Remakes can be a funny thing. They skate that malleable and dangerous line that embraces works of the past while also attempting to enhance for contemporary audiences. In the world of video games this has been met with a great deal of contempt due mostly to nostalgia blinding gamers to what a work originally looked like in addition to the stubborn view that a game was fine the way it was. Whenever you even remotely touch a work, there will always be negative criticism spawned from those that feel the original work was the flawed, but ideal, release. In some regards I don’t get all the drama, especially in the case of Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers, because the original is readily available (and compatible) on modern machines if one wishes to play it. For the rest of us this remake of the classic point-and-click adventure, tweaked by creator Jane Jensen’s own Pinkerton Road studio, may be just what is needed to appreciate Gabriel Knight’s original mystery.
Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers released in late 1993 and at the time was viewed as one of the best, if not the best, of developer Sierra On-Line’s point-and-click adventure titles. It had a deep plot that unraveled a complex storyline involving voodoo murders on the streets of New Orleans. Not only did the game have an excellent script, a star-studded cast that included the likes of Tim Curry as Gabriel Knight accompanied the game. There was more to Gabriel Knight’s package than a good story and high production values; the title also contained deep character development – like Gabriel’s Schattenjäger background or his snippy assistant Grace’s sideways comments – to appeal to those desperately seeking content resembling a book or movie in their games. I also felt that the actions of what to do, such as combining items with other items or solving puzzles, was a bit more obvious than the obtuse requirements of other games in the Sierra universe that had you basically trying to read the developer’s mind as to how to proceed. When it was all bundled together the game created a complete package that I appreciated, although was still a bit heavy handed into the point-and-click genre than I could fully appreciate. Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition attempts to do this all over again by retaining all the things that worked in the original, sans the original voice cast, and attempt to bring it to modern times with easier controls, a few unnecessary tweaks, and some incredible extras.
Here’s where I feel gamers will differ in opinion based off your previous experience, and for some obsession, with the original and whether or not you thought this remake was even necessary. If you can boot up the original and play through it with a constant smile on your face for Curry’s voice work, pixel-hunting at its best, and awkward interaction that has you constantly changing icons in an endless combination fest with everything on the screen, then stop now because this game is not for you. On the other hand if you just find the original a bit difficult to deal with and can’t seem to get into it past Day 1 - even if you played it in the past - then this may be a good substitute. If you’ve never played Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers, I find it difficult not to recommend this version because the classic style has been long retired.
Built in the Unity Engine, the graphics aren’t going to dazzle you, but they do seem somewhat consistent with newer games from publisher Phoenix Online and potentially newer Gabriel Knight titles that could come. This does bring with it a batch of odd interactions and graphical glitches – it was funny to see characters walk partially through walls and such but nothing that prevented me from moving forward. The interface has been tweaked to make only items that interact with each other as an option, something that will be more useful and necessary in the upcoming mobile port of this title, but it does allow you to avoid pointless combinations as you attempt to figure out what to do next. This is a thankful addition for those that found combinations to be a nuisance in the past. While we are on the subject of graphics and combinations, let me add that it is much harder in this version initially knowing what is supposed to be interactive. Items in the original title seemed to stand out, whether this by art limitations or intentional, but in the 20th Anniversary blend so well that you can’t tell what to pick up. It resulted in me doing an awkward replacement to pixel hunting, which was now asset hunting as I frantically clicked on items to make sure I had gotten everything in a particular scene. It all boiled down to a version that while not without its setbacks, still stood as an improvement over the original even if you don’t have it memorized.
Speaking of memorizing, there is additional and changed content in Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father 20th Anniversary Edition, although I’m probably less equipped than others to point them out. Your biggest change is that of an entirely new voice cast, which starts things off on more of a negative note. I hated Tim Curry’s Gabriel Knight and although Dean Erickson’s performance in the sequel wasn’t a whole lot better, the newest actor (whose name I couldn’t find) is the best of the three. Granted, he’s more attempting to correct the horrendous renditions of Gabriel from the past and comes off as more of an impersonation, but I still found it the most natural. This will not be the popular opinion and I accept that, but that makes the fact that I was underwhelmed with all the other voice cast members’ seemingly similar impersonations of the other characters to be a lackluster change. Whatever the reason for replacing the voice cast, it was a misstep. I feel that in the least Curry’s version of Knight, even though I hate it, would have garnered more attention and was worth preserving. What didn’t change was the subtle but appreciated soundtrack, which has been remastered by Robert Holmes of the original so it sounds just as authentic and more crisp than before. As far as content that expands from the original, I didn’t notice much save for a few puzzles I never wanted, like slide puzzles, and some scene tweaks that added fluff to an already lengthy story. There are also odd rearrangements – the biggest for me being that you cannot visit Gran’s house until Day 2, which had me wasting over 30 minutes figuring out if it was an error or intentional. I understand that a new version of the game is a great time to patch the past (especially with Jensen on board), but hasn’t Lucas already taught us that the best thing for revisiting a story is to leave it alone? That is why the last group of added content, bonus materials, is the best and most robust of what 20th Anniversary Edition has to offer. As you progress through the story and earn more points you will unlock all sorts of content such as concept art and behind-the-scenes interviews that offer insight on the inception of the original. As an avid fan of the stories behind games I felt it pulled back the curtain in short bursts to help you appreciate what you were playing. While I did not care for a brunt of the changes made, the impact of the bonus content more than made up for what I didn’t care for.
Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers is an excellent game that combines all the essential materials of storytelling, which was a rarity in 1993. The 20th Anniversary Edition streamlines the less intuitive tropes of the point-and-click genre to today’s gamescape. With that came the inevitable urge to tweak the game, which on almost all counts was both unnecessary and unappreciated, but the included bonus material easily makes up for it. If you just can’t seem to find that spark with the original or if you are of the fortunate who have not played it – and that’s probably a lot of people – then this update is your best bet. Gabriel Knight may be more than 20 years old, but it goes to show that if left mostly untouched, a great game can still remain a great game.
Final Score: 7/10
A review copy was provided by the developer for review purposes. Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition is available for PC and Mac on Phoenix Online (postudios.com), Steam, and Good Old Games (gog.com) for $19.99 and should be available shortly for iOS and Android. It took the reviewer approximately 11 hours to complete with a total play time (including the demo) of 13 hours.