Friday, 7 October 2016

The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery (MS-DOS)

Gabriel Knight 2 Beast Within title screen
Developer:Sierra|Release Date:1995|Systems:PC

This week on Super Adventures I’m playing a game that was requested in March this very year! It only took me six months to get around to a request for once; I'm very proud of myself.

The Beast Within is second game in the Gabriel Knight trilogy, following on from Sins of the Fathers, so I'm just going to call it Gabriel Knight 2 from now on. The Gabriel Knight trilogy is interesting as each game represents one of the four eras of 90s adventure games:
  • Gabriel Knight 1 is a classic 2D style point and click adventure from 1993, enhanced with early 90s advances like voice acting and 256 colour scanned backgrounds.
  • Gabriel Knight 2 was released two years later in 1995 and jumped right in to the short lived multimedia FMV fad, where game developers discovered that good actors and real sets are really expensive and video looks like ass when you compress it to fit on CDs.
  • Gabriel Knight 3 came out right at the end of the 90s in 1999, during a time where you either made your game with polygons or you picked up your coat and got out. Turns out that the relatively expensive 3D environments and game pad controls weren't a good match for the increasingly niche genre though.
  • Finally there’s Gabriel Knight 4, which doesn’t exist... because Gabriel Knight 3 killed adventure games. Actually the truth is that the genre was already on the way out, so at worst its famous cat fur moustache puzzle merely helped hammer a nail or two into the coffin. And the genre eventually rose from the dead so it didn't even do a good job of that.
Due to its high video content Gabriel Knight 2 originally came on a ridiculous 6 CDs, which isn't actually so bad when you had Amiga adventure games coming on a dozen floppy disks. It's definitely not an issue for me as the version I bought online has zero disc swapping! I just had to download it as 7 separate files because I was too dumb to get it from GOG or Steam. The game's not supported by ScummVM by the way, but I'm sure DOSBox can handle it.


I decided to click 'PROLOGUE' and got this strange video which starts with a guy in period costume locking a door to presumably keep the wolves out. Then the camera lingers on this poster while the credits come up, like it's supposed to explain something,

Okay then game, if you want me to read the note I'm going to read the bloody note. Though I know like two words of German so it may take me a while.

The first line's easy, as 'achtung' is one of the words I know! It means 'attention'.

The next line's a bit harder to read, but I think that says "Ulfing" underneath. The Beast of Ulfing?

And then I can barely make out the next one, never mind understand it. Fortunately Google Translate tells me that "Der furchterregender a kindermorde des jahres 1750" means something about a terrifying child murder that happened in the year 1750. Well that explains the clothing.

So it's 250 years ago and a mean wolf is outside, hungry for youngsters

Someone starts setting fire to hay and these folks hang around to watch the flames a bit. Then the video pauses again for more credits! It's kind of making it hard to follow when I get 8 seconds of footage followed by 30 seconds of names.

Artist's interpretation.
Still, it could've been worse. The videos were apparently meant to be interlaced, with black bars every other line, but that's been patched out for this version.

The lines do kind of create the illusion of a higher resolution as your brain does some on the fly interpolation. But they also make the videos half as bright and I'm happier without them.

After even more credits the family makes a run for it together, but the kid decides to spend a while staring at the flames. And I'm suddenly thinking of Mass Effect 3's dream sequences again, thanks a lot for that Gabriel Knight 2. Then there's some more credits, and it's over.

So, uh, okay then.


CHAPTER ONE.


This time I clicked 'PLAY' and got another video, this one starting off at a castle in Rittersberg, Germany. Then it cuts to a window. Then a bookcase. Then a statue next to the bookcase. Then some books. Then of a guy typing.

And then this creepy group of villagers comes marching up to the front door carrying torches. I mean flashlights, not the burning rag on a stick kind of torch, and they've left their pitchforks at home.

Man, the music here couldn't sound more like Gabriel Knight 1. It's very distinctive.

Then we're back to inside the castle, as famous author, bookshop owner and Schattenjäger Gabriel Knight writes his latest novel. Well, he's written his latest first page at least, after that his inspiration seems to have ran dry. Or maybe he's just noticed all the typos.

