Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers – 20th Anniversary Edition

Publisher: Pinkerton Road Studio
Developer: Phoenix Online Studios, Pinkerton Road Studio
Year: 2014
Platform: Windows, Mac, iPad, Android

Rating: 7

Many classic 90’s adventures have received a remake in the past decade, though Sins of the Fathers probably received the largest overhaul, not just to the graphics and sounds, but also to the interface, story, and puzzles. Because the story and main beats are mostly unchanged, this remains a strong adventure. But Jane Jensen and Co. swung and missed on most of the changes.

When I reviewed the original, I bemoaned the slow pace, extensive backtracking, and endless pixel-hunting. Thankfully, these issues were all improved. Gabriel moves much faster here. Puzzles are a bit more streamlined, requiring less travel. Objects are generally easier to find (including the ability to hit the space bar to highlight all clickable areas). There’s an optional, gradual in-game hint system. And they slashed the amount of icons necessary to interact with the world. In other words, they made the game more modern, more playable. Unfortunately, in making these changes a lot of soul was sucked from the experience.

In the original, each screen was gorgeously detailed and Gabriel could interact with nearly everything. While this bloated the game time, all the extra stuff added to the atmosphere. The player gets to know Gabriel better and feel more immersed in the world of the French Quarter. In the remake, so much is removed that most areas feel stale, not to mention excessively brightened, dampening the tension. There are a few exceptions. The increased resolution allowed for a more detailed Voodoo museum and a creepier tomb at the St. Louis Cemetery #1. Both Schloss Ritter and Gerde are more realistic (and tie in better to the sequel). But for the most part, atmosphere was ripped apart. The focus on three-dimensional characters is mostly a disaster. Character wardrobes are simplified for easier animation. Fewer side-characters exist (presumably to make programming easier), which lead to areas seem less populated than they should be. There are fewer animations (e.g. Gabriel doesn’t pull aside the curtain to enter his office; he just appears in the next room. He also never hugs his grandma). There are even bugs where Gabriel sort of just floats across the screen. And because the game was catered to the iPad, playing on a wide monitor kind of ruins the high resolution experience anyway. There are several areas where the player is unable to interact with things at the very top or very bottom; while this doesn’t inhibit the game in any fashion, it further kills the mood.

1920 x 1080 Resolution
1280×1024 Resolution

While I’m on a roll here, I have to mention the voice acting. Gone are the A-list talent they had in the original. The replacement cast does their best to emulate, with fairly similar voices and mannerisms. But something is lost in the professionalism. Tim Curry’s cocky drawl was not for everyone, but in the remake Gabriel sounds even more like a tool. Michael Dorn is missed as Dr. John. Mark Hamill was a bit sharper as Detective Mosely. Some have commented that the original narrator was better; that may be true, but in both games I found the narration incredibly distracting (not to mention long) and turned her off.

Several puzzles were added which have been pretty much universally panned. They definitely feel shoe-horned in, including an impressively pointless jigsaw puzzle to hide a locked room within a locked room. They’re all super easy, at least.

The one area where the designers knocked it out of the damn park is the cut scenes. Not only are the comic book style cuts more prevalent, they are incredibly animated and add more tension. Seriously, they are perfection and alone make the game worth playing for fans of the original.

Finally, I wanted to comment on a couple of things are are pertinent to both versions of the game. To be blunt, Gabriel starts out as misogynistic and creepy as fuck. Not only does he constantly hit on Grace, his poor, subordinate, Asian employee, some of his comments border on scary. Like, Grace should seriously be worried about being raped. To her character’s credit, she gets in a lot of retorts that cut Gabriel down to size, but it is seriously puzzling why she continues to work for him day in and day out without getting paid(!). The remake could have still kept Gabriel cocky without being a poster child for the Me Too movement. Instead, we’re left wondering what the hell Grace sees in him. Gabriel transforms into his much, much better self by the end of the game, but the beginning is quite uncomfortable.

And speaking of uncomfortable, there are some questionable storytelling around race here. (MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD) I already mentioned the white supervisor constantly sexualizing the Asian employee. And then there’s the entire game’s premise, which is that long ago, a white German guy fell for an African lady, but then abandoned her to die when it was convenient for him. Ever since, her spirit has been murdering for centuries (using the corporeal bodies of her female descendants). It would be one thing if the spirit was targeting awful white men as retribution for the African slave trade. But she seems to kill indiscriminately (including Professor Hartridge, who actively respects and honors Voodoo) while the white German line has been hailed as noble and saviors of the free world. In fact, pretty much every evil character in this game is of African descent, or controlled by people of African descent. The game’s ending compounds the issue. Malia, recognizing that her ancestor’s spirit needs to bugger off, sacrifices her life to end the destruction. So much like in real life, the white guy gets all the glory on the back of a black woman’s work. But I’m not done. Not only did they not improve this in the remake, they made it worse. Here you learn that not a single male in the Gedde line is allowed their own tomb; their skulls just get placed on the side of the crypt as if they’re completely worthless. Who knows why this decision was made. But this kind of shit happens when every single person in development of the game is white (at least that was true for the original game by Sierra).

It’s a shame, too. The mystery is good creepy fun, and there’s many cool history lessons about New Orleans and Voodoo. I would still recommend this game to those who loved the original. But the aforementioned issues I think would make it tough for a newer audience to enjoy or care about this story.

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