Gabriel Knight III:
Blood of the Sacred
Blood of the Damned
|Review by Thaumaturge
It began in New Orleans, with the Voodoo Murders. Gabriel Knight, bookstore owner and novelist, delved into the murders as research for a book and found himself drawn deep into their dark heart by powerful ties of love and duty. With the help of Grace Nakimura he cut out that dark heart, destroying the power of the Voodoo hounfour, redeeming the sins of his fathers and regaining a great power lost to his family.
In the shadows of the Voodoo Murders Gabriel Knight discovered the secret of his heritage: that his was Ritter blood, and that the Ritters were Schattenjägers, Shadow Hunters, charged with hunting the creatures of Darkness. Though he lost a very great deal in the final conflict, Gabriel Knight discovered responsibility and duty, and a reason to fight for something.
After the events in New Orleans Gabriel moved to Schloss Ritter, the ancestral home of his family in Germany, leaving Grace to run the bookstore. It was in Germany that his next trial discovered him: a little girl was brutally killed – the latest in a series of similar “animal attacks” - and the girl's family called on Gabriel Knight, the Schattenjäger, to aid them. The girl's father had seen the beast that had killed his daughter, and while its form may have been lupine, he insisted that its eyes had been human. Gabriel's investigations led him to an exclusive hunt club, and the new Schattenjäger found himself both hunter and hunted. Flying over from New Orleans, Grace began researching the connection between Gabriel's case and King Ludwig II of Bavaria and a figure named the Black Wolf – a connection that proved to be Gabriel's salvation.
Since that salvation, Gabriel seems to have begun to show Grace and her research far more respect. She too has moved to Schloss Ritter, and has begun attempting to organise Gabriel's approach to Schattenjäger cases. She has introduced fingerprint kits and, most notably, a laptop running a program called SIDNEY: the Schattenjäger Informational Database, which includes a database of the supernatural, occult and obscure, powerful image and text analysis tools, a section in which suspects can be entered and data such as fingerprints linked to them, and even a fake ID generator.
A new case is presaged by an invitation from Prince James of Albany, inviting Gabriel and Grace to spend a weekend in his manor in Paris. The invitation comes as a surprise – what could Prince James of Albany, heir to the Stewarts of Scotland, want from a Schattenjäger? At first it seems that the answer is “nothing”; None of hunts, polo or dinner with nobility serve to explain the invitation. For Gabriel and Grace the weekend seems a waste. That changes, however, when Prince James requests a private conversation with the pair, away from the ears of others.
For centuries, he reveals, the Stewarts have suffered a most unusual malady. On some mornings they awake tired and pale, examination revealing severe anaemia – related, there is little doubt, to the two small puncture wounds that the victim also acquires. The “night visitors”, the Stewarts have come to call their unknown assailants. Nothing has been found to stop them – not guards or dogs, who are overcome by sleep, nor locks, which break. When it was his own suffering, Prince James could accept the visitations – but it no longer is, as the prince demonstrates by introducing Gabriel and Grace to his infant son: Charlie. It is for Charlie that Prince James called the Schattenjäger.
That night Gabriel and Grace sit guard in the baby's room, a dog their only wakeful company, aside from each other. The Schattenjäger remarks that they could be on watch for months – only to discover that sleep has stolen over Grace, and that the dog lies similarly sleep-bound upon the floor. A window opens, and before Gabriel manages to so much as move from his spot a figure has stolen into the room and abducted the child. Gabriel gives chase, following the abductor out of the window; the night visitor takes to a car, and the chase continues through the streets of Paris, Gabriel's motorcycle headlights at times revealing two men in the vehicle before him.
The car stops at a train station, but again the Schattenjäger is too late – the car is already empty. A man in the station points Gabriel to a train, and he jumps aboard to resume his search. At last he finds a cabin in which sits one man, and on his luggage rack, a large trunk – a trunk with a great many holes aerating its side. Gabriel realises that he has found his quarry – but has little chance to act as a blow from behind renders him unconscious.
