Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers is a legendary point-and-click adventure game released in 1993. The title marks a turning point in Sierra's approach to game creation: It is more mature in design and writing; indeed, when the focus changed from the infernal difficulty and addictive gameplay to a strong narrative and polished design, we were witnesses to a veritable coming of age of the adventure genre, and the gaming industry overall. Among its first emissaries were Alone in the Dark and Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers.
It doesn't necessarily mean a shift in target demographics, since the developer made itself known by then with series such as Leisure Suit Larry, Manhunter, Laura Bow and Softporn Adventure - experiences that feature plenty of awkward moments, unsuited for the younger generations.
However, Sierra did succeed in drawing more adults in front of the monitors this time. The game was a hit, gaining universal acclaim from critics, including a Best Adventure Game of the Year (1994) award from Computer Gaming World magazine. The enthusiastic reception made place for two more sequels: 1995's Beast Within and 1999['s Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned.
It's funny to note that despite numerous memorable projects designed and directed by the Williams couple, there's a completely different person behind this triumph. The game was designed and written by Jane Jensen, one of the two great ladies who lead the development of King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow in 1992 - the other one being of course Roberta Williams. Both of them attempted to promote serious story lines and concepts in the mid-90s, but only Gabriel Knight continues to be remembered fondly by the gamers of today, while Roberta Williams' Phantasmagoria didn't stand the test of time.
The story revolves around Gabriel Knight, a wannabe author and the proprietor of St. George's Rare Books in his hometown of New Orleans; and just for the record, the store doesn't make a dime in profits, so he's sort of going with the flow of life, lazing around and waiting for the right opportunity to write a bestseller. He struck a deal with his childhood friend, Franklin Mosely, now a detective at the New Orleans Police Department, to use investigation materials as a source of inspiration for a new novel. A fitting case arises when a series of gruesome murders shocks the city. Signs that rituals were performed prompted the media to call them the Voodoo Murders, even though the police insisted everything was set up by the criminals in order to instill fear into the people.
However, as Gabe investigates further, he will become entangled in a plot that will uncover both New Orleans' and his own bloodline's mysterious past. In his endeavors, he'll benefit from the help of his lovely assistant, Grace Nakimura. In this first part she mostly deals with store management, keeping record of Gabe's mail and phone calls; at the same time she will research everything you ask. Later in the trilogy, her role increases, and she becomes a playable character.
Voice director Stuart Rosen, renowned for his work in the animation industry, has succeeded in gathering a formidable cast of Hollywood talents. The only irritating performance is that of the narrator's, voiced by Virginia Capers. Thankfully, you can disable it in the Options menu. Tim Curry (Dr. Frank-N-Furter in the 1975 The Rocky Horror Picture Show) fits perfectly into Gabriel Knight's character, giving him both a warm and badass tone at the same time. It's fairly distinct from the regular game philosophy that applies a bland voice or none at all in order to make the player take over the protagonist's eyes and feel the world directly. Coupled with the game's unique atmosphere and complex narrative, you get the feeling you're living in a movie, and not just a regular "find & solve" adventure game.
Other great actors include Mark Hamill (best known for playing Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars trilogy) as Franklin Mosley, Leah Remini (who later played Carrie Heffernan in the American comedy show The King of Queens) as Grace Nakimura, Michael Dorn (Worf in the Star Trek saga) as Dr. John - the curator of the Voodoo Museum - Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. as Wolfgang Ritter, and Leilani Jones as the dangerously attractive Malia Gedde.
Story-wise, the game is a combination of detective work, mystery and voodoo culture. The progress is divided into 10 days. Every day, you wake up after being tormented by the same nightmare you have been having since childhood, you exchange a couple of words with your assistant, Grace, drink a cup of coffee and read the daily newspaper. Following your current objective, you can explore different locations in New Orleans - new ones will be available as you find out about them. The navigation is done by clicking the illustrated locations on a map, which much resembles how London is depicted in The Gene Machine or The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes. Eventually you'll leave the shores of Mississippi and leave for distant lands, mainly Bavaria and Benin.