By the way this GIF is a pretty good representation of the video quality I'm getting from the game. I'm sure a few colours were lost along the way, plus I trimmed a few seconds, and froze just a little bit more of the background to cut the filesize, but what you see here is basically what I got. Same resolution, same blockiness.

His assistant interrupts his suffering to tell him that there's visitors are the door, though she fails to mention that they're an angry mob.

Oh, they're actually not all that angry, they're just a bit miserable. The guy in the middle seems to have gotten his face stuck like that, so the old man on the left speaks for him, telling Gabriel the story of how the man's daughter was killed by a big bad wolf in the forest.

By the way, middle guy has been in some other stuff before... like 'Back to the Future II'! He's the guy who doesn't know what CPR is and then announces that Marty took Biff's wallet.

They called the police first, who reckoned that the kid must have been attacked by one of the wolves that escaped from a nearby zoo, but they had no luck actually finding the animal. The mob on the other hand believe that the killer was a werewolf, and it's only a matter of time before it kills again! It's just the kind of werewolf that looks basically indistinguishable from a regular wolf.

So they've turned to the Schattenjäger, the man who sorts out monster problems, and Gabriel Knight apparently took the role at some point in the last game so now it's his monster problem. It's an urgent problem too, that's why they all came here to bother him so late at night... two days after the murder.

Gabriel's hesitant, but it's hard to turn down a doorstep full of blokes in hats, so he takes the case! So for the time being he'll be living in the farm where the attack happened, while the owners are out.

The cutscenes are finally over now, but the digitised actor remains! So this is still a point and click adventure then, they've just gone a bit Toonstruck or Dark Seed with it. Man I hope that's the only thing the game has in common with Dark Seed.

The music's gone as well and I kind of miss it, if only because they've replaced it with the sound of a ticking clock. It's the only thing moving in here as well, as Gabriel himself is as still as a cardboard cut-out. The guy doesn't even need to breathe.

Wake up Gabriel, we've got a wolf-shaped werewolf to track down! He doesn't seem all that hyped, but I'm the one calling the shots now and I've nothing better to do so I might as well get on with it. Step one: take all the stuff in the room. I can't cycle between commands like I could in Gabriel Knight 1, it's one cursor fits all, so I guess I'll just move the mouse over everything in the room until it indicates I can click on it.

Turns out that the bag is full of his stuff, and I even got a video clip to show him collecting it (which I went and edited again for size and time). These cutscenes are all skippable, just in case I don't want to sit through the whole process every time I choose to interact with something, but they clearly put a lot of work and money into all these clip so I may as well sacrifice a few seconds of my time to watch them.

Trouble is that there's no way to get Gabriel to tell me what an item actually is without clicking on it and bringing up the close-up first. There's some text at the top of the screen that says "Huber Farm Interior" but that doesn't change to describe the objects under my cursor like it would in a LucasArts game.

Also I should mention that Gabriel's the one describing things now, the female narrator was apparently left behind in New Orleans, and he doesn't sound like Tim Curry so much any more.

There's a new actor providing his voice and his face this time around, and while he's not quite as famous as Tim Curry, I get the feeling his attempt at the accent lands closer to the target. Plus he kinda looks the part too. Well he looks like he could be his brother at least and that's close enough for me.

The main difference is that original Gabriel Knight was a smart-ass, while the new version is laid back and less of a dick.

Whoa, I tried to leave the room and it flipped the camera around instead. That doesn't happen in your typical point and click adventure game. Oh hey I just noticed that I got 2 points for getting my dagger and stuff out of the bag! I'm officially achieving things here.

It's hard to tell what I can interact with on this side of the room, but I'll sweep the screen with the mouse and see what gets my cursor's attention.

He didn't have anything to write or anyone to phone, but he did pick up the newspaper at least. The game can fuck off if it thinks I'm running all that into Google Translate though.

Gabriel can't read it either, but he can at least make out that the news story is about the escaped wolves, and that it reveals the name of the zoo and the officer in charge of the investigation. Shame there's no subtitles though, so I can't read the names he's trying to pronounce. It's not making it easy for me to keep notes.

Okay this ticking is driving me nuts so I need to get out of here and chat to this Kriminalkommisar  Leber guy.

I've escaped! Blissful silence at least! Well, there's some birdsong but I can live with that.

