The 20th anniversary HD remake of Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers came out last week.
This is one of the few video game series I’ve ever really fallen in love with. It had drama! Character development! Random trivia about real-world history! My sister introduced me to it, and sat with me during my first playthrough, offering advice and possibly taking the controls from me when I couldn’t get past that one mummy in the mound. So, naturally, when I heard the HD remake was coming out, I a) bought her a copy as a gift and b) invited her over for a slumber party/playthrough evening.
First things first: the voices are different. Apparently they lost the original recordings in the intervening twenty years, and the result they got from stripping the audio out of the game files was not good enough. And I’m guessing they could no longer afford the services of Tim Curry and Mark Hamill. I was very apprehensive about this, because Tim Curry’s terrible Nawlins accent is such a memorable part of the game; what would it be like without him?
The answer is, much the same. They did an excellent job of casting voice actors who could match the sound of their predecessors. There were a few lines where I remembered the original intonation enough to cock my head at the difference, but the rest of the time, I forgot I was listening to a new voice. I’m sure that if I did a side-by-side comparison of the two, I would find places where the HD version is lacking, but it passes muster on its own — which is what really matters.
Things that are distinctly improved: the graphics! (Duh.) Holy crap, you can tell what things are. There are books in cases and bottles on shelves, rather than indistinct blobs on horizontal lines. Gram’s house has wallpaper! Rugs have patterns! It’s not the highest-quality graphics and animation — in particular, there’s the creepy thing where people’s mouths seem to be moving independently of their faces when they talk — but it’s a massive improvement over the old look. They’ve also changed up the gameplay a bit: the mime is still a pain in the ass, but getting past that one mummy just involves grasping the general principle of “you need to dodge,” rather than having to move to exactly the right spot, wait exactly the right amount of time, move again, wait again, and then finally break for the door. And the #@$@!!! beignet guy? IS GONE. Replaced by a much less Rube Goldberg-y solution to “how do I get into Mosely’s office?” (And a really creepy moment, too, which I don’t remember from the original.) There are a couple of new puzzles to balance out the simplification of the old ones: a lever puzzle in Magentia Moonbeam’s house that isn’t nearly as difficult as it might have been, a minor unlocking thing in the Gedde crypt.
Some of the changes are amusing. I opened the window in Schloss Ritter and was perplexed to see that the pile of snow had vanished, replaced by a puddle on the windowsill — until my sister pointed out that it’s late June and really, why was there ever snow there in the first place? Gerde no longer looks like she ought to be serving beer at Oktoberfest. Gabriel says “fuck” a few times, and I’m pretty damned sure that’s new. Other things I’m less sure of; weren’t you able to go to your grandmother’s house on Day One before? And you find the sketchbook there? I’m pretty sure the priest’s collar used to be in the vestry; possibly that got moved because the placement of hotspots would have made the door we think was the vestry too difficult to click on. And I wonder how much of the dialogue was changed, apart from Gabriel swearing. They’ve definitely altered the pronunciation of several of the voodoo-related terms (presumably to make them more accurate), and I think they may have added in some more context about things like the racial politics of Malia’s family being so influential in New Orleans.
Mostly it’s the same, though, with better graphics and a score that no longer sounds quite so MIDI. I’ll probably look at the original version again before I decide, but it’s entirely possible that this will become my preferred version to play. It’s nice to have the game look less primitive, and I will put up with a lot just to avoid that mummy and the stupid beignet guy.
The real question is this: what now? Apparently Sierra was revived recently; they have a shiny website and everything, complete with what looks like a teaser for a new King’s Quest game. Will there be remakes of The Beast Within and Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned? Redoing the former would be interesting, seeing as how they’d probably have to just scrap the FMV entirely and redo the entire thing as standard point-and-click, but you could probably rebuild the latter quite easily, with some off-the-shelf 3D engine that would blow the original one out of the water.
Or — dare I dream — might we finally get a fourth game?
I’m trying not to get my hopes up. But if this remake sells well . . . who knows?