However, this won't become the saga of Indiana Jones. The heart of the game is still New Orleans, and I admire how much thought Sierra has put into reproducing real places from the city, like St. Louis Cathedral, St. Louis Cemetery and Lake Pontchartrain, giving a historical background to the game's events, as well as dwelling in the realm of the Louisiana Voodoo cult. Researching different aspects of the city's past is part of the charm, and I'm sure I would've never been as fascinated about the words "Schattenjäger" or "cabrit sans cor" if not for Sins of the Fathers and Tim Curry's enchanting voice.
As it happens in all conventional mystery titles, at the beginning, you see a jumbled picture of the whole murder case. As the days pass by one by one and you gather new pieces of information, several suspects emerge. It's your job to investigate these different trails. While the story is conceptually linear, you can spend every day exploring the given locations in any order and as many times as you like. One negative aspect is that there's a single event which triggers the end of a day. Usually it happens at a logical point, yet it's difficult to determine if you scrutinized everything - now there's a challenge for completionists, especially since there's the old Sierra score which keeps track of your achievements and detective skills. At the same time, Sins of the Fathers doesn't punish you cruelly like in the old King's Quest games: there are no real dead ends to be encountered, except for a couple of deaths, which you can easily avoid by using common sense and by periodically saving your progress. This is the perfect example of how dying doesn't have to ruin an adventure game.
Sierra has also polished other gameplay elements, for example the interaction with the world. You can do this via two methods: either right-click repeatedly to browse through the icon-based commands, or select the one you need from the menu screen at the top. After that, the cursor takes the form of the respective command icon and you can click on the particular place on the main screen to perform it. Of course, it's not the smart auto-changing cursor of modern adventures, which executes the correct action every time you click on something, but Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers doesn't really need it. Everything is pretty intuitive.
On the other hand, it does suffer from a surplus of commands, even if compared to its predecessors in terms of icon based interface: The Dagger of Amon Ra and King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow. You can choose from Walk, Look, Ask, Talk, Pick Up, Open/Close, Operate and Move, of which Talk is non-essential and Move is rarely used. Some of them could've been merged, but you can't always have everything you want, and retro gamers will most likely master the system in no time. Unlike Talk, which activates a small exchange of words, using Ask will bring up the Interrogation screen - one of my favourite parts. The dialogue is fully voiced and the faces of the characters are animated when talking. Few games in the 90's could pride themselves on such an achievement. In the center of this screen you can select from a series of subjects to discuss, which, thanks to excellent writing, might take a while until exhausted entirely. If later in the game you want to listen again to the conversations you can do so in the Tape Recorder screen.
Sins of the Fathers was launched at the midpoint of the Golden Age of 2D graphics (which met its glorious end after the first two Broken Sword games), and thus the artists were able to do an incredible job of[ capturing the right mood in their pixels. It's an atmospheric experience, which manages to keep a bright palette, despite its horror overtones. New Orleans is like a deliciously red and perfectly round apple, but with a hidden, disgustingly rotten core. And it's your job to purge it.
Here, you'll find everything you wanted in a classic adventure game: unique characters with their own little quirks, attention to details best witnessed in the junk-filled Voodoo Museum or St. George's Rare Books, a wealthy dose of polish and variety, and so on. In addition, the most important moments in the storyline, including Gabriel's nightmares, are illustrated using some fabulous cutscenes in the style of graphic novels. Coupled with a marvelous soundtrack composed by Robert Holmes, the game confidently becomes an eerie festival of love, mystery and blood.
While it's hard for me to call it the best adventure game of all time, it has definitely eclipsed the entire genre in a profound way. Almost everything it did was perfect from a gaming perspective, so that a lot of gamers still call its successful formula the epitome of adventure gaming. The most important of all: Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers ages like wine - it is as a great game to play in 2011 as it was back in 1993.
-The game was released in two versions: floppy disk and CD. Only the CD version is fully voiced and you can buy it from GOG.com
-The CD version also included a 20-minute Making of Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers video. You can check it out on Youtube for more interesting information and interviews with the game's incredible cast of actors. There you can also find a graphic novel - prequel to the main events in the game.
-Jane Jensen adapted the story of Sins of the Fathers into a novel.