Man these people have a big house. I'm suddenly reminded of another adventure game I once played called Lost in Time, which also had a fondness for big houses and photographic backgrounds. Never though I'd be remembering that game.

Gabriel won't touch the ladder, he won't pick up some quick drying cement from the shed and he whines about the Volkswagen not being a Mercedes whenever I click on it, so this screen presents limited possibilities. The game's got no interest in scrolling by the way, every background is a static image. Though sometimes the cursor says 'exit' when I put the mouse at the edge of the screen.

Well that's just confusing; I exited off screen to the right and soon found myself facing this forest on the left. The game needs to give me a compass if it's going to keep playing with the camera angle like that.

I clicked the trees and got nothing, so to be thorough I clicked them again in a different spot and found some bloody wolf fur! I'm not entirely sure this game is playing fair with me.

Also this is a dead end so it seems that there's truly no escape from this farm. Those sneaky villagers must have lied about the wolf attack to lure the Schattenjäger into a trap! Oh hang on, there's a note on the coat rack saying that the keys to the Volkswagen are under the mirror.

Gabriel Knight 2 Beast Within U-Bahn map
With the car keys I was able to escape the farmhouse and drive to Munich!

So now I've got this overwhelming mess of a U-Bahn map to decipher. Though it's got words instead of icons so I like it better than the map of New Orleans in the first game. Wait I recognise the name 'Prinzregentenplatz'; that's what Gabriel was trying to say earlier when he read the newspaper! I'll go there first and see if I can find Leber.

Man, this is so familiar, with Gabriel chatting to another desk sergeant trying to find the officer investigating another weird incident. Even the goofy police station theme's the same as it was in Gabriel Knight 1.

But this time there's no dialogue options, as the cop can't speak a word of English and Gabriel can't speak German. Though there's an irritation in his voice that transcends language; this is clearly not the highlight of his day. Or maybe he's just sick of the music. Still, the cop tries talking slower and Gabriel starts to get the gist of what he's saying. Seems that we're out of luck as Leber isn't here (or perhaps just doesn't want to talk).

I suppose all I can do now is go down to the zoo to ask about their escaped wolves, though I've forgotten where Gabriel said it was. I'm sure someone said 'Lochham' at some point though so I'll go there.

Oh. Well at least now I know how to get back to the farmhouse. Okay I guess I’m going to Thalkirchen then.

I've found the zoo! I've also found that the trees in Germany are fuzzy wherever you go.

Gabriel hasn't shown up yet but I've triggered a cutscene showing this guy going into the wolf pen and feeding them, so I think that's supposed to be a clue. Wait, is he casting a shadow on the background there? Whoa, I think I've found the only human being in this game with a soul.

Unfortunately he was gone by the time I got control back so I can't chat to him (or steal his wolf food). But I've been able to perform a visual inspection of the pen and can now confirm that despite the sound of monkeys, there are indeed wolves in here.

I guess I need to get one of the wolves to come to the fence for adventure game reasons, but they're stubbornly ignoring Gabriel's attempts to lure them over. I can't even jingle the rabbit-foot keychain at them. I'd try using something else to grab their attention but I doubt an unfinished manuscript, a business card, an envelope of fur and a notepad he refuses to write any notes down in are going to catch their interest.

Fine, I give up.

Hey it's the zoo guy again! Looking at the wolves caused him to reappear, giving me a chance to grab some food off his trolley! Oh, I guess I can't actually do that.

It is letting me chat to him though, and this time I get actual dialogue choices! Well actually it's more like I can choose which order topics are brought up during the conversation, as eventually everything here is getting said. And there's an awkward pause after every exchange as Gabriel takes a few seconds to grin and nod his head before I get my dialogue options back. The developers hadn't quite figured out how to get conversations to flow.

Nothing I said could convince him to let me go interrogate the wolves though, as he needs Doktor Klingmann's permission for that. But I did at least get a name from him and a new 'exit' to visit. Plus 4 extra points!


SOON, IN KLINGMANN'S OFFICE.


I think I'm on the right track here. I only came here to chat with Herr Docktor Klingmann because I need to get to the wolves (because... I don't even know), but I'm starting to think he's part of the forces of darkness arrayed against me. He reminds me of the villain in a Columbo episode, who's polite and co-operative, and clearly the murderer. Also he believes there's a language of death which allows wild animals to tell wolves that they're ready to be killed, and that's just weird.