When he awakes the train is at a station. Staggering onto the platform, Gabriel is greeted by a lantern-bearing conductor, who confirms that a pair of men carrying a large trunk had disembarked at that station. Noticing that Gabriel is still groggy, the man tells him that there is a taxi outside, and a hotel to be found in the nearby town of Rennes-le-Château, a town that turns out to hide the keys to an incredible secret...
The next morning the investigation begins anew, as Gabriel meets the people in and around Rennes-le-Château. Many of the people that he will meet will prove to have their own agendas, often working counter to each other. Any or all of them could be involved in the kidnapping, and there are those amongst them with much to hide – although their secrets may not be what the Schattenjäger at first suspects. And somewhere in this eclectic group a kidnapper – and much worse – lurks.
When Grace joins Gabriel, she too begins an investigation. Researching the town's mystery, she attempts to decipher the myriad hints and clues that abound in the town and its surrounding landmarks – as well as other, far more unexpected sources. In doing so she will uncover an incredible secret, a secret hidden deep beneath earth and riddle – a secret that proves to be deeply intertwined with the kidnapping of the child, with the predatory night visitors – and even with the Schattenjägers.
The more either delves into the mysteries of the people and places around them, the more intricate and detailed the story becomes, multiple strands weaving into an interesting and cohesive whole. Jane Jensen, the writer behind the stories of the Gabriel Knight games, does a good job of managing a complex story, building a strong atmosphere of mystery without being too often unsubtle. She describes an engaging, creative and believable cast of characters, best of whom are Gabriel and Grace themselves. Neither is a perfect hero, and neither alone solves the full mystery. Each is human, flawed, and only by the use of their individual talents and interests do they prevail. In addition, the relationship between the pair is far from perfect, and their frustrations and uncertainties with regards to each other adds another layer of depth to their characterisation. This makes, in my opinion, for more interesting and engaging protagonists, which draw the player in and hold the player's attention well. In addition, Grace plays a far more immediately active role than in the previous two games. While her focus remains on research and logic, she now also takes some part in the direct investigation of the people and places in and around Rennes-le-Château. The impression is given that Gabriel and Grace are a far better-integrated team than on their previous cases. Indeed, Grace's research seems to receive far more respect from Gabriel in this case than in the previous two – perhaps because her research saved Gabriel from the werewolf curse, and probably his soul in the process – in the previous case. The overall impression is of a relationship that has evolved since the last case, and in a way that I found very believable and true to the characters.
Thus the greatest strength of this game is almost certainly its story, one notable not only for its writing but also for the scope and daring that it displays. As with the previous games in the series, Jane Jensen does an excellent job of weaving her story from well-researched history and intelligently-crafted fiction, building one on the other, tying them together so tightly that the distinction between one and the other can become nigh invisible to those not already well-versed in the relevant histories. Rennes-le-Château is a real place, the mystery is one that others have speculated about – perhaps most notably Dan Brown in his novel the Da Vinci Code, although it is perhaps worth noting for those that might think this game a copy of Dan Brown's work that Gabriel Knight 3 was created before the Da Vinci Code was released. In addition, some of the entries found in SIDNEY's database were taken from a real online encyclopaedia of the occult, The Mystica.
Where the first Gabriel Knight game was depicted via the the traditional medium of sprites against a two-dimensional backdrop and the second game employed full-motion video, Gabriel Knight 3 makes use of a 3D graphics engine.
The character, item and environment models are good, if not perfect. The slightly limited model detail leaves the models a little inexpressive and at times stiff (especially in terms of the characters' hair) to my eye. The textures – the images that are applied to the models to give them colour and detail – are, however, better. With the exception of a few textures (the grass texture perhaps most notably), the textures are for the most part very good, and add well to the realism of the settings and items. One limitation that the textures face is that they do not seem to have levels of transparency – so, for instance, a fountain's water cannot be seen through, and the edges of its streams have abrupt edges, rather than softly fading into transparency. For the most part, however, this is not terribly noticeable, although it in some places it is more so.
