Sometimes I think I’m the only one left who plays the Gabriel Knight games. There were only three of them, and until last month, there was only one that I could still play. Boxer, that marvelous DOS emulator for the Mac can play the first game, Sins of the Fathers better than actual DOS ever could, so it was one of the first games I cracked out on when I discovered it. What it couldn’t do, though, was play games that spanned multiple discs, so with the exception of the first chapter, Gabriel Knight II: The Beast Within was unplayable.
Then just last week, I check the Boxer website to discover that the latest version features not one, but two methods for playing games with multiple discs, and I immediately downloaded it to try them out. One is the physical disc swap, which you can do just like you were playing the game on the PC by inserting whatever disc when they ask for it. The other way is to import the whole damn CD and create a virtual drive out of it, and then switch over to that virtual drive when they ask you to put in that CD. And even though GKII is six CDs long, I imported them all because let’s face it: changing discs is fucking lame. Get a scratch on one, and the whole game becomes unfinishable. And how do discs get scratched? By handling them when the game tells you to take one out and put another one in. So in they went one last time, and now those discs can rest for eternity in a lead safe as I set out to solve the great Bavarian werewolf mystery once again.
These days, my son is very interested in the games that I’m playing, so when I told him this was a game about werewolves, he stuck around a good 15 minutes before noticing that there was a major lack of werewolves, and that this game was bullshit. I knew there was nothing I could do for a few chapters to keep him interested in it, so I let him go level my dudes in Dragon Quest VIII while I took to the streets of Munich in search of truth and fur samples. But I was soon led to question the game seriously – where’s the thrill and the horror? For the first five hours or so, the only real tension comes mostly from a handful of hostile German jerkwads you have to speak to. Otherwise, you’re just wandering around Germany visiting museums and buying cuckoo clocks and shit. It’s pretty fucking dull, to be perfectly honest, and yet, I still consider myself one of the series’ biggest remaining fans. To advance the chapters, you have to talk to a bunch of people, then complete a bunch of tasks, and only after completing certain tasks will the opportunity to complete other little tasks come around. It is quite frustrating, because these tasks might be something as stupid as reading a goddamn placard on a museum exhibit or talking to the asshole perched in the least visible part of the shitty blue screen background. Yeah, it was blue screen back then.
I guess I let them get away with this because I was really into the characters of Gabriel Knight, the titular one being no exception. The smooth-talking rare bookstore-owning novel-writing, Harley riding Schattenjager from New Orleans, however, has been replaced by a dopey-eyed bumbler doing a shitty Bill Clinton impression. And Grace, Gabriel’s once quick-witted, cool-minded researching sidekick acts like someone sheared off one of her pussy lips with a nail file, flushed it down the toilet and then told her to go fetch. I hate to say it, but for a lot of the game she’s a total cunt, and even after she realizes it and tries to be kind again, she’s still only ascended to the level of fucking bitch.
Did I mention that I’m one of this game’s biggest fans? The only good actor in this game is the dude who plays Van Glower, and most of his time spent on screen is homoerotically flirting with the main character. Everyone else’s performances are pretty bad, but I’ll blame the director and editor even more than the actors because what the fuck – the game is literally 88% cut scenes, and some of the most mundane shit requires cutting to one. I mean purchasing a single link of weisswurst sausage is like a minute long exchange of Gabriel sheepishly showing interest, sheepishly asking the old German lady in English for some sausage, and the old German lady saying “Ja,” wrapping it up in wax paper, handing it over, and asking for some money, and then Gabriel fishing through his wallet to hand her the goddamn money when the action that triggered this exchange in the first place was simply clicking the wallet on the sausage. You can get real sick of watching the characters and find yourself lamenting that there are only about two places in the game where it is even possible for Gabriel to be killed.
Seriously, I must be at least among the game’s top 50 fans if not 30. I know this whole story by heart and even read the novelizations. I used to replicate the voodoo veve symbols of Damballah and Ogun Badagris from the first game with a compass and a protractor on my skin in felt-tip markers. I read a whole biography of King Ludwig II and bought Wagner’s The Der Ring Das Nibelungen on vinyl (which is like a 12-record box) purely from the fascination this game inspired. I pronounce Neuschwanstein with a “V,” for god’s sake and I can only count to three in German, which is only thanks to – you guessed it – the first Gabriel Knight game. So what is it about this game that allows me to tolerate such an immense shit zeppelin without puncturing it? At the core, there is a good piece of historical fantasy, some decent music, and a couple of interesting puzzles.
Most of it’s fucking retarded, though. And I realize now that it’s only my sentimental attachment to the game and the time when it came out that I even dip back in. Don’t even get me started on Gabriel Knight 3. It’s basically the worst game ever.
Big *sob* big fucking fan of the series.
I suppose that sooner or later I’m going to have to admit that Phantasmagoria is a tremendous joke, too, but let me play it once through on this machine before dumping it like an ugly slut, my traitorous contempt laid out in these mad, quiet rantings like a breadcrumb trail in a burned out black forest.