Arguably the best adventure game series ever made, Gabriel Knight not only sets new standards of interactive storytelling, but also proves that computer games can be no less literate, mature, well-informed, and thought-provoking than other media. Jane Jensen has created in a disheveled, egotistical, and tormented New Orleans writer one of the most memorable computer game protagonists of all time, and thrust the term "Schattenjäger" into the public spotlight. Every new Gabriel Knight game not only has an even better story than the last, but also pushed the technological envelope at Sierra in creative ways that no other designer can match. In Sins of The Fathers, Jane stretched the capabilities of Sierra's icon-based interface by adding new commands, and used it in several new ways (such as allowing the player to write whole passages in Voodoo language, or send drum codes). While The Beast Within seemingly succumbed to the FMV (full-motion video) fad in late 1990s, the game today stands as prime example of how an FMV game *should* be done: with outstanding acting, gripping atmosphere, and an intuitive interface that sacrifices none of the challenging puzzles. Similarly, the amazing character-independent movement modes and interface in Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned is testament to how 3D can actually enhance gameplay in adventure genre.
The Beast Within picks up where Sins of The Fathers left off. Gabriel has moved into Schloss Ritter, the family castle that he inherits from uncle Wolfgang after he sacrificed his life to save Gabriel's. While hitting a writer's block trying to churn out a sequel to his best-selling novel The Voodoo Murders, a group of distressed villagers knocks on the castle's door. Their leader, Werner Huber, tells Gabriel that as local Schattenjäger, he is needed to track down and kill a supposed werewolf who killed a young girl at the outskirts of Münich. Gabriel soon finds himself on Huber's farm, where his troubles are just beginning...
Anyone who has played Sins of The Fathers will likely be skeptical and disappointed at the decision to make The Beast Within a full-motion video game as opposed to the 2D adventure of the original. But spend only a few minutes with the game, and it becomes obvious that once again Jane Jansen shows great mastery of her medium. The cast is simply top-notch -- Peter Lucas in particular deserves special notice as the mysterious, charming Baron von Glower. Although some actors are a bit over-the-top, overall the acting ranks among some of the best seen in a computer game. The backdrops, which are computer-enhanced images based on actual photographs taken in Münich and the surrounding area, are simply stunning.
It wouldn't be a Gabriel Knight game without a gripping plot based in real-world myths, and The Beast Within does not disappoint. The game will take you through an ingenious concoction of mystery, intrigue, werewolf legends and myths, and even lesser-known stories involving German composer Richard Wagner and "Mad King" Ludwig II of Bavaria. There is even a very elaborate, completely fictional Wagnerian opera written specifically for the game which might have passed for the real thing. Very high production values indeed.
Although the interface is "dumbed down" to the one-click-for-everything approach, this fortunately doesn't lead to easier puzzles. Among other things, you must now deal with timed puzzles (the clock puzzle being one of my favorites), as well as splice-the-tape techniques that fans of detective stories will be familiar with. You also get to play as both Gabriel and Grace this time around. As one would expect given Grace's inquisitive, scholarly nature, careful observation, patient research, and wit are required to solve the puzzles she faces. Some gamers may feel that that the "puzzles" in Neuschwanstein are quite "dry" and boring, since it involves little more than reading dozens of museum exhibits and questioning the museum caretaker, but I personally enjoyed them a lot. It's not so often, after all, that you learn something from an adventure game, and you'll learn much more about The Mad King, Richard Wagner, and lycanthropy than you could ever hope for. The last puzzle in the game also deserves mention as one of the most creative I've ever seen, with the perfect blend of logic and strategy elements. I don't want to spoil it here lest I give away the plot, but anyone who enjoys the tactical combat puzzles in Legend's Mission Critical will enjoy this one.
I hope I have convinced you that this game is a must-have. Sierra has unfortunately stopped carrying the Gabriel Knight Mysteries compilation pack, so you must try your luck elsewhere. Definitely well worth your time to find, though. Three thumbs up!
Note: As with the two other Gabriel Knight games, The Beast Within is fondly remembered on dozens of WWW fansites. One of the only ones remaining is this one featuring a walkthrough, points guide, some translations and links to more resources elsewhere.Reviewed by: Underdogs