Characters' facial textures change to describe emotion and their lips animate as they speak, and while this system is certainly not perfect, I feel that it does enhance the effectiveness of the graphics. Given the story- and character-driven nature of Gabriel Knight 3, I feel that this ability to portray emotion adds a lot to the effectiveness of the characterisations.
The acting on the part of the 3D characters is not perfect, but it is decent, and their actions are well-animated. The voice acting is better, with a few of the voice actors being especially good, and backed up by good dialogue writing. Overall the acting succeeds in its portrayal, both on the part of the graphical models and the voice actors behind them.
Overall the 3D graphics engine used is a success, working very well to depict the game’s setting, emotions and action.
At certain points in the game – most notably the beginning and the end – there are short movies to portray events in better quality than the in-game graphical engine produces. These are in general nicely acted and well-scripted, and employ to good end effects not available to the in-game engine, although they do suffer from the model and expression issues mentioned for the in-game graphics.
In terms of artistic merit, the graphics in the game are very good indeed. They have a strong artistry that suits the themes and tone of the game very well, employing appropriate imagery and effectively evoking a sense of the supernatural, and, when appropriate, even of wonder. Furthermore there are in places some very nice details – textures or movie effects, for instance – that are especially good. Worth noting, for example, are the images presented at the start of each time block, which are at times beautiful and show a strong artistry, to my eye at least.
The game’s music too is very good indeed. It is appropriate and not overbearing, even being absent in areas where no music is called for, being replaced by realistic ambient noise. When it does appear, it supports and enhances the atmosphere of the game very well indeed, and at its best it is beautiful, and very appropriate to the mood of its setting.
The game takes place over the course of three days, each separated into several time blocks of a few hours each. In essence the time blocks act as chapters, separating the ideas and goals of one section from the next. This has two effects: first, it segments the game, the virtue of which is debatable, and second and more definitely positive (to my mind, at least), it introduces a sense of the passage of time while at the same time preventing the player's missing important events due to that passage: each time block ends only once the player has achieved the main tasks or discoveries for that time block.
However, this does not mean that ancillary matters cannot be missed; indeed, there are many events which are not absolutely essential to completing the game that nevertheless provide clues and contribute to the plot, but which are entirely possible to miss – in fact, some can be quite tricky to discover. The player may not think to return to a particular place, or may not arrive in time to witness a character’s actions, or perhaps miss a suspicious sound at some point, or fail to investigate in time. Knowing that these events exist adds to this game's replayability, to my mind, providing in the challenge of uncovering all of the pieces extra incentive to fully explore the game subsequent times, attempting to find the way to be in the right places at the right times, and noticing those smaller clues in seemingly minor events that lead to additional insights or information. This is a game in which completing the game missing nothing is much more difficult than simply completing the game.
The end of a time block signals change in the game world; it is now a new time of day, and the various characters will quite likely be engaged in different tasks. In addition, in a few cases completing a certain action or making a certain discovery causes time to advance within a time block; this is indicated by a brief ticking, and again indicates change in the game world, albeit of a lesser scope – someone may have moved on to a new place and task, for instance, and a new event may occur, while ones unwitnessed may have been missed.
Since time blocks end once the requisite actions have been taken or discoveries made, it is possible for a time block to end before the player has made all of the secondary discoveries. This can potentially lead to frustration, as a time block ends before the player feels that everything intended has been attempted. For the most part, however, this should not be a major issue, especially as, should a sufficiently recent saved game exist, it can simply be loaded and the desired actions attempted before the final requirement for that time block is met.
One nice feature is the option to save at the start of a time block, before entering it. This allows the player to have a safe save at that point, after the decisions of the previous time block but before those of the new one.
Once the player has reached the point at which they can leave the town of Rennes-le-Château hints become available at the map screen. Clicking on the “hint” button (present in the selection of buttons that appear on clicking the right mouse button) causes a white halo to flash around locations on the map in which events important to the time block remain uncompleted – although it should perhaps be noted that not all of these events are always necessary to complete the time block. In addition, the same button is again active for Grace's Le Serpent Rouge puzzle, this time taking the form of her musings on the section of the puzzle on which she is currently working.