Well Klingmann's not going to let me in to see the wolves, but there's a walkie talkie on his desk so if I can trick him to leave the room for a second and pull off a perfect impersonation I think I'll be able to trick wolf food guy into letting me in.

Glad to see that Gabriel's still in the habit of recording important conversations. Being able to replay dialogue is handy considering that I can't ask people the same question twice. Plus I can sit here and listen to them all once I've got a full set and pretend the I'm playing The Phantom Pain.

In fact Gabriel actually told Klingmann that the conversation was being recorded on his little tape machine, which is a courtesy he doesn't generally show people. The game wanted to draw my attention to the tapes for some reason.... and now my attention's drifting down to that 'splice' button on the right.

Whoa I can pick words from the recording to edit together my own message. Hang on, did Gabriel call the wolf food bloke 'Greg' just so Klingmann would correct him on tape? He's not as dumb as he seems! I wish he'd let me in on his plans though as it'd really speed things up. Though there is one problem with this scheme: we're in Germany, why would the guy talk to zoo employees in English?

Fortunately I don't have to keep sneaking into the office to test my constructed message on the walkie talkie as Gabriel knows when I've gotten it wrong. Like here I've forgotten to call him Herr Doktor Klingmann. He's really fond of his title.

Well it worked! Next time I walked into Klingmann's office I found that he was doing something in the back, so I played the tape through his walkie talkie, swiped a bit of paper from his coat while I was there, and then got wolf food guy to introduce me to the wolves!

Gabriel decided to stroke the wolf, despite wolf food guy's strong objections, and took the opportunity to pocket some of its fur, so I guess that's what this puzzle was all about.

Ooops, wolf #2 don't like that. Run for it!

Look at poor wolf #1, it doesn't know what's going on. Everyone's started running, should I be running? Why am I in this blue room full of strange people anyway?

Right, now I've got two envelopes full of wolf fur. Mission accomplished! Next step: figure out how this helps me.

I only have the one stop left to visit on the map, so I guess the next puzzle must be here in Marienplatz.

This place is different to the rest of locations for three reason:
  1. It's big enough for me to see Gabriel actually walk across the screen, instead of him turning to face the thing I clicked then immediately getting interrupted by a video clip.
  2. The background's scrolling as he walks! They either did a good job stitching photos together here or the photographer stood very far back.
  3. There's nothing at all to do here. I looked at some shops he didn't want to visit, looked at some buildings he didn't care about, looked at some pedestrians he can't talk to... it's like it was added purely for the sake of virtual tourism. Which is a nice idea, but I've got Google Maps for that now.
Man, he doesn't even want to purchase a sausage. What's the point of being a rich tourist if I can't buy souvenirs?

I eventually gave up and went back to the U-Bahn, where I noticed a 'hint' button I hadn't seen before. So I clicked it and it told me that Marienplatz and Lochham both contain puzzles left to solve. There must be something here I'm missing. But what?

Oh duh, I totally forgot that I stole a bit of paper from Klingmann's coat! I should see what that says.

Oh come on, does everyone in this country write in German?

There's some writing on the back as well, but Gabriel won't even attempt to read it out as it's backwards or something. Shame I don't have a mirror handy... except I do, there's one in the farmhouse. To the Volkswagen!


A DRIVE HOME AND BACK AGAIN LATER.


I'm not sure what Gabriel read aloud from the paper, but it sounded like an address. Anything more specific than that would be useless to me though anyway as none of these buildings have anything written on them. I'll just have to click them all until I find the right one.

Ah, I'm on Dienerstrasse, that's definitely a word he said. That means I'm on the right track.

And then when I finally found the right building the receptionist guy just kicked me right back out again, as I clearly have no idea what this place is or what I'm doing here. Still, I got one extra point for my trouble.

Man walking to the end of this street and back is getting old. It's like Star Trek: A Final Unity all over again. Except it's not quite as bad, as this only took me 30 seconds to get back to the U-Bahn.

Well now I truly am out of options. I mean what else is there left for me to do? I've been everywhere, I've clicked everything, I've talked to everyone. I'd have picked everything up too if the game ever let me take anything. I'm starting to wish this was A Final Unity now because then I could ask Worf what to do next.

