Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers
Gabriel's mini-stereo isn't exactly high-fidelity. Then again, neither is he.
Back in 1993, when all was fine and dandy and Sierra were still making awesome games, they launched the first game from the Gabriel Knight series, written by none other than Jane Jensen. I hadn't gotten to play it then, as I only got a PC about five years later. Actually I only played Gabriel Knight about a few months ago, which is pretty odd considering the bunch of awesome adventure games I had experienced before.
So then it was, long after playing the first two games from the Broken Sword series1, that I gave GK a try: a random guy in a random city (New Orleans) is having weird dreams about weird rituals, then wakes up in his boring, typical American room. It seems that our Gabriel owns a rare book store, his only employee an Asian American chick (Grace Nakimura) who on a first look seems to be either frigid or just some stuck up bitch. Up until now, it sounds like your typical American cliché.
To drive the cliché further, this Gabriel Knight guy is also a writer, and he's got a friend (Det. Mosely) who's a cop who's investigating a weird ritualistic murder that just by some weird coincidence took place on the edge of the city. Gabriel's ass is itching, so he decides to investigate the murder mostly all by himself, which is just great if you're a guy with no prior detective experience. In other words, even more cliché.
Fortunately, the story gets interesting when Gabriel starts to delve into New Orleans' Voodoo history, which, as far as I can tell from the point of view of a non-specialist, is very well documented within the game. A lot of the high points of the game are entirely made up of Voodoo lore, exploring the subject a lot deeper than other adventure games involving more "exotic" cultures, from what I've played2.
Another aspect that kept me hooked was the "little" things, elements of the story, that come up as the story advances, from short poems to the daily astrological forecast. Symbols are often present where you least expect them and all these things are tightly integrated so that they give the player a more book-like experience, an experience which is also enhanced by the narrator's rather peculiar voice. This is more so relevant as the narrator doesn't just give a piece of information, but she gives it in a non-dull, non-mechanical manner.
Most of the voice actors are top notch: Tim Curry, Mark Hamill, Michael Dorn and Jim Cummings are a few names. The acting didn't cease to give me that annoying Hollywood-like feeling at the beginning, but it either faded away in time or I got used to it. Besides that, the graphics are up to par with other adventure games in the early '90s and the music (by Robert Holmes, Jane Jensen's husband) adds greatly to the atmosphere.
Frankly, I feel ashamed that I haven't played the game earlier. It's not my favourite adventure, but it's original enough that I find it hard to compare with others, older or newer, and I feel that I must give it its own separate place in my book.