The game is controlled via an unobtrusive and overall rather good interface. The player interacts with the environment primarily via the mouse (although the keyboard is used for those areas that call for typing, such as entering search terms when using SIDNEY). When the mouse cursor is over an object or place that can be interacted with an either yellow or blue outline appears around the cursor arrowhead. In this case, clicking the left mouse button causes a small bar of square icons to appear near the cursor, indicating possible actions for that object or place, and a subsequent click on one of these icons instructs Gabriel or Grace (as the case may be) to attempt that action. So for instance, clicking on a cat might produce an icon representing petting it, a food item might have icons for smelling or eating it, and a potential inventory item might allow the player to examine the item or take it – naturally, the “examine” icon is probably the most commonly encountered. While there may be some cases in which the icons are a little ambiguous, moving the mouse over one of them causes a terse description (often a single word, such as “examine” or “pet”) to appear for that icon.
If the object in question is a character, one of these icons often depicts either an empty speech bubble or one containing a question mark – the former indicating simple chatting, and the latter indicating conversation or interrogation. Clicking on either of these will (with a few minor exceptions) begin a conversation with that character. Conversation topics are chosen in the same manner as normal actions, via a row of icons depicting the available topics of conversation. The only real flaw to this otherwise very clean and efficient system is that it can at times be unclear as to what, precisely, Gabriel or Grace will say based on simple icons (or their brief descriptions).
As the characters speak the camera angle changes appropriately, generally framing those engaged in the conversation.
Walking is accomplished similarly; a simple single click instructs the player character to attempt to walk to that spot, or, in the case of area exits (to indicate which the cursor changes to a directional arrow), to leave the current area and enter the indicated area.
Clicking the right mouse button opens the options menu. From here the player can open the inventory (which is also accessible via pressing the ‘I’ key), view the various predefined camera angles specified for the current area, save the game or load a saved game, access a hint (when applicable), as well as setting the various options for the game.
Finally, the middle mouse button (or the escape key) can be used to skip automatic sequences or to have the player character skip to their destination while walking. However, this option should be used with some caution – not only is important information conveyed though some of these sequences, they also add to the narrative, and so it is highly recommended that players allow these to play out at least once before considering skipping.
Unusually, the camera through which the player views the world is not fixed with respect to the player character; rather it is moved and oriented separately, using either the keyboard or mouse (or a combination thereof). This has one major advantage: the camera moves much faster than the characters walk, and so it allows the player to explore their environment at a comfortable speed without resorting to having characters who move with unnatural speed. When an action is performed having left the player character well behind, that character often walks into view as if they had been standing just out of view, a very nice feature that can remove a number of potentially boring waits while Gabriel or Grace walks to the point of interest.
However, this camera system does have its flaws. It is entirely possible to fly through an area and miss something worth noting, especially small items in close quarters. For this reason it is sometimes worth examining areas and objects carefully before concluding that all available actions of interest in an area have been taken.
Since the locations of the game lie not only within Rennes-le-Château but in the surrounding area, the protagonists engage in some small amount of travel. This is executed quite well via an area map which shows all known locations that might be of interest at the time. When the mouse cursor is placed over one such, it acquires a soft white halo to indicate its selection, and a left mouse button click on the location has Gabriel or Grace travel there all but instantly (aside, that is, from a brief pause as the new location is loaded).
The majority of the puzzles are investigative, involving the various characters in and around Rennes-le-Château. Most have their secrets, for good or ill, and discovering these secrets, and the connections between a number of the characters, forms a large part of the storyline. Much of this lies with the conversations between Gabriel, Grace, and those that they encounter. Other, less direct methods make up the means for another large part of Gabriel and Grace's discoveries: conversations overheard – or intentionally eavesdropped upon – trailing someone unseen, bearing witness to events intended to be kept hidden, searching for fingerprints, and much more. The result is an excellent atmosphere of mystery and investigation, although without the feel of an over-regimented official investigation – Gabriel's methods are intuitive, opportunistic, and often unbound by legal concerns.