Oh hang on, there is one last thing I haven't yet tried... nope admiring my reflection in the farmhouse mirror didn't work. Though I have been carrying around this letter from Gabriel's family lawyer. I figured it was just to help set up the backstory, but it does say he should drop by and visit him in Munich. Well, uh... I guess I have nothing better to do than visit a lawyer.

Whoa, his family lawyer is awesome! He can translate German for me, he got me in touch with people who can run sample analysis on the wolf fur, and he even told me that the mysterious place on Dienerstrasse is a hunting club! I also like how he keeps an old CRT monitor as an ornament on his shelf.

So I walked all the way back across Marienplatz again to tell that receptionist that I know what the place is, therefore I'm someone who's meant to be there, but this time he explained that the club is only for members of prominent German families. Which Gabriel is, but I need paperwork to prove it. So I walked all the way back to the lawyer again, only to be told that it's going to take some time to dig up.

Trouble is I've got no way to know how to move time forward. Do I hang around Marienplatz for 10 minutes, ride the U-Bahn for a bit, or is the game waiting for me to solve a puzzle first? If it's the last one then I'm a bit stuck as I've got nothing else to do. Well I had a good run, but this is the point where I have to resort to a walkthrough.


ONE VISIT TO GAMEFAQS LATER.


Seems that all I need to do to get time moving again is to take a cast of a paw print and bring it to be analysed. It's a sensible enough puzzle, as there's some quick drying cement nearby, but can you see the paw print on this screen? Here's a clue: my dagger cursor is pointing right at it.

While I was back at the farmhouse I also wrote a letter to Gabriel's assistant Grace, who's still running his bookshop back in New Orleans. I didn't mean to, I was just clicking stuff again to see if it did anything new.

So with all my business at the farm completed I collected my paperwork from the lawyer then went back to the hunting club on Dienerstrasse (which is totally a werewolf club, I'm calling it) and was successful in getting invited inside for a drink! End of chapter one.


CHAPTER TWO.


But in the next chapter the perspective switches to player two: Gabriel's pissed-off sidekick Grace! She felt left out and flew all the way to Germany to help him out with the research on his werewolf case and start a jealous rivalry with his new assistant. This is good because a change in protagonist means a different location, a new set of characters and a contrasting attitude. On the other hand it's bad, because it turns out that research requires a whole lot of reading, on top of all the conversation topics I have to exhaust. This chapter's all chats and books, and the game expects me to be taking all this information in.

Anyway, I think two chapters is a fair amount of time to give the game so I'm turning it off now. Final score 167 out of 679!


CONCLUSION

I was really curious to see what an interactive movie sequel to Gabriel Knight is like, but it turns out that The Beast Within is actually a pretty similar game. It's just a bit more realistic, a little less funny, and they've traded a some of the interactivity for live action conversations and cutscenes that play whenever you choose to do anything. I figured it wouldn't be long before I started making frequent use of the 'skip video' button, but I found I didn't actually mind watching the actor put his coat on, sit down at desks, or go through the entire process of mixing quick dry cement to pour over a paw print, if it meant I could be sure he rinsed the bucket out afterwards.

It helps that the acting's often the highest quality aspect of scene, even if the conversations don't flow so well. I wouldn't put the FMV on Wing Commander III's level and there's no one of Tim Curry or Mark Hamill's fame on board this time, but I can imagine this cast doing alright on a 90s 'Gabriel Knight' TV series. The graphics on the other hand ain't so pretty these days, as it's hard not to notice that the footage been shot on a blue screen, shrunk down to less than 320x200 res and then reduced to 256 colours. Still, having real people in the scenes adds some nuance and humanity to the characters, more than you'd find in Gabriel Knight 3 with its early textured polygons. 3D adventure games have their place, but the late 90s wasn't it.

The point and click parts are twice the resolution as the videos, but I still felt like a Mortal Kombat character lost in a world made out of postcards from Munich. The artists were doomed from the start trying to get photographic backgrounds looking good in just a fraction of their colour limit, but the photo editing they've done on them has left them looking almost painted at times and it's a bastard to spot what areas can be interacted with sometimes. Good ambient sound helps bring the locations to life though, with the music generally holding back and letting the birdsong, monkeys and passing cars have the speakers all to themselves. Plus that bloody clock. Though when the soundtrack does kick in it's kind of all over the place. Sometimes you've got dramatic piano tracks, sometimes you've got comedy music with a whistle sound effect playing. A lot like the original game soundtrack in fact.

