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Graphics: The graphics of the French countryside are breathtaking. The buildings, objects and people that exist within are almost as nice. The facial movements of the characters are right in line with the spoken dialogue, and this is some of the best lip-synching I’ve seen. While technologically the engine isn’t truly capable of rendering human emotion, it does a good job of personalizing the characters, and their large scale size helps create the illusion of immersion. The graphical effects are also nice, but not as dramatic as I would have liked. Because there is hardly any action, the graphics don’t play a role outside of providing the setting. When things do heat up, the engine seems out of place and incapable of making things as believable as they should be. Gabriel Knight 3 is loaded with great cinematics, and concludes with an outstanding ending that is well worth getting to. There are a few graphical anomalies and things don’t appear to work as well on lower-end hardware. Concluding, I was impressed with the graphics and I loved the camera system which I will discuss more in the interface section. I firmly believe this sort of graphical design is what the classical adventure needs, and I for one fear the day anyone reverts back to FMV.
Interface: The interface in Gabriel’s third quest encompasses all the good and some of the bad things associated with every adventure that’s gone before it. On the good side is the camera system. It doesn’t require you to watch Gabriel or Grace walk to a location, and allows you to move and manipulate the camera in any direction or position you like. They’ve really simplified things by devoting all of the character’s actions to two mouse buttons. From here you can see and adjust your inventory, combine items, speak with characters, move your player around and navigate menus. Using the combination of both mouse buttons to accomplish all tasks makes this title easy to pick up; you’re able to play the game rather than the interface. But on the negative side you’re going to need to be careful when conversing with NPCs and moving at the same time. If you accidentally press your move button too many times during or at the outset of an important conversation, you’ll be advanced to the end of it, and there is no option to quickly replay it.
Gameplay: Gabriel Knight 3 operates on a time block system in which the gameplay is broken up into segments that require the player to solve before advancing. Within each of the time blocks there are certain things that have to be accomplished in order to progress the story. Each segment has a number of different tasks that need to be accomplished, and for the most part these need to be done in a specific order. Gabriel Knight 3 suffers, like most adventures, from a severe case of linearity, and offers almost zero replay value. There is a point system in which players are given a score based on the amount of puzzles they solve, but in solving the game you’ll see the primary components and only the diehards will be willing to go back for the maximum score.
The story is less thrilling than either of the first two titles, and while it nearly makes up for it in the end, the manner in which it progresses was too slow and cerebral for me. I enjoyed Jensen’s writing style and was intrigued by her take on a very classical tale. The character interaction is superb but is unfortunately marred by low-rent Hollywood voice acting. The puzzles overall are somewhat difficult and will cause most adventurers to get stuck a few times before they’re able to continue. The time-block scheme isn’t an original method for storyline progression and seems to serve this product well.
Sound FX: The sound FX in Gabriel Knight 3 are at both ends of the audio spectrum. Ambient sounds have been produced with quality; walking on carpet, grass or sand makes little noise but treading on tile or cobblestones will wake up the neighbors. Even the footsteps of the chicken can be heard on the cobblestone in the village. But oftentimes there are way too many ambient noises and they can dominate a scene inappropriately. The outdoor environments have a lot of distinctive sound as well. Not only do they change with the location but also with the time of day. The wind howls on top of Castle Blanchfort and whistles through the trees. The animal noises change as well depending on whether it is night or day. In using a drinking glass to listen at hotel doors, you can often hear the conversations inside or at the very least the snoring of a sleeping hotel guest. Inside, you can hear doors and windows being opened and shut, or locked and unlocked.
But by far the main audio component is the voice acting, which is by all accounts just plain bad. Tim Curry reprises his role as Monsieur Knight and rather than coming across as a well witted and crass southerner from Louisiana, he seems more like a drunken Englishman imitating a Texan at the local pub. Most of the other characters are better, but not entirely. Some of the local French people exhibit the same fake accents, but luckily the dialogue is good enough to carry you through.
Musical Score: With as high as the production values were for Gabriel Knight, and considering Sierra’s track record for producing high quality musical soundtracks for their adventures games, one would expect the music to thrill and captivate–it does not. Unfortunately, the music is neither compelling nor interesting and plays such a small role in the development of the story it seems more of an afterthought than a full-blown feature. Much of the music isn’t very befitting of what’s on screen, and far too often it lacks tension and feeling.
Intelligence & Difficulty: For the most part, I enjoyed the puzzles and the general flow of the adventure. There are a lot of things to do and always someone with whom to interact. Sierra ran a risk with their time block system. This sort of design is easily broken, and many games in the past have suffered from there not being anything to do except for the thing holding up the new segment. Thankfully, Gabriel Knight 3 gives the player so many things to do that this rarely happens. Puzzles are logic-based and generally have conclusions based on clues found in-game or on common sense. The difficulty of Gabriel Knight 3 is a little above most adventures, but about on par with the two previous offerings.
Overall: I had fun with Jane Jensen’s latest tale of the Shadow Hunter Gabriel Knight. Jensen’s writing is good and interesting. The story presented here is one of the best in its genre and perhaps the most controversial. This sort of product is good for our industry and I hope there are more like it. This is a product designed for would-be sleuths that enjoy their settings a tad bit darker than normal. It’s equipped with tons of powerful adventuring tools, such as a newly designed 3D engine and free-floating camera, and contains one of the most riveting endings I’ve seen all year. But ultimately I wish it had offered me more. Had the story paced itself a little better and had there been scarier and more intense scenes akin to what we saw in The Beast Within, Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned would have been far more enjoyable.
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