remember, there are no animation shortcuts or tricks when everything's live actors); it's hilarious when, in one of the later chapters, the other playable character, Gracie, appears to shove a sign down her pants; it's aggravating as all get-out when you're in the habit of skipping these tedious animations, and the game decides to switch things up and give you unrepeatable plot-critical information in one of them.

At its best it's weird and campy, and at its worst it's acted and scripted much like the kind of low-budget B movie that would make a good selection for MST3K.

For example, the lead character. Gabriel Knight has never been very palatable to begin with. He's a walking pile of unpleasant stereotypes: the playboy who's nevertheless beloved by his far more intelligent (and younger) female assistant; the writer who never writes, but then makes it big by selling the true story of the last supernatural murder he solved as fiction, but then goes promptly back to not being able to write at all; and by the second game, he's also a chosen one, part of an ancient line of monster hunters and in possession of his very own Bavarian castle.

But even so, the actor who plays him in the second game somehow makes Gabriel even worse. He has two looks "Smarmy, shit-eating grin" and "Constipated." He uses them interchangeably. The end of the game tries to assert some character growth, but nothing in the writing or portrayal of Gabriel to this point has convinced me that this jerk's moral journey is worth investing in.

Don't get me wrong. I believe in redemption, and that all people deserve the chance to grow into better people. But that doesn't mean I want to play a video game about all of them, you know? Maybe work out your issues in your own time, while I play the video game that's about brilliant grad student Gracie Nakimura and how she's not totally hung up on a talentless cad who has her running his business and taking care of his grandmother while he tries to find himself in Europe.

But it's also weird. Here are some other things that are also true about Gabriel Knight 2:

- There's a chapter where your primary task is to thoroughly examine all of the exhibits at not one, not two, but three different museums.

- Lycanthropy functions as a metaphor for closeted homosexuality.

- I'm pretty sure you receive a fax from Ludwig II's ghost.

- There's a ten minute cutscene of an original opera, performed in German, and written specifically for the game.

All of that said, it's just not very good. I had figured out most of the plot beats of the game's six chapters by the end of chapter 2 (where the game gives you a handy guide to lycanthropy which also serves as the writer's checklist for different lore you will need to know for the plot to make sense) and the campiness of it is unfortunately spread out over a lot of repetition, backtracking, and the frankly confusing layouts of many of the game's pre-rendered rooms, which makes it hard to recommend even as a curiosity.