To be honest despite the FMV makeover the biggest problems I had with Gabriel Knight 2 are the same that I had with the first game. Instead of working through problems logically to achieve goals, I felt like I was trying to work out what my current protagonist was planning. It's almost like the game assumes that you already know how to investigate the mystery and doesn't want to offer patronising hints. It also assumes you'll want to go visit your lawyer just to introduce yourself, write a letter to your friend in the US, and investigate a place mentioned in the piece of paper you stole from a scientist's coat because he seemed a bit weird. I could've really done with Gabriel speaking up from time to time to let me in on what specific goal we're trying to achieve (and a few more wry observations wouldn't have hurt either). Plus the puzzles are more about gathering info than finding the right tools for a job, but it's set in Germany and there's no subtitles (unless you get a fan patch), so as a monolingual English speaker with terrible language skills I found it really hard to figure out what Gabriel was reading out and harder to keep notes of what I needed to remember.

So overall I can't say I was enthralled with The Beast Within, but I did find it likeable enough. In fact I may well continue with it to the end, but if I do I'll have a walkthrough on hand from now on. Because I've tried being stuck already and it wasn't much fun.


The comment box below empowers you to express you opinions on The Beast Within, the Gabriel Knight series, my writing and my site in general. Or you could make a guess at what the next game is I suppose.

That picture on the left is a clue by the way, not a game title. I'm making that clear up front so that you don't get your hopes up.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for doing one of my requests ;)

    Actually it should read "Die furchterregenden Kindermorde" in that prologue manuscript. It's funny, the german in this game is all over the place in terms of quality: Sometimes it's hopelessly mangled (The police inspector in Prinzregentenplatz being a prime example of that), while at other times it's practically impeccable (like the newspaper article about the escaped "Killer wolves", for example; even though it's weird that for the Klingmann-puzzle you're required to have him say "HERR Doktor" - it's generally used as a term of adress, I don't know any german Doctor who actually refers to himself as "Herr Doktor" :p ). Being geman myself, this game was a great source of unintended comedy.

    But on the other hand the photography was really well done; they shot on location, the put in some lovingly authentic details (like the "Jagdschein"/"Hunting License", or using the actual map of the Munich U-Bahn-system of the time for acessing the locations), and personally I found the whole angle of Gabriel being a "stranger in a strange land" who doesn't speak the language but needs to find his way around very intriguing (though they dropped that for the third game).

    Again, thanks for playing the game a bit. It was very interesting for me to get an opinion of a non-german-speaker on the whole affair. Personally, I liked the game, but having grown up in Bavaria and living in Munich myself, I couldn't help but notice all these quirks at every little corner, and I always wondered how an audience completely unfamiliar with all of this might feel about the game.

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    Replies
    1. No problem!

      It's weird to learn that the guy in the police station wasn't speaking perfect German, as he was convincing enough for me. I'm just going to go ahead and believe that he was deliberately making it harder for Gabriel to understand him. I can also believe that Klingmann is the one doctor in the country who feels very strongly about having both titles preceding his name at all times. I guess that's a sign of good acting.

      I actually looked up Marienplatz in Google Maps street view when I was trying to use the address I had to find the hunting club, and yep they definitely used photographs of the real location in game. I wasn't able to get a view of where I needed to be exactly because the Google van wasn't allowed down there, but it was cool to see how accurate the game was. If a game's going to force me to spend 30 seconds walking down a street each way its nice to know that it's authentic at least.

      I appreciated the 'stranger in a strange land' aspect as well, and it's a shame if the third game dropped it because I like the idea of Gabriel finally learning enough German to get by and then having to go to France where he's clueless again. I heard that the fourth game would've been set in Britain, so that would've been good too. He'd come over here knowing the language perfectly and then get tripped up by the accents.

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  2. These FMV adventures always remind me of Knightmare.

    I would play a game about Mortal Kombat fighters going on holidays in Europe. That would be ace.

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