Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within
It's an intriguing story: a young girl has been mauled by a wolf near Gabriel Knight's ancestral home in Bavaria, and Gabriel is asked to find out why. The police and general public seem to think it's the fault of two wolves who escaped from the Munich Zoo, but Gabriel and his partner Grace are led down a path of clues that suggest a more supernatural element is involved -- that's right, people, we're talking werewolves!
Along the way, Gabriel and Grace encounter more werewolf maulings and are led through a Bavarian castle with hidden passageways, the city of Munich (where you can ride the subway to different stops), mad King Ludwig's castle, and the Richard Wagner Museum, among other places. The GK2 plot incorporates history, music, art, and supernatural elements (including a tarot card reading) to create a completely compelling story in which the clues you find are as interesting as the puzzles you solve with them.
The writer for this Sierra game, Jane Jensen, created a superb storyline for GK2. Jensen intertwines historical facts with a supernatural storyline, which lends an element of realism to the plot. Much of what you will learn about King Ludwig in his museum and biography is true, however strange it may sound. Ludwig did go on mysterious midnight sleigh rides, not returning until morning. And he drowned in a lake along with his doctor (historians presume the doctor was trying to save Ludwig from committing suicide, but in GK2, this fact takes on more threatening implications). He was also a friend, admirer, and benefactor of Richard Wagner, which is why the walls of the actual Neuschwanstein Castle are covered with scenes from Wagner's opera, just as they are shown in the game. Jensen takes these facts and uses them to draw the story to a more sinister conclusion than probably the most conspiracy-prone historian ever imagined. With the help of some creepy characters, eerie music, and ominous settings, the GK2 story keeps the game player on edge right to the dramatic conclusion.
You, the gamer, spend time alternating between controlling the characters of Gabriel Knight and Grace Nakamura. When you meet another character, the game will offer conversation options for you to explore with that person. Make sure you exhaust them all -- you never know which topic will lend you a clue. Most of the varied people you'll interact with in the game are appealing, if sometimes sinister characters -- wait till you meet the busybodies Emil and Merle, a demonologist and her husband from Texas, and the intense von Glower, whom Gabriel befriends at a Munich hunting lodge.
You know when you've found a potential clue in the game because your pointer arrow turns into a dagger when it passes over an object. Unlike other adventure games, you don't have to painstakingly pore over every square inch of screen, making sure you haven't missed some small object -- most times, the clues are pretty obvious. (Exception: Chapter 4, in which you must click on every object in Ludwig's castle and museum in order to finish the chapter.) The game's difficulty comes from figuring out what to do with the clues you've found. This is one of the most rewarding aspects of GK2.
In other adventure games, the difficulty and time-consuming process of the game can come from either not being able to find a particular clue (e.g.), or from trying to solve game puzzles that are irrelevant to the game's storyline (e.g. ). But in GK2, you really feel like you're playing detective; you must ask yourself questions like "How do I contact the Wagner biographer Herr Dallmeier told me about?" and "How do I get Klingmann to let me get close to the wolves in the zoo?" The answers to these questions are ones that require you to use what you've learned in the game so far and problem-solving skills -- most of the answers aren't completely random.
Another plus for GK2 -- most of the time spent playing this game is productive: every time you pick up a clue, it projects you a little further along in the storyline. Fortunately for a gamer's sanity, GK2 is not completely dependent on the gamer's finding one clue in order to move on to the next one. (I'm sure most adventure gamers have played games where they've spent more time being stuck on a particular puzzle than actually moving through the game.)
Graphics and Sound
The graphics are good, especially during the video clips that play at the beginning and end of each chapter; and the artwork in the castle is crystal-clear. The music in the game falls into two categories: either a serene classical piece, which is neither distracting nor memorable; or, when the game turned scary, some highly effective hair-raising music. And the wolf howls and snarls are plenty realistic. Unfortunately, the characters' audio conversations don't always match up with the video, despite running the game on a machine with plenty of memory, and a high-end video card and CD-ROM drive.
As far as acting, the actor who plays Gabriel is tolerable, although I decided if he ran his hands through his hair one more time after Chapter 1, I was going to have to switch allegiances and start rooting for the werewolves. The actor who plays Grace Nakamura does a fine job, although Grace's jealousy towards Gerta in Chapter 2 became annoying -- I was afraid those two were going to break out into a catfight. This petty subplot detracted from the interest of the game for me, and I could have done without any of the romantic situations they've tried to inject into GK2. (Maybe others will be more interested in it than I was.)
You'll probably need to read the documentation even if you've already played adventure games with similar interfaces. There are a couple of important skills you'll need to call on during the game, like operating the tape recorder and splicer (which you'll need to use during Chapter 1).
GK2 was the perfect level of difficulty for me; however, since it took me only 11 or 12 evenings of play to solve it (and I consider myself an intermediate gamer), hard-core gamers might think it too easy. The game's plot, video and graphics would appeal to an advanced gamer, but they might move through the game too quickly to make it worth its price. However, this would be a good (albeit challenging) game for a beginning player -- easy interface, low frustration level, and hints that, when used, won't affect the outcome or your score in the game. (Just click the "Hints" button when there's a map on the screen, and it will show you which destinations still contain tasks you need to accomplish.)
Windows '95, Windows 3.1 or DOS 5.0+, IBM or 100% compatible 486/33 Mhz or higher, 8 MB RAM, 2X CD-ROM drive (MPC 2 Compliant, 300K /second transfer rate)
Pros: Gabriel Knight 2's storyline was the most intriguing and creative one I've seen in an adventure game; the game smoothly integrates puzzles and clues into the plot; it has a low frustration level; it would be challenging for beginning and intermediate level adventure gamers.
Cons: Advanced adventure gamers might breeze through this one a bit quickly.