Oftentimes these puzzles are at least in part inventory-based, involving the use of items that either Gabriel or Grace has discovered in their explorations, sometimes in rather creative ways. While these are for the most part logical and good, there are one or two examples of inventory puzzles that some might consider to be a little more unrealistic than the setting suggests.
Like Gabriel, Grace faces a number of inventory-based and investigative puzzles, but while Gabriel's side of the investigation does have a few logic puzzles, these are to a much greater extent Grace's province. Indeed, the most outstanding puzzle of the game (to my mind, at least), the extensive, fascinating and multi-part Le Serpent Rouge puzzle, is a logic puzzle that Grace is faced with, based on an intriguing and mysterious document – Le Serpent Rouge – that Grace encounters. In fact the Le Serpent Rouge puzzle stands out in my mind as a favourite puzzle, not only from within this game, but in general. It is extensive without becoming tedious, involved, and both creatively and intelligently crafted.
Both supporting and being an integral part of these logic puzzles is the aforementioned SIDNEY. Words, phrases and concepts that arise during the investigation can be researched via searches of SIDNEY's database, and doing so can provide important clues to the puzzles of the game, advance the story and provide informative background to the concepts and organisations that form part of the rich weave of Gabriel Knight 3. At times either Gabriel or Grace will encounter either images or texts relevant to the investigation; again SIDNEY shows its worth, analysing these and extracting hidden geometries or encoded messages, which can then be used in subsequent puzzles. SIDNEY can even find anagrams and translate text and audio. Overall SIDNEY’s design and usefulness are excellent; my only (minor) complaint regarding it being that the bars used for scrolling long pages are not always as easy to interact with as they perhaps should be.
A final set of puzzles worth noting is the sequence found directly before the final confrontation. These take the form of physical logic puzzles, seeing Gabriel navigate a series of deathtraps using logic. To aid him he has a two-way earpiece connecting him to Grace, who is able to provide hints to the challenges that he faces. The puzzles themselves make for a good end-game, being creative and at times clever, and make good use of the three-dimensional environment available to them. They are also, however, quite deadly (in some cases horribly so), and in a few cases may prove frustrating until the means to overcoming them is determined. Should he die, however, the player is presented with a death screen, and given the options of retrying the sequence that proved deadly (by returning to a relatively safe point just before it), restoring a saved game, or quitting.
Just as she has a more active role in the game, Grace has a more active presence (albeit remotely) in this end-game than in either of the two previous games (save the very last scene of Gabriel Knight 2), and this, together with the fusion of logic and physicality in these final puzzles, can perhaps be seen as symbolic of the far more harmoniously symbiotic relationship between Gabriel and Grace than in their previous encounters with supernatural danger.
Overall, Gabriel Knight 3 is an excellent game. From a story that easily betters on the previous two games (which were themselves very good indeed in terms of narrative) to beautiful artwork and stirring music, the creativity and intelligence behind this game shows. The 3D graphics are very good, albeit perhaps held back a little by the technology of the time, and suit the game very well. There are a few puzzles that might call for slight leaps of logic, but for the most part these are the exceptions rather than the rule, I feel, and the puzzles are overall very good. The game has a good duration that fits the story well, feeling neither rushed nor padded, and is one that I would certainly recommend, especially to those with interests in the supernatural, secret societies, or mystery. Additionally, the introduction is told via a graphic novel which, while not perfect to my eye, is nevertheless a very good and fitting introduction to the story.
Final score: 95/100
|PC System Requirements:|
|Pentium® 233+ MHz (166MHz with a 3D accelerator with 4+ MB RAM)|
|32 MB RAM|
| SVGA Graphics Card in High Color (16-bit)|
|Windows® Compatible Soundcard|
|4x CD-ROM Drive|
|Keyboard, mouse, speakers|