When cadavers start turning up all over New Orleans, it can only ever be one thing: VOODOO RITUAL MURDERS. Nobody dies of natural causes in New Orleans, of course, as a matter of rigorous local policy. The chicken blood slopped all over everything, esoteric chalk markings, bits of snake, and other paraphernalia of death kinda supports the Voodoo ritual murder theory this time around anyway, which is super convenient for local book shop owner /recreational libertine / pulp fiction author on the skids, Gabriel Knight, since he’s looking to write a book about that sort of stuff. What isn’t super convenient, however, is that Gabriel’s got his own creepy heritage creeping up on him, and his apparently professional preoccupation with all this Voodoo business is improbably probably a lot more significant than anyone might think. No, really. It involves an ancient order of Teutonic knights.
When it was originally released in 1993, Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers was something of a conceptual departure for Sierra. The blandly “mature” Leisure Suit Larry and (later iterations of) Police Quest series notwithstanding, the majority of the developer’s adventure games had thus far been whimsical, family friendly stuff. Gabriel’s casual cynicism and roguish manners, on the other hand, are a far cry from the bumbling Roger Wilco, and the insufferably sanctimonious Daventry brats. And while Gabriel Knight might share some thematic similarities with Police Quest titles, the former manages to portray a sinister criminal investigation without all the indiscreetly shameless proselytising of the latter. Also, New Orleans is infinitely more interesting than Lytton, because New Orleans has cool stuff like the French Quarter and Voodoo cults, and Lytton has a strip mall and small fry pot dealers.
Graphically, it’s pretty typical early 1990s, with then-attractive 640×480 SVGA visuals. It’s not dated much if you’re terminally sentimental (like me), although the digitised voices – including a drawling Tim Curry as Gabriel, and Mark “I’m always going to be the guy who played Luke Skywalker” Hamill as his cop pal, Mosely – do sound a bit like they’re being beamed in from Voyager 1. The cycling icon system is also absurdly overcrowded, with one each for WALK, LOOK, ASK, TALK, PICK UP, OPEN/CLOSE, OPERATE, and MOVE. You know, when just two icons for LOOK and DO STUFF would have been quite sufficient, thanks. Icons killed the adventure star, or something.
These otherwise negligible issues aside, Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers is still a very fine game indeed. It’s a little more adult-oriented (and, by extension, less condescending) than most of its contemporaries, while cleverly avoiding all the cheap and unintentionally hilarious sensationalism of Sierra’s next adult-oriented game, Phantasmagoria. And while it’s not the most intellectually challenging game, the puzzles are smart enough to keep you occupied for a couple